In many ways, Sangiovese is to Chianti as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both form the base of wines that blend beautifully with other varietals, yet alone, they share a distinctive elegance and complexity. To impress your fellow oenophiles at the next dinner party, read and make note of this wine trivia!
1. Tuscany’s original wine roots date back to the Etruscans in the 8th century BC. Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most prominent grape, is derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis, which literally translates to the “blood of Jove”. Sangiovese is the premier grape varietal in Italy, planted on over 247,000 acres. Sangiovese thrives in direct sunlight at altitudes of 500 to 1600 feet. The higher elevations increase the diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes maintain their balance of sugars and acidity as well as their aromatic qualities.
2. Currently there are 11 recognized DOCGs in Tuscany. The Chianti zone is the largest classified wine region and produces over eight million cases of wine each year. The region is split into two DOCGs – Chianti and Chianti Classico.
3. To be considered a Chianti Classico, wines must be 80% to 100% Sangiovese. Other native red grapes that are typically used in blending Chianti Classico are Colorino and Canaiolo. Chianti Classico covers approximately 100 square miles between Florence and Siena and includes the communes of Chianti Classico, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’ Elsa, Poggibonsi, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Castelnuovo Beradenga.
4. The majority of Tuscany’s DOCGs are comprised of wines made of Sangiovese. However, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG produces a white wine called Vernaccia which has long been considered one of the oldest and most noble wines in Italy. Other white grapes planted in Tuscany are Trebbiano, Malvasia and Vermentino.
5. Vin Santo, also known as “Holy Wine”, is made of Trebbiano and Malvasia. The white grapes are harvested in the late fall and air-dried on straw mats until the start of Holy Week. Once bottled, Vin Santo ages for three to 12 years in small barrels. Due to the labor intensity, Vin Santo is produced in small quantities and regarded as a highly prized Italian dessert wine.
6. The Sangiovese grape is known as Brunello when grown in Montalcino and is called Brunello di Montalcino. Montalcino is located south of the Chianti Classico zone, where the climate is drier and warmer than Chianti. The majority of the vineyards are planted on hillsides at 1,640 feet and flourish in the higher altitude terroir in the shadow of Monte Amiata. Brunello ripens easily, producing consistent wines of deep color, full body with a good balance of tannins.
7. The Sangiovese grape planted in Montepulciano is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Named by nobility as the favorite royal wine in the 17th century, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is required to have 70% or more Sangiovese grapes.
8. Super Tuscans have evolved in the global marketplace and draw a more sophisticated wine consumer. Super Tuscan wines can be 100% Sangiovese but are often blended with two or more varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot or Syrah.
9. Sangiovese is a thin-skinned grape, which ripens late in the season and is rather slow to mature. It is prone to rot in dampness and requires a warm and dry climate, with plenty of sun and well-drained soil. The grapes are light in color and moderate in sugar with medium to high natural acidic levels and firm tannins. Depending on the area where the grapes are grown, Sangiovese aromas may exhibit cherry, blueberry, plum, floral or violet in character or display notes of spice, tobacco and leather. Lighter styles of Sangiovese are best drunk within three years of their vintage; however, Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino can be cellared up to 20 years in a good vintage. Likewise, Chianti Classico Riserva can be aged over 15 years.
10. Sangiovese wines are food friendly and pair well with red meat, chicken, lamb, fish, pork, Italian sausage, pasta, pizza, tomato-based dishes and well-aged cheeses. Sangiovese is best served at 65 degrees and should be decanted for one hour prior to serving to allow the wine to breathe to display its best characteristics.