Sangiovese – The Tuscan Super-Grape

Sangiovese wine from Italy

A glass of Sangiovese wine.

The Sangiovese wine grape is found in many of the most popular Italian wines. The history of Sangiovese dates back to before the 16th century. If you are a wine enthusiast, you have undoubtedly imbibed Sangiovese with a bottle of one of your favorite classic Italian wines.

Sangiovese serves as the main grape used in making Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Super Tuscans, and Montalcino wines. The grapes high yield and durable viticulture make it widespread across Tuscany, southern Italy, and Cicily. Sangiovese wines are lower in alcohol than most reds, and, make a perfectly drinkable table wine.

The Story of Sangiovese

Sangiovese is as ancient as the Roman Empire. It is said to have been first referenced in the 16th century in Tuscany, where the grapes cultivation originated. Early winemakers noted that Sangiovese grapes are excellent for winemaking, but cautioned against allowing the wine to turn to vinegar.

By the 18th century, Italian winemakers cultivated Sangiovese grapes for blending with other varieties. Wines made purely from Sangiovese were considered too acidic and bitter but perfectly mixed to create Chianti and many other popular wines that still remain to this day.

The latest cultivation innovation of Sangiovese has seen the grape mixed with international grape varieties, such as Cabernet, which forms the category, of “Super Tuscan”. Sangiovese widespread cultivation and versatile blending options are hallmarked as its defining features.

Sangiovese Viticulture and Growing Regions

Sangiovese grapes grow well in a multitude of soil types, which is why the grape is so widespread and versatile. However, it thrives most when grown in soil with high concentrations of limestone, hence, high acidity. When grown in highly acidic, limestone-rich soil, Sangiovese produces aromatic, deeply flavorful wines. The region where Chianti wine is predominantly grown also is home to many Sangiovese vineyards. The shale-clay soil of this region produces the perfect conditions for Sangiovese.

Sangiovese has a long growing season, compared to other grapes of the region. The vines bud early in the season and take longer than normal to become ripe. Though the grape thrives in a multitude of soil types, the climate is an important factor in the harvest quality of Sangiovese. The grapes need enough warmth to become ripe and lose their overwhelming acidity, but, too much heat will cause the grapes to lose many of their complex flavors and high-quality attributes. In regions where the temperature does not reach a sufficiently warm growing season, Sangiovese retains a high amount of acidity, and tannins do not have a chance to soften.

Sangiovese is also sensitive to moisture levels, as too much rainfall causes the vines, skins, and leaves to rot easily. The grapes do best in areas of arid and dry conditions, as the vines are quite drought resistant. In optimum growing conditions the grape is prone to overproduction, which also dilutes the deeper qualities of Sangiovese. A typical Sangiovese wine should be limited to three pounds of yield, in order to retain the grapes flavors and alcohol content.

Tuscan Sangiovese

The Tuscan Sangiovese grape is the most widely propagated and cultivated variety in all of Italy. Out of all the many types of grape cultivated in the Italian countryside, Sangiovese makes up over ten percent – more than any other single variety of grape. In total, Italy is home to more than 250,000 acres of Sangiovese vineyards, and, it is the most widely used grape in popular Tuscan wines, such as Montalcino, Chianti, and Montepulciano.

Sangiovese Wine Characteristics and Food Pairings

Sangiovese is popular for blending with other rich red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, and Merlot, thanks to the grapes high tannin content. The high tannin content of Sangiovese makes it perfect to accentuate dry red wines.

When mixed with Cabernet, Sangiovese exhibits characteristics of black currant, black cherry, mulberry, and plum. Some areas of Tuscan Sangiovese is known for producing fruits with sweet and bitter notes of cherry, tea, and violet. In California and Argentina, the grape is known to exhibit brighter notes and spice on the frontend, and bitter cherry on the back-end.

 

The longest that Sangiovese is known to age is up to 20 years when blended with Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino. When mixed with Chianti Classico Riserva, the grapes can age up to fifteen years. Sangiovese that is blended with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino, or Carmignano can age for up to 10 years. And, most basic Chianti vints blended with Sangiovese are best drank within three to five years after bottling.

sangiovese

Food Pairings

Sangiovese is a very food-friendly grape. Wines made from the young Sangiovese grapes are particularly good with tomato-based dishes, as they retain an earthy quality. Chianti is a popular pairing with pasta and tomato sauce based foods. Sangiovese blends with less heavy grape, such as Cabernet or Merlot, are great with meat dishes, such as chicken, beef, or lamb. Since Sangiovese contains less dark, sweet fruit flavors, it pairs particularly well with herbs, like basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Heavier dishes and foods, like steak and beans, are well paired with Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah Sangiovese wine blends.

Final Thoughts

Sangiovese grapes are, by far, the most undervalued contribution to the world’s reserve of fine wines. When looking for the right Italian wine, consider the region where the Sangiovese grapes came from. This will give you a better sense of how the wine will pair with a dish. If you have any more questions or comments on Sangiovese, drop us a line and we will respond promptly. And, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter for the most recent updates. Thanks for reading!