Common synonyms: Sangiovese grosso, Sangiovese piccolo, Sangioveto, Sangiogheto, San Gioveto, San Zoveto, Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino, Brunello, and Nielluccio among numerous others.
Sangiovese is the great red grape not only of Tuscany, but of Italy. It’s easily the most widely planted variety in the country (and there are a lot of them!), taking up almost 10% of the vine acreage. But Tuscany is the place that made it famous. It has always been the heart of Chianti wine and is often the only variety used in the concentrated, sought after Brunello di Montalcino, grown just south of the Chianti Classico region.
The name Sangiovese, which translates as “blood of Jove”, suggests it’s quite ancient and researchers believe that it may have been cultivated by the Etruscans before the Romans overtook them. The DNA suggests it has one parent in Tuscany and that its other parent, an obscure grape that’s not even registered, is from southern Italy.
Historically in Chianti, Sangiovese has been blended with several other varieties, mainly to soften the inherent acidity or tannins. The ever-changing regulations have continued to evolve over recent decades, but it’s one of the few places in the world where it’s common to mix red and white varieties. The current requirements in Chianti are a 75% minimum of Sangiovese in Chianti Classico and non-traditional varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are permitted in the blend (up to 15%), probably thanks to the recent popularity of the Super Tuscan blends. In the new world you’ll find it both pure and blended.
It’s slow to ripen, often lingering into October and if the grapes don’t fully mature the wine will be hard and angular with high acid and tannin, so it’s meant for warm climates. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a thick skin like the late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, so it’s far less rot resistant and is better planted in a situation where the winter rains don’t begin too early. That makes it a perfect candidate for sunny Napa Valley and other parts of California and it has done quite well in Argentina. Modern-day aging in small cooperage does a lot to soften the wine too, which is standard procedure here in California and has become increasingly common in Tuscany.
It’s a generous variety that produces an ample number of large clusters, so shoot and cluster thinning are important in order to get the grapes ripe and also to preserve flavor intensity and overall quality. When Sangiovese is at its best it has an elegance akin to Cabernet and can have a lovely plummy character. It often shows strawberry, blueberry, perhaps some floral aroma and a hint of tar.
Cool-climate producers might find the naturally-high acidity challenging, but the acid also makes for a very food-friendly wine. It stands up nicely to the high acid of tomato-based sauces and marries beautifully with dishes of Mediterranean inspiration. The Tuscans are famous for their beef, so you might try Sangiovese with grilled tri-tip or a nice roast beef. For the cheese tray, hard, aged cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano or aged Asiago will be your best choice. You can find delicious recipes to pair with our Sangiovese-based AmerItal in Colleen’s Kitchen. Salute!