Wines

Sangiovese: an In-Depth Wine Profile

Sangiovese: an In-Depth Wine Profile

Sangiovese wines, renowned for their robust character and versatility, serve as the cornerstone of many renowned Italian vintages. Sangiovese is recognized as the most widely planted grape in the Tuscany region, colouring the majority of wines in Tuscany and significantly influencing reds from other Italian regions like Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and Puglia.

This article will delve into the multifaceted world of Sangiovese wines, beginning with an exploration of their unique sensory profile. We’ll uncover the aromas and flavours that make Sangiovese a favourite among enthusiasts. Additionally, we will provide the best food pairings for Sangiovese to create harmonious dining experiences, as well as tips for serving and storing Sangiovese properly.

We’ll also discuss the primary regions famed for Sangiovese production and how local climates shape the wine’s unique attributes. Moreover, selecting a top-quality bottle of Sangiovese wine can be daunting. For this reason, we’ll provide insights to help you choose wisely.

Lastly, we’ll highlight the similarities and differences between Sangiovese and Nebbiolo wines, offering a broader perspective on both wines. Join us as we celebrate the depth and diversity of Sangiovese wines, the widely planted grape that is a pivotal part of Italy's wine heritage.

What are Sangiovese Wines?

Sangiovese, one of Italy’s most famous and versatile grape varieties, is primarily cultivated in the Tuscany region. Known for its adaptability and rich history, it forms the backbone of several well-known Italian wines, including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sangiovese wines are prized for their high acidity and robust tannins, which contribute to their aging potential and food-friendly nature.

Interesting story about Sangiovese

The origins of Sangiovese are traced back to an intriguing legend. It is believed that the name Sangiovese is derived from the Latin "Sanguis Jovis," which literally means "Jupiter's blood," the term is believed to have been coined by monks in the city of Santarcangelo Di Romagna as a nod to the Roman god Jupiter. By the 18th century, Sangiovese had ascended to prominence, becoming one of Tuscany's most extensively cultivated grapes alongside Malvasia and Trebbiano.

Sangiovese wines are known for their medium to full body and palate that balances their high acidity with the structure provided by their tannins. The colour of Sangiovese wine is typically a deep, rich red, which can develop orange hues as it ages.

The flavour profile of Sangiovese wines can vary significantly depending on the specific area where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. Generally, these wines offer a mix of fruity and earthy flavours. This complexity makes Sangiovese a particularly engaging wine for wine enthusiasts and sommeliers.

Sangiovese wines are usually great prospects for aging. This practice can contribute additional flavours like vanilla and spice to the wine’s profile.

Due to its robust structure and acidity, Sangiovese pairs exceptionally well with food. It is a classic choice for pairing with Italian dishes like pasta with tomato-based sauces, pizza, and meat dishes such as grilled steak or roast pork. The wine’s acidity cuts through the fat and richness of these dishes, making it a harmonious complement.

The diversity of Sangiovese wines is further exemplified by the production of mono-varietal wines such as Sangiovese di Romagna, showcasing the grape's versatility across different Italian regions.

Sensory Profile of Sangiovese Wines

Sangiovese wines offer a rich sensory experience that varies widely depending on its growing region and vinification process.

In terms of aroma, Sangiovese is known for its earthy and rustic notes, but it also presents a delightful array of primary aromas, including red fruits, specifically ripe cherries, and floral hints that contribute to its complexity and allure.

When it comes to taste, Sangiovese wines are celebrated for their high acidity and tannins, which give them a robust structure. The primary flavours of these wines include a mix of fruity flavours, such as those from ripe cherries, alongside savoury notes, making them versatile in pairing with a variety of dishes. Enjoying these fruity flavours is particularly delightful when pairing Sangiovese with vegetables such as peppers and roasted tomatoes to savor the fruity flavors it offers, as well as with hard cheeses and grilled ribs.

Visual Aspect and Body

Sangiovese wines typically show a vibrant, ruby-red colour that can evolve into garnet shades with aging. They are generally medium to full-bodied, with a mouth texture that can range from smooth to robustly tannic, depending on the style of vinification.

Aromatic Notes

The aromatic profile of Sangiovese is complex and can be categorized into primary, secondary, and tertiary notes:

Aromatic Notes
  • Primary Flavours: red berries such as red cherry, raspberry, plum, and strawberry.
  • Secondary Flavours: vanilla (from oak aging), toast and spice.
  • Tertiary Flavours: leather, tobacco, forest floor and dried herbs.

These aromas develop and become more pronounced as the wine ages, creating a sophisticated bouquet.

Taste Notes

Sangiovese wines are appreciated for their rich and dynamic flavour spectrum, which also divides into primary, secondary, and tertiary profiles:

Taste Notes
  • Primary Flavours: tart cherry, raspberry and red currant.
  • Secondary Flavours: oak, clove and smoke.
  • Tertiary Flavours: mushroom, dried fruit, game meats, and balsamic notes.

The balance of these flavours contributes to Sangiovese’s reputation as a versatile wine, capable of aging gracefully while maintaining its lively acidity and robust structure.

Fruit Forward vs. Rustic Sangiovese Wines

Sangiovese manifests in two distinctive styles: fruit-forward and rustic. The fruit-forward Sangiovese is celebrated for its vibrant red berry flavours, offering a smoother, more approachable profile. These wines often age in newer oak barrels, imparting a subtle vanilla undertone, making them popular among those who favour a sweeter, more polished sip.

On the other hand, the rustic Sangiovese wines have garnered a devoted following among traditionalists. Crafted in a more restrained, Old World fashion, these robust reds boast a firm tannic structure, earthy undertones, and an unmistakable savoury quality that demands patience and careful food pairing. Aged in old oak or concrete, rustic Sangiovese wines evoke the terroir of their origins, often expressing a complex bouquet of dried fruits, tobacco, and leather. Proponents argue that these wines capture the very essence of the Sangiovese grape and the Tuscan terrain from which it hails.

Both styles offer a unique expression of the Sangiovese grape, each appealing to different palates and occasions. While the fruit-forward variant might be more suited to casual drinking and modern cuisine, the rustic version remains a favourite for traditional pairings and those who appreciate a more authentic taste of the vineyard's heritage.

Sangiovese Food Pairings

Sangiovese wines are renowned for their versatility in food pairing, thanks to their high acidity and robust tannins, which make them excellent companions to a wide array of dishes from various cuisines.

Sangiovese Food Pairings

Classic Italian Dishes

  • Pasta with Tomato-Based Sauces: Sangiovese's acidity harmonizes beautifully with the tang of tomato-based dishes, enhancing the flavours without overwhelming them.
  • Bistecca alla Fiorentina: This classic Florentine steak, with its robust flavours and grilled preparation, is a perfect match for Sangiovese.
  • Pecorino Cheese: Hard cheeses, particularly those with a peppery edge, are lifted by Sangiovese's vibrant character.

International Cuisine

  • Grilled Meats: Whether it's a juicy burger or a well-marbled steak, the smoky flavours of grilled meats find a harmonious partner in Sangiovese.
  • Mushroom Risotto: For a vegetarian option, the earthy flavours of mushrooms complement the rustic notes of Sangiovese.
  • Lentil Soup: A hearty lentil soup seasoned with herbs aligns well with Sangiovese's profile, especially in its ability to mesh with savoury dishes.

Vegan and Vegetarian Options

Grilled Vegetables: Sangiovese pairs well with rich, olive oil-drizzled grilled vegetables, enhancing their natural flavours. Pairing Sangiovese with vegetables such as peppers and roasted tomatoes can also allow you to enjoy the wine's fruity flavours.

Vegan Pizzas: Choose toppings like mushrooms and spinach, which can withstand and complement the wine’s robustness.

These pairings complement the acidity and structure of Sangiovese with a broad spectrum of flavours, from hearty meats to richly seasoned vegetarian dishes.

Main Regions Producing Sangiovese Grape Wines

Sangiovese is predominantly grown in Italy, where its characteristics vary significantly across different regions due to climate variations. This grape is also cultivated in other parts of the world, including the United States and Argentina, where it adapts well to similar climates. The adaptability of Sangiovese and other Italian grapes to climates in the United States and Argentina highlights the versatility and global appeal of these Italian varieties.

Main Regions Producing Sangiovese Grape Wines

Italy (Tuscany):

  • Chianti: This region is known for its versatile styles, which range from medium-bodied and fresh to dense and oak-aged. Chianti wines must contain at least 70% Sangiovese. In addition, Cabernet Sauvignon is often used in blends, enhancing the complexity and structure of the wines.
  • Chianti Classico: This region occupies the historic heart of the Chianti region, producing wines that are generally of higher quality and with greater aging potential. It requires at least 80% Sangiovese. The inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon in some blends contributes to the depth and richness of these wines.
  • Montalcino: Famed for Brunello di Montalcino, this area produces full-bodied, tannic, and complex wines from 100% Sangiovese. The region’s higher elevation and varied soil types contribute to its wines’ distinct flavour profile.
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this wine is primarily Sangiovese and is noted for its noble quality, requiring significant aging to develop its characteristic flavours. The use of Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Sangiovese in the production of Super Tuscans from Toscana IGT exemplifies the innovative blending practices that have emerged in the region.

United States:

  • California and Washington: These regions have seen success with Sangiovese, adapting to their microclimates that mimic the warm, dry conditions favourable to this varietal. Central Texas, with its similar climate to Tuscany, also supports the growth of quality Sangiovese grapes.

Argentina:

Sangiovese has been cultivated in Argentina since the mid-19th century and is appreciated for producing bold red wines at reasonable prices.

  • San Juan: This region, particularly the Pedernal Valley, is known for producing high-quality Sangiovese. The valley's unique terroir and cooler climate contribute to the development of Sangiovese, which has good structure and complexity.
  • Mendoza and La Rioja: While Sangiovese is not the primary grape here, these famed regions also cultivate Sangiovese. The wines from this region often exhibit a distinctive character influenced by the local climate and soil conditions.

The climate significantly influences the characteristics of Sangiovese wines. The grapes ripen more fully in warmer areas like Montalcino, leading to robust, full-bodied wines. In cooler or more variable climates, such as those found in some parts of Chianti, the wines might exhibit higher acidity and a fresher, more aromatic profile.

Tips for Serving and Storing Sangiovese Wines

Proper serving and storage are key to enjoying Sangiovese wines at their best. Here are some tips to help you maximize the flavour and longevity of this beloved Italian varietal.

Tips for Serving Sangiovese Wines

Serving Sangiovese

  • Temperature: Sangiovese should be served slightly cooler than room temperature, ideally between 60–68°F (15-20°C). This temperature helps to enhance the wine's complex flavours and aromatic profile without exaggerating its acidity and tannins.
  • Glass Type: Use a large, tulip-shaped wine glass. This design allows ample room for the wine to breathe, enhancing the aromatic experience and focusing the flavours toward the top of the glass, making each sip more enjoyable.
  • Decanting: Decanting Sangiovese for about 30 minutes before serving can significantly benefit the wine, especially the younger or more tannic versions. This process helps soften tannins and opens up the flavours.

Storing Sangiovese

  • Temperature Stability: Store Sangiovese in a cool, stable environment where temperatures range from 53-57°F (12-14°C). Consistency in temperature is crucial to prevent damaging the wine through thermal shock or premature aging.
  • Humidity Control: Maintain humidity levels around 70% to keep corks in good condition and prevent them from drying out.
  • Positioning: Store wine bottles horizontally to keep the cork moist, which prevents it from drying out and allowing air to enter the bottle, potentially spoiling the wine.
  • Light Exposure: Keep bottles in a dark place, as prolonged exposure to light can degrade the quality of the wine, leading to what is known as 'light strike,' which affects the aroma and flavour.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your Sangiovese wine retains its quality and character, offering the best drinking experience possible.

Similarities and Differences Between Sangiovese and Nebbiolo Wines

Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are both iconic Italian wines known for their complexity. Although they share some similarities, they also have distinct differences that make them unique. Interestingly, Pinot Noir is sometimes used in blending with Sangiovese to create wines that feature a unique flavour profile, including notes of red fruit, dark cherry, and cocoa, contrasting with the typical characteristics of Nebbiolo.

Similarities

  • Acidity and Food Pairings: Both Sangiovese and Nebbiolo have high acidity levels, making them excellent for pairing with a wide range of foods. This acidity gives both types of wine a freshness that complements rich, hearty dishes.
  • Tannin Structure: Both varieties exhibit a robust tannin structure, though the expression of these tannins can vary.
  • Aging Potential: Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are both capable of aging well and developing more complex flavours over time. This makes them both favourites among collectors and those who appreciate wines that evolve with age.

Differences

  • Flavour Profiles: Nebbiolo wines are noted for their distinctive "tar and roses" aroma, complemented by flavours like cherries, fruitcake, clove, and anise. They tend to have a light appearance but are powerful in flavour, with noticeable tannins that soften with age. On the other hand, Sangiovese typically offers flavours of red cherry, strawberry, plum, and raspberry, along with savoury notes like leather, clay, and tobacco. It is less floral compared to Nebbiolo and often presents a rustic structure.
  • Colour and Texture: Nebbiolo wines are usually light in colour, aging to an orange hue, and are known for their bold, robust structure. Sangiovese wines are generally deeper in colour, with a slightly lighter body and less astringent tannins compared to young Nebbiolo wines.
  • Regional Expressions: Nebbiolo is primarily associated with the Piedmont region in Italy, especially known for Barolo and Barbaresco wines, among the grape's most prestigious expressions. Sangiovese dominates in Tuscany, forming the backbone of famous wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, and is more widely planted across Italy.

Final Thoughts

Sangiovese wines hold a place of high esteem in the Italian wine industry, serving as the cornerstone for many of the country’s most celebrated wines. Originating from Tuscany, Sangiovese is integral to the identity of iconic wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and many prestigious Super Tuscans. These wines are renowned not just for their quality and complexity but also for their versatility, showcasing a range from light and fresh to full-bodied and age-worthy expressions, including the evolution of blended wine practices. The historical and modern blending practices, especially in Chianti Classico, have seen a transition from the inclusion of white grapes to a focus on varietal Sangiovese and the allowance of Bordeaux varieties, emphasizing the significance of native red varieties in creating a statement on terroir through blended wines.

The significance of Sangiovese extends beyond its flavour profile; it is a vital part of Italy’s wine heritage and a key contributor to the country’s wine economy. This grape variety adapts well to various terroirs, reflecting the unique characteristics of each region in which it is grown, which is why it’s widely planted across Italy. The ability of Sangiovese wines to age well allows them to develop richer, more complex flavours over time, adding to their appeal and market value.

Moreover, the evolution of Sangiovese over the decades reflects advancements in winemaking techniques and a shift towards higher quality production across Italy. Today, Sangiovese wines are celebrated globally for their high acidity, firm tannins, and robust structure, making them excellent for pairing with a wide array of cuisines. This wine enhances the nation’s wine diversity, offering both traditional and innovative styles that appeal to a broad audience of wine enthusiasts worldwide. Among the diversity of Sangiovese wines, 'Sangiovese Grosso' plays a pivotal role, particularly in the production of Brunello di Montalcino, showcasing the variety within Sangiovese wines.

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