Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"The" Italian Wine Grape: Sangiovese

Every year, as the summer begins to melt away and hints of cooler autumn days can be seen off in the distance, I find myself craving Sangiovese. I will admit, even with my intense love of the Nebbiolo grape, that Sangiovese holds a very special place in my heart and in my cellar. You could say that Sangiovese is “The” Italian wine grape, with a storied history going back to the 18th century and its earliest documented mention in 1590. It is also the most widely-planted red wine grape variety in all of Italy. Sangiovese is the star performer behind many of Italy's premier wines, including Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano and many of the Super Tuscan IGT bottlings.

Sangiovese is widely planted throughout the regions 
of Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo
and the Marche
Central Italy is the area most planted with Sangiovese, often coined the Sangiovese belt. Tuscany is obviously the most famous of these regions with a number of great expressions, but you will also find it widely used in Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo and the Marche. Of course, Sangiovese isn't limited to Italy either, with many wines being made from California, Romania and Argentina. However, I'm still not convinced by most of these wines and find that Italy has little competition.

Courtesy of Wine Folly
"Guide to Sangiovese"
Honestly, I believe it has much to do with experience and acceptance of the grapes’ inherent traits. Sangiovese is naturally light in color with high acidity, stern structure and flavors of tart red fruits, herbs, leather and tea leaves. When a balance is stuck between these components, the results are beautiful. However, when not allowed to ripen perfectly, the stern structure and brisk acidity seem to dry out the fruit, making the experience painful. In some parts of the world, this balance is missed by over-ripening or the excessive use of oak.

Due to its inherent traits, Sangiovese is often blended with a large number of other grape varieties, but it's important that the percentage isn't too high, as its qualities can be lost against the backdrop of too much Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. With that said, there are many great Sangiovese-based wines that are perfectly blended with international varieties.

However, the Sangiovese purist would insist on a 100% Sangiovese or having it with more traditional Italian grapes, such as Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Mammolo and Colorino. It also responds well to moderate use of oak, but it loses much of its natural beauty when overdone.

In the end, Sangiovese is worth the search, and there's enough of it out there to keep you busy for a long time. Each expression has its own unique characteristics, making the exploration into this variety a never-ending journey for those wishing to delve in. In the next few months, expect more on Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a number of Super Tuscans.

Until that time, it is my opinion that Chianti Classico is probably the best place to start, and there’s nowhere better than the 2010 vintage. Classic is a word often used to describe the long, cool growing season in 2010, with a decent amount of rain moderated by periods of extended warmth and sunshine. This mix produced exciting wines of structure with juicy acidity and bright, focused fruit that really grabs your attention and holds it from the first glass through the last. Most of these wines are drinking beautifully right now, with a few that demand some time in the cellar. All of them perform much better at the dinner table, due to their brisk acidity. These are serious Chianti Classico that show the best qualities of the region and belong in your cellar. As for 2011, I’ll talk about them later in the year, for now; stocking up on 2010 is my priority.

On To The Tasting Notes:

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico - The nose showed great intensity with red berry fruits, Tuscan dust, savory herbs, grilled meats and mineral tones. It came in waves with a dark and concentrated bouquet. On the palate, it was firm yet bursting at its tailored seams with tart cherry and something like a rich reduction of red meat and herbs. It was quite notable for its sweet, yet tart, yet savory personality. I found myself loving this wine more and more with every taste. The 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico really hit its sweet spot after an hour open in bottle. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico - The nose was vibrant and inviting with ripe cherry, autumnal spices, undergrowth, tobacco and crushed fall leaves. On the palate, it impressed with it's silky-smooth, medium body, and juicy red fruit, which seemed to touch on all the senses, followed by hints of spice and cedar. It was warming and finessed with a refreshing finish and balanced structure, which begged for another sip. Nowhere did I find the harsh tannin or elevated acidity that would usually accompany such a young Chianti, this was simply a pleasure to drink. (92+ points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico - The nose showed rich black cherry, ripe plum, exotic spice and herbs with hints of animal musk grounding it to it's Tuscan origins. It was highly expressive and brooding on the nose with a dark ruby color in the glass. On the palate, a vibrant core of acidity ushered in flavors of ripe red medicinal fruit and spice, yet soft and textured. It was a pleasure to drink and finished fresh with hints of structure giving balance to it's red fruit and floral tones. An excellent wine and an amazing value. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Fattoria Poggiopiano Chianti Classico - The nose was a beautiful mix of ripe black cherry fruit and fresh, sweet floral tones, as notes of graphite and cinnamon rounded out the bouquet. On the palate, it was mid-weight with brisk acidity taking center stage, backed by juicy cherry and mountain herbs. A slight bitter note resonated on the finish, but didn't detract as hints of juicy red fruit and cedar faded from the palate. This was a beautiful Chianti with stunning aromatics and a great "drink me" presence on the palate, a perfect food wine. (91 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Querciabella Chianti Classico - The nose showed youthful cherry and spice with crushed fall leaves and a hint of cranberry. On the palate, it was rich yet balanced with refined structure and focused red fruits. The finish lingered on with notes of cranberry and fine tannin. This wine was just a baby and will likely be a stunner in another few years. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 San Felice Chianti Classico - The nose showed strawberry, cherry and herbs with hints of spice, animal musk and a touch of barnyard. On the palate, it showed ripe red berries and herbs with a juicy personality. The finish was full of saturating red fruits with hints of fine tannin, yet it left me with a pleasant, juicy impression. This is just what I want from an any-day Chianti. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico - The nose was fresh and floral with cherry, cedar, spice and hints of cinnamon and herbs. It coated the palate with rich raspberry and cherry fruits which slowly faded to reveal fine tannin and mouth-watering acidity. The 2010 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico is firm yet satisfying with excellent presence on the palate that screamed to be paired with a plate of pasta in red sauce. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Antinori Chianti Classico Peppoli - The nose was flashy with a modern curve, showing medicinal cherry, deep wood tones, licorice and dark chocolate. On the palate, it was medium-weight with spicy, red berry fruits and a slightly creamy texture that quickly gave way to a bitter twang. The structure shined through on the finish with hints of drying tannin offset by sweet cherry and vanilla. The 2010 is an oak-accentuated, early-drinking and lighthearted effort meant more for a weeknight dinner than anything else, yet it still represents value in the $20 price range. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Vignamaggio Gherardino Chianti Classico - The nose showed cool red berries with dark earth, herbs and Tuscan spice. On the palate, I found tart red fruits with a dry yet balanced presence on the senses. The finish was medium-long with tart red berries and hint of caramel. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

* A big thanks to Wine Folly for their image of "The Color of Sangiovese", make sure to check out their site and "Guide to Sangiovese".


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