Curious Small Sips #25: Sangiovese

This ancient variety dating back to the Etruscan era is Italy’s most planted grape and is particularly common in Tuscany in Central Italy, down to Campania and Sicily in the South. With various clonal varieties including Brunello, Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino and Nielluccio to name a few, it is perhaps best known as the principal blending grape in Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the gang of supremely expensive and in-demand wines known as the Supertuscans. In Chianti, Sangiovese is often blended with Bordeaux variety Cabernet Sauvignon, which is only allowed to be 15% of the blend.

It is the only grape permitted in Brunello di Montalcino and the principal fine wine variety across Tuscany as well as being used in Vino da Tavola. Its principal viticultural attribute is that it is late-ripening and can last in the vineyards sometimes until October. It gives rich, high alcohol, long-lived and complex wines in hot years and sometimes suffers from high acidity and unripe tannins in cool ones. It can be described as having sour cherry, red berry, tomato and violet flavours with lashings of Italian spice like oregano and hints of cinnamon. With age, Sangiovese becomes more savoury displaying dried cherry, figs and smoked paprika.

Outside Italy Sangiovese thrives in Mendoza, Argentina although the wines are very different from their Tuscan relations and can be flintier with more minerality. More famous however, are the examples of the grape in Napa and Sonoma, California where even though developed into a more fruit-driven style, those floral Chianti and Brunello-esque nuances are recognisable to fans of the old Italian character.

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Image: Manual harvesting of Sangiovese grapes; © Dievole, Italy.

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