Intro to Sangiovese


Say it: san-geeo-VEHS-eh.  This is an Italian grape superstar, that you’ve probably drank but maybe didn’t realize.  Read up, this is your Intro to Sangio’!

Grape: Sangiovese.   The name of this native Italian grape has debatable origins, some saying that it’s from Latin’s “sanguis Jovis” or Blood of Jove, Jove being the Roman God.

Color: Black

Also Known As: Prugnolo, Brunello*, Nielluccio/Niellucciu, Morellino, Corinto Nero, Nerello

Grape Relatives: Ciliegiolo, Calabrese Montenuovo, Brunello (technically is a clone of Sangiovese rather than a nickname)

Location(s): Its Motherland and primary residence is Italy, though smaller Sangiovese production can be also found in the USA, Australia, France, and in South America.

Typical Characteristics:  Sangiovese-based wines and 100% Sangiovese wines (=in Italian they call single varietal wines “in purezza”) vary greatly, which we can say is due to both differences in Terroir (=the combination of topography, soil, sun, climate, and weather of a particular area which makes each wine unique and gives it a sense of “place”)and wine-making practices.  Tannins are often described as being “dusty”  or “rustic”, or in bigger aged wines astringent.  Sangiovese makes a highly acidic wine which means it’s very food-friendly!  It’s great for Italian dishes of all kinds, especially tomato-based foods.  Specific smell and taste descriptors may include:

  • Fruits & Veggies- tart or sour red cherry, strawberry, red plum, tomato
  • Spices & Wood-derived- Tea, cloves, cinnamon, anise, vanilla, oak, cedar, toast, tar, smoke, potpourri, oregano
  • Floral- violets and dried flowers or roses
  • Earthy- Wet leaves, wet soil, tobacco, herbal, leather

Wines with Sangiovese: There are lots of blends with Sangiovese as well as single varietal wines, the vast majority being Italian.  Here are just a few:

                Chianti DOC/DOCG/Classico:  Chianti is a wine region in Tuscany making Sangiovese-dominated blends.  Historically only local grape varieties (like Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo), including a white variety (Trebbiano or Malvasia), were permitted in the Chianti blend. Nowadays in a perpetually evolving industry, some wineries are embracing non-Italian varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Chiantis vary quite a bit, both in quality and price due to both variation in Terroir and variation in Vintner practices.  The traditional blends tend to be simpler and easier to drink where the blends using non-traditional grapes are usually bigger and heavier.  “Classico” on a label tells you the wine and grapes come from the oldest (and usually best) part of the Chianti region.  “Riserva” on a label tells us that a particular wine underwent extended ageing, making a fuller more complex wine.

                Brunello di Montalcino:  Montalcino is town/area also in Tuscany, technically within the Chianti zone.   Brunellos are high to premium priced wines made from 100% Sangiovese.  They are dramatically different than their Chianti brethren due to differences in climate, soil composition, and the fact that Chiantis are blends where Brunellos are 100% Sangiovese.  Brunellos are as rich, elegant, and full-bodied as they are pricey!

                Vino Nobile di Montepulciano:  not to be confused with Montepulciano the grape variety.  This wine also comes from Tuscany and is also made from 100% Sangiovese, these are similar to their big brother Brunello but some say lack the finesse.  These are a great less expensive alternative to a more costly Brunello.

                Morellino di Scansano:  This is an easier and cheaper Sangiovese-based wine that unsurprisingly finds its home in Tuscany.  Morellinos are full bodied reds with notes of blueberry, strawberry, and sour cherry.

                Montefalco Rosso: from the non-Tuscan region of Umbria, these are inexpensive and excellent quality red wines made of at least 70% Sangiovese and blended typically with the local variety Sagrantino and sometimes Merlot.

Who Sangiovese’s a good wine buddy for: Well obviously folks who like red wine!  Sangiovese is a really versatile grape that can express itself in a wide range of wines, so it can be appealing to large range of wine-drinkers.  Those preferring easier-breezier reds that require little patience can easily be happy with Morellinos, Montefalcos, Vino Nobiles, or some traditional style Chiantis.  Those who prefer more heavy and bold wines (with higher price tags) will be happy with Brunellos, non-traditional style Chiantis (=Chianti blends with bolder or heavier international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon) or any of many “Super Tuscan” wines.

Food Friends:  Some foods and ingredients to consider eating along with a Sangiovese wine (remember that not all Sangiovese wines have the same weight, fullness, or intensity so Food Friends will depend greatly on your specific Sangio wine!) are beef, lamb, pork, chicken, hard cheeses like Parmesan, pastas with tomato or tomato-based sauces, risottos, acidic elements like garlic and onions, mushrooms, eggplants, bell pepper, fennel, etc.

Aubrie Talarico

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