Sangiovese is the true Italian Stallion of grape varieties. Its name derives from the Latin word Sanguis Jovis, which means "The blood of Jupiter". It is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy, as it is highly adaptable to many different soils, however, Sangiovese does prefer a warmer climate.
It is one of the primary grapes grown in Tuscany where it is the solitary grape of Brunello di Montalcino and the primary component of the wines of Chianti, Montepulciano and many Super Tuscans.
Let's dive a little deeper into Sangiovese as a grape to help you understand all you need to know about this varietal.
The beautiful region of Tuscany with slope after slope of Sangiovese - Photo Credit: VinePair
History & Origin of Sangiovese
The origin of Sangiovese dates back to the early times of the Roman Empire, where it is believed that the first wine made in Tuscany was from Sangiovese grapes. It was first documented in 1590 as "Sangiogheto", but it was not until the 18th century when Sangiovese first got real recognition and became the most planted grape throughout Tuscany.
Sangiovese is believed to be a cross between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. Ciliegiolo (a light quaffing table wine) has its ties to the Tuscan region, whereas Calabrese Montenuovo (Nero d'Avola) has its origins in southern Italy. This essentially means that the genetic heritage of Sangiovese is half Tuscan and half southern Italian.
Sangiovese as a Grape
Sangiovese is highly adaptable to many soil types but prefers the more limestone-based soils found in Montalcino and the clay-like soils found in Chianti. Sangiovese has a long growing season as it buds early, yet ripens quite late. Sangiovese loves warmth and the long growing period allows the grape to develop both richness and body. Overall, Sangiovese is known to have naturally high levels of acidity, produce a wine with a light body and have moderate levels of tannins.
It is also a very hard, gritty grape, hence why I called it the Italian Stallion. Although Sangiovese has very thin skins, it is highly resistant to drought and requires very little water to survive. She is one tough cookie!
Beautiful, bright, freshly harvested Sangiovese for making Brunello di Montalcino - Photo Credit: New Statesman
Sangiovese as a Wine
Because Sangiovese has very high levels of acid and a light body, it can pose a problem for some winemakers as it is difficult to develop fuller flavours in a wine. There are many methods that are practiced to aid in the development of flavours and body, such as adjusting fermentation temperatures by making it cooler, so that fermentation can take longer, which results in a longer maceration time (the time juice spends on the skin to extract colour, flavour and body) and then using very extensive oak treatments to round it all off.
However, there is another method which is easier and, some say, the more beneficial method, and that is blending Sangiovese with other grape varietals. If you are familiar with Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans and Montepulciano, then you will know that these wines are all blends with Sangiovese making up either the dominant or the latter within the blend. Chianti Classico and Montepulciano are blends that are always dominated by Sangiovese, whereas Super Tuscans are blends with Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with Sangiovese not necessarily having to be the dominant varietal.
Style & Flavours of Sangiovese
Sangiovese will produce a wine with a high acidity, a light colour with moderate to high tannins and generally medium bodied with a balanced alcohol level making for the perfect food wine.
Sangiovese is very red-fruit dominant with flavours such as sour cherry, cranberries and mulberries and some occasional dark fruit characters like black cherry, blackcurrant and plum that will come through depending on the style. Young Sangioveses often have a tomato-like savouriness to them that is very distinct.
With the addition of oak, Sangiovese sucks up vanilla flavours like a kid in a candy store, but can also develop more spicier notes like clove as well as tobacco and coffee characters.
Overall, Sangiovese is a well rounded wine that is subtle, beautifully balanced and complex enough to not be too over complex.
A basic yet beautiful example of some of the characteristics found in Sangiovese - Photo Credit: Wine-Knows
Other Growing Regions for Sangiovese
- Mendoza, Argentina: Italian immigrants introduced the Sangiovese vine to Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sangiovese is not widely planted in Argentina and the focus is mostly on making bulk wine for the export market.
- California, USA: Italian immigrants brought Sangiovese to California in the late 19th century. Sangiovese was never considered very important until the success of the Super Tuscans in the 1980s which sparked a new interest in the grape through Napa Valley & Sonoma County.
- King Valley, Australia: Italian migrants settled in the area post World War II, bringing with them their farming practices and native produce, which of course included tobacco and grapes. One of the first varieties grown was Sangiovese and now the King Valley can claim that they have the highest concentration of Italian varietals outside of Italy than any other region in the world.
- Stellenbosch, South Africa: Although having only a small amount of plantings, roughly 63ha, and only 10 producers of Sangiovese in the country, the wines are extremely rich, concentrated and tend to be more fruit-driven than their Tuscan counterparts with some floral notes.
Other countries that grow Sangiovese in significant quantity include Chile (125ha) and Brazil (25ha) and those with very small quantities are Canada (10ha) and New Zealand (6ha).
The Flying Winemaker & Sangiovese
Eddie McDougall, the founder of The Flying Winemaker and a winemaker himself, with his own eponymous portfolio of wines -- Eddie McDougall Wines -- is a lover of all things Italian from the culture, to the food, but most importantly, the wines.
In 2007, Eddie set off on his love affair with "Vino di Italia" in search of vineyards planted with Italian varietals. His first discovery was in the King Valley and the grape was Sangiovese, which he made into the first vintage under his own label in 2008. Since then, Eddie has been producing vintage after vintage of the Italian Stallion .
The current vintage that is available is Eddie McDougall Sangiovese 2016. The fruit for this wine is sourced from a boutique grape grower located in Chestnut, a sub region of the King Valley. The vines are planted to the clones M6 and M7, which are recognised for their aromatic complexity and subtle tannins.
Aged for 12 months in French Barriques, this wine has aromas of sour cherries, baked cloves, vanilla and tea. The palate has velvet-like tannins and a plush fruit presence that is driven by a plummy richness. An unwinding palate of concentrated flavours and textures driven by a crisp acidity profile. Delicious!
Eddie loves Sangiovese so much that he can't even wait to make the wine, he has to eat the grapes first!
So there you have it folks, the ins, the outs and the upside-downs of Sangiovese. I hope you found our wine guide to Sangiovese informative and interesting. The sole purpose of our guide is to help you gain a better insight into the wonderful world of wine as well as a better understanding of the not-so "popular" varietals that make amazing wines.
We also want you to impress your friends with your new-found knowledge so that you can be the go-to wine guy. It's pretty cool having that title!
Stay tuned for more wine guides coming soon!