A bit of Italy in a glass, sangiovese is infused with Italian history and culture and may very well be the most important grape to the country's gastronomy. While sangiovese is grown in a small handful of other Old World and New World regions, it hasn't quite taken root like it has in central Italy. The many blends and iterations of this grape will have you conjuring up al fresco lunches on white antique lace tablecloths out in the Tuscan vineyard.
Sangiovese Flavor Profile & Characteristics
Sangiovese varies based on the specific terroir, but at its core it is a noteworthy red wine full of bright fruit flavors with a savory, earthy component. Typical Italian Sangiovese is dry, medium-bodied with high tannins and high acidity. It has aromas of dark red fruit and spice. Sangiovese has notes of bright red fruit like tart cherry, strawberry, red plum, and red currant. These are matched with deeply savory notes such as tomato, smoke, clay, leather, pepper, sweet tobacco, and herbaceous characteristics. It is typically aged for a period of time in oak which allows the tannins to soften.
How to Drink It
Sangiovese can be aged for four to seven years or even longer for robust versions. Because of this, decanting it can be a good idea. This gives it a little more oxygen and lets it become more dynamic and expressive once it makes it into your glass. Serving temperature should be around 60-65°F (15-18°C).
Pairing sangiovese with Italian classics just feels right. The high acidity cuts through rich pasta dishes and mozzarella loaded pizzas. Any red sauce pizza with cheese, olives, or sundried tomatoes will be a killer match for this classic Tuscan red. It truly is a great food wine, pairing with braised beef and a medley of vegetables on a winter night or a picnic of salami, pecorino, and marcona almonds on a summer afternoon. Think about matching those innate savory notes of fennel, thyme, and tomato with similar dishes, and this wine will shine.
Sangiovese grows well in a variety of environments, though it does best in warmer climates where this late ripening grape has time to come to maturity. It dominates the landscape of central Italy as it is the number one blending grape variety in Tuscany. There are also plantings in Umbria and Campania. Outside of Italy, the most notable growing region is the island of Corsica, in France. Some sangiovese is also being grown in Argentina and California, where the warm, arid climate provides the right conditions.
Sangiovese Wines You Need to Know
In keeping with the typical confusing nature of wine labels, many wines that are primarily sangiovese never list the grape on the label. Rather, designated appellations are listed which indicate what percentage of sangiovese is in the bottle. There are a few classics that you need to be familiar with when getting to know this grape.
Chianti is the largest wine region producing sangiovese-forward blends. It is situated in the foothills of the Apennine mountains, between Siena and Florence, and it encompasses a good chunk of northern Tuscany. Bottles labelled Chianti DOCG can use grapes from anywhere in this broad region; however, they must be made with a minimum of 70% sangiovese grapes. These wines tend to have a thinner body and less complexity and are not aged very long.
Chianti Classico DOCG
Chianti Classico DOCG is its own appellation, separate from Chianti DOCG. This is a smaller, more specific area with vineyards situated at higher altitudes resulting in more acidity and more pronounced dried herb aromas. Chianti Classico DOCG must contain a minimum of 80% sangiovese and must be aged for a minimum of 12 months.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Just south of Siena lies the appellation of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Located in southern Tuscany, it has a slightly warmer climate, resulting in more intensely flavored, fuller-bodied wines. This wine must be made with 100% sangiovese and must be aged for a minimum of five years, two of which must be in oak. This is a heavy-hitter Tuscan red with developed aromas of truffle, cherry, tobacco, and chocolate.
The Heart of Italy
As Italy's most widely planted grape, it has a rich history and significance in the gastronomy. With luscious red cherry and dried herbal notes, it sums up the Tuscan landscape in a single sip.