A Grape to Rediscover
Sangiovese has long been the main grape grown in central Italy and, though some put it to good use, a much larger number were using it to make cheap, bulk wine with little varietal character.
There has been a great deal of change in the last 40 years and, thanks to some rebellious winemakers in Italy, Sangiovese has flourished and gained a reputation for interesting, elegant and concentrated wines.
Whilst there are producers experimenting with Sangiovese as far afield as California and Australia, it is those rebellious wine makers in Italy and their subsequent followers that have enticed us back to the grape variety we so long associated with the straw covered Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling of Italian restaurants.
A number of producers in Chianti were insightful enough (and brave enough) to see that the production rules for the Chianti classification system were severely flawed and began experimenting with other grape varieties, different blends, 100% Sangiovese wines and single vineyard bottlings. The results were miles ahead in quality and finesse than those made in the traditional style.
Over towards the Tuscan coast producers began experimenting with non-indigenous grape varieties. Whilst they found success with their ‘Super Tuscan’ wines, many of these trailblazers began to slowly return to Sangiovese making blends that complemented the native grape variety.
The one place Sangiovese has not faltered in reputation is in Montalcino in the south of Tuscany where the local strain, Brunello, has been used since the late 19th century to produce one of Italy’s most revered wines.
Below is a selection of Sangiovese wines, some blends, some 100% varietal, that highlight the progress that has been made by hardworking producers.
Tenuta San Guido are famous for moving away from Sangiovese for their Boxdeaux blend Sassicaia but a small percentage is grown on the estate and used for Le Difese. Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon they have designed the wine to be fruity, soft and punchy using the Sangiovese for its approachablity in youth.
Castello di Ama were at the forefront of the ‘single vineyard’ concept in the Chianti Classico region and their focus has historically been on Sangiovese. The Montebuoni Riserva offers excellent value and a good example of the classic Sangiovese characteristics from this region.
Brunello di Montalcino is a wine designed for age as the tannins can be tight and harsh in youth. The 2012 from Il Poggione has all the power and structure you would expect from a Brunello but age has encouraged elegance and finesse.
One of the many vineyards owned by the Antinori group but not one to be overlooked. Carefully selected grapes, excellent wine making and a style that showcases the Sangiovese character well. Lots of earthy tones, a herbaceous edge and a touch of violets and liquorice on the finish.
Probably the most famous Sangiovese based wine in the world but not necessarily the greatest. Made with around 80% Sangiovese and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, it can feel over-extracted in some vintages and possibly a little too smooth in others. The 2015 was one of the best vintages of the decade but not in a classic way making this a more restrained and elegant Tignanello than normal.
The 2010 Cepparello from Isole e Olena is the perfect wine to showcase how elegant Sangiovese can be when made well and allowed to mature. Made from 100% Sangiovese this is deep and dark in colour with ripe fruit, plenty of spice and the wild herbaceous notes one would expect from the heat of the Mediterranean.
Flaccianello della Pieve, made from 100% Sangiovese, is the flagship wine from Fontodi and has become highly sought after. The 2004 vintage divided opinion on release due to its taught nature and lack of full fruit. However, time has done wonders for this wine with the fruit emerging along with a more mineral edge.