Sangiovese is a rich, dark-coloured grape that is a staple of the finest red wines of Tuscany, particularly the timeless Chianti Classico – a blend with an average of 75 percent Sangiovese grapes. It is also the basis of a number of wines vined all throughout Italy and has been lauded for generations as one of the most beloved and versatile grapes in the world.
Sangiovese and Chianti
Chianti is the product of the region that shares its name. While it is made predominantly with Sangiovese, other grapes – both reds and whites – are often included. The proportion of grape varieties was once mandated by Italy’s government, but a reform of that law in 1996 allowed winemakers more freedom to select their grapes. At that point, many of them opted to exclude white grape varieties from their Chiantis. Prior to that change, wines made from non-sanctioned grapes were officially termed “vino da tavola” (table wine).
Sangiovese Throughout Italy
As of the year 2000, Sangiovese vineyards accounted for nearly 1 in 10 along the Italian peninsula. The quality of wines made from these grapes varies considerably, but in recent decades, the quality has become more predictable owing to the development of modern improvements in winemaking.
There are numerous clones of the classic Sangiovese, so there are subsequently a number of monikers by which it is known. Among them:
- Sangiovese Piccolo
- Sangiovese Grosso
Sangiovese and all of its clones are characterized by their slow ripening resulting in extended growing seasons. They produce rich wines that are longer lived than those made from early-ripening varietals. Vines trained to produce higher yields result in grapes with higher acidity but paler colour. The grapes have a very thin skin, which makes them susceptible to rot when conditions are overly damp or humid.
A good quality Sangiovese wine is well balanced with firm tannins and high acidity. It has the smell and flavour of tart cherry and black stone fruit. Some wine connoisseurs also report notes of dried herbs and tomato leaf. When aged in oak casks, the wines develop even richer flavours, with notes of raspberry and plum.
One of the more modern incarnations of Sangiovese is a group of wines nicknamed the “Super Tuscans.” The name refers to wines that allow winemakers a specific degree of latitude for blending grapes indigenous to the region with grapes found in other parts of the world, like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.
Sangiovese is also widely planted outside Tuscany in areas including Umbria, Lazio, Marche, and Corsica. It is in Corsica where Sangiovese is known as Nielluccio. The grapes grown there are distinguished from other Sangiovese varieties by the soils of the Maquis, wherein numerous herbs, including juniper and sage, and trees like myrtle and oak grow in abundance. Sangiovese is also grown in Australia and California, where the warmer climates compliment well with the acidity of the grapes.