Sangiovese, meaning “Blood of Jupiter,” is a major black grape variety that is commonly found in Central Italy’s Tuscany region. Dating back to the 16th century and before, it is one of the region’s most popular grapes and is famous for its “sour cherry” flavor profile. It thrives in limestone soil and has experienced great success in Italy’s warm climate. Sangiovese is used to produce both a single varietal wine and famous Italian red blends.
This black grape is full-bodied with high acid, high alcohol, and high tannins. Along with its intense and concentrated flavor profile, Sangiovese wine is bold and powerful. In addition to its notable sour cherry flavors, its other primary notes are red plum, strawberry, and dried herbs. Oaked Sangiovese has softer tannins and added notes of sweet spice. Bottle-aged expressions eventually begin to display tertiary flavors of mushroom and sweet tobacco.
Tuscany & Chianti
Sangiovese is the dominant grape variety in Tuscany. Here it is commonly produced as both a single variety and famous red blend called “Super-Tuscan.” The blend is usually a combination of Sangiovese grapes with varying amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Other regional names for this blend are “Toscana” and “Bolgheri.” Super-Tuscans are often compared to France’s famous Bordeaux blend, as it uses some of the same blending partners.
Sangiovese is also the dominate grape variety in Chianti, Tuscany. Here the grape grows in the foothills of the Apennines and thrives in the region’s warmth. The wine is labeled by its region, “Chianti.” At slightly higher altitudes, the “Chianti Classico” and “Chianti Classico Reserva” DOCG appellations must adhere to longer aging laws than generic Chianti. The additional aging requirements produce some of the grape’s most structured, concentrated and famous wines.
In the warmest part of Tuscany, some of the most prestigious expressions of Sangiovese are labeled “Brunello di Montelcino” (translated- brown grape of Montelcino, Italy.) Brunello is another word for Sangiovese and Montelcino is the town. Situated on top of a hill, the region’s dry weather conditions and altitude allow the grapes to beautifully thrive and produce the most structured, well-balance, and concentrated wines. Here, it is made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for 5 years before it can be sold in the market. Brunello di Montelcino that goes on to age many more years in the bottle can develop chocolate and leathery flavors.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (translated- noble grape of Montepulciano, Italy) is another premium expression of Sangiovese. Here, the grape can be blended with other grapes and must be aged for 2 years before it can be sold. Well-made expressions can go on to age many years in the bottle.
It is no surprise that Sangiovese pairs well with Central and Southern Italian food. It integrates exceptionally well with red sauces found in pastas, pizzas, and other tomato-based cuisines. Sangiovese also compliments hard, aged cheeses like Parmesan and Romano. It can also be enjoyed with many meat entrees, including lamb chops, baked chicken and roasted pork. Internationally, its found alongside Spanish paellas, savory Asian cuisine and an array of Italian inspired American dishes.
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