Mods or rockers, cats or dogs, chunky or smooth, Star Trek or Star Wars: these are the dividing lines in popular culture. In aligning yourself with one or the other, you are in or out, one of us or one of them, a kindred spirit or a disrespected enemy. If you had to draw a line in the sand of Italian wine, you’d draw that line between Nebbiolo, the emblematic grape of Italy’s North, and Sangiovese, the obvious choice. Nebbiolo is fine, really. Barolo is lovely; Barbaresco is lovely. They’re great. Really.
But they’re not Sangiovese.
I have previously expressed my passionate love of Sangiovese in general and Sangiovese Grosso, the clone particular to Tuscany’s region of Montalcino, in specific. Part of my love derives from the fact that this is where I’ve spent the most time, where I’ve drunk the most wine, fallen in love with the most winemakers, and shared the most good times. I’ve passed through Barolo and Piemonte a couple of times, but the time, love and experiences I’ve had pales in comparison to those I’ve enjoyed in Montalcino, and thus my love of the region’s wines runs a distant second. My roots, shallow as they are, run deepest in Toscana, and thus my heart belongs to Sangiovese.
Plus, I really like the grape. It’s acidic and pointy, and it smells like cherries took a tumble in autumn leaves, wrestled with a sprig of rosemary, and took it to heart in the dirt. I like the gut punch that a well wrought young Sangiovese offers, and I love the mellow outlaw-turned-legitimate businessperson vibe that a mature Sangiovese gives off. I also tend to rally behind the underdogs, and while Brunello was born an aristocrat, this isn’t true for the vast swatch of Sangiovese wines.
I also love Sangiovese—and specifically again Sangiovese Grosso—for its ability to be immediately enjoyable and spunky in a Rosso di Montalcino and for its regal, elegant age-worthiness as a Brunello. Even wine professionals can’t drink expensive bottles every night, but I can afford to drink a Rosso di Montalcino from Talenti, Collemattoni or Castiglion de Bosco on a regular basis. Brunello di Montalcino’s early-drinking little brother, Rosso di Montalcino usually comes from younger vines and is always aged for less time, giving a tasty introduction to an estate’s style.
One of my favorite memories from the first time I was in Montalcino was sitting at the table of Pietro Buffo, the owner and winemaker at the rustic estate of Baricci, drinking his Rosso, eating the fennel cinghiale sausage his wife made, and feeling like the cosmos was knitting together in seamless logic. One taste built on the other, and together the wine and the sausage and the fine saltless Tuscan bread worked together in a harmony no less than the stars’.
It’s cool if you’re not a Sangiovese fanatic. We can still get along. My heart has room for many grapes, both red and white. We can appreciate the beauty of your Nebbiolo, your Sagrantino, your Cabernet—even your Amarone, your Super Tuscan or your cult white. But at the end of the hard work day, I’m going to gravitate to my first love, Sangiovese, if that’s all right with you.
For the record, I am a rocker, a dog person, all for chunky and more Star Wars than Trek. Now let’s pour a glass of Rosso di Montalcino and hug it out.