The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Spectacular Sangiovese

Posted on | August 5, 2010 | Written by Francesco Vigorito | No Comments

The Sangiovese grape shares a rich culture with the Tuscan people. However, it often doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves. In celebrity status, its place is strictly on the “B-list” for most wine connoisseurs and professionals—though the grape’s reputation seems to be trending up. Sangiovese goes by many nicknames like Morellino, Ciliegolo and Prugnolo Gentile (just to name a few), and it comes in many shapes and forms.  Sangiovese seems to date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and oenologists suggest that the grape contains DNA from central and southern Italian varietals. In 2004, oenologist Jose Vouillamoz announced that Sangiovese’s genetic “parents” are a local Tuscan varietal called Ciliegiolo and a near extinct varietal from Calabria called Calabrese Montenuovo. For recollected history, though, Sangiovese has lived in Toscana.

Similar to Pinot Noir in many regards, Sangiovese easily mutates, and it’s quite finicky to grow and vinify. These traits have caused this somewhat mysterious grape much trouble, causing producers to misunderstand and mistreat the mercurial Sangiovese. Best known for producing quaffable, thin, pale, rough and acidic red wines, this grape seems to earn its disrespect. When put in the right hands, however, Sangiovese can produce robust, aromatic and smooth wines with great intensity and structure. It’s impossible to speak about Sangiovese without mentioning Chianti, because it’s as the base for Chianti that Sangiovese received its bad reputation. But in the last 20 years, as winemakers have come to privilege quality over quantity, that Chianti has undergone a rehab and now enjoys vastly higher quality levels, which has elevated the status of the varietal.

Sangiovese finds its best expression in the region of Toscana, but the grape isn’t just a grape to the Tuscan people or its winemakers: it’s a symbol of Tuscan history, culture, tradition and livelihood. When I traveled through Toscana as a wine student, I felt the people’s passion for this grape. It’s how they make money; it’s also their hobby, their passion and even their child in some instances. Few varietals own that kind of devotion, and I think that’s worth more than A-list status any day.


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