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01/09/2020

Sangiovese: a Very Varied Variety

Sangiovese is, as I’m sure you know, the main grape variety of Chianti (minimum 80%) and several other Tuscan wines. It also produces single-varietal wines in Emilia-Romagna, Corsica, California and several other places.

But it’s not always called Sangiovese. In fact, it goes under several pseudonyms, even in the same vineyard region, just to be confusing. The best known are Sangioveto, Brunello, Sangiovese Grosso, Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino, Sangiovese Romagnolo, Nielluccio and Ciliegiolo. (Except that Ciliegiolo is now proved to be a separate variety, related to Sangiovese – but opinion is divided on whether it’s one of Sangiovese’s parents or its offspring! And you thought ampelography was just a dull backwater of botany…) 

There have been moves to restrict the use of  the name Sangiovese to Emilia Romagna (maybe they should stick to Sangiovese Romagnolo) and use Sangioveto in Tuscany, but only a few producers in Tuscany have bought into that idea, unsurprisingly. They call it Brunello in Montalcino; Prugnolo Gentile or Sangiovese Grosso in (Vino Nobile di) Montepulciano; Morellino around the Scansano area; and Nielluccio in Corsica. Whatever they’re calling it, wherever it is, it’s all Sangiovese – one of the 102 registered clones. Complicated…

All you really need to know about Sangiovese and its infinite varieties is that it produces some of Italy’s greatest and costliest wines, as well as some very good ones that don’t require a mortgage and genuflection. (It also used to produce some of Italy’s worst wines, thin and over-cropped; thankfully, they’re a thing of the past.) 

What should you expect from a Sangiovese wine? The colour varies from bright cherry red to bricky; the wine has quite high acidity and tannin levels, medium alcohol, with aromas and flavours of dark cherries, plums, blackberries, spice, dried figs and even tobacco, earth, leather, vanilla, depending on the terroir and how much (if any) oak has been used in the process. 

The wines are as different as their names and the people who make them. They can be quite light and juicy, perfect for drinking within a few years of the vintage; medium-bodied and drinkable over the first ten years from vintage; or really intense and able to age for decades. To find one that suits you and the food you’re serving, read the wine description carefully – or better still, ask us.

With its high acid and tannin Sangiovese is a great food wine, the perfect partner for rich, tomato-based dishes like pizza or Bolognese sauce, and red meats such as beef steaks, pork sausage and lamb. If you happen to have a haunch of wild boar in the larder, a fine Sangiovese will partner it brilliantly.