Sangiovese - The Heart and Soul (and Blood) of Tuscan Wine>
The origins of the name "Sangiovese" are shrouded in mystery and debate, adding to the allure of this iconic grape. Some believe that the name is derived from the Latin words "sanguis Jovis," meaning "the blood of Jove," a reference to the grape's vibrant color and perceived connection to the Roman god Jupiter (Jove). Others speculate that the name is a corruption of "sangiovannese," indicating its association with the feast day of St. John the Baptist, which falls around the time of the grape's ripening in June.
Regardless of its etymology, Sangiovese has been cultivated in central Italy for centuries, with its origins likely dating back to Etruscan and Roman times. Today, it is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy, thriving in the region's diverse microclimates and soil types.
First: the all-important question: how do you pronounce Sangiovese?
The correct way to say it is “san-joe-VAY-zeh.”
The emphasis is on the second syllable, and it’s important to maintain a smooth flow from the “joe” to the “VAY” sound. It may take a few tries to get it just right, but once you do, it feels like unlocking a secret code to the world of Italian wines.
Certainly, when in Tuscany, if you pronounce Sangiovese so perfectly, an Italian may dive into a conversation with you, speaking to you at full speed in a sequence of words where one flows into the other without pause. Don't get caught by surprise when this happens. You might think everything they are saying must be about the wine. The truth is, they could be talking about anything. Just tilt, and then nod you head in agreement and say "grazie mille".
Sangiovese: The Essence of Tuscan Terroir
Tuscany, with its rolling hills, medieval villages, and iconic cypress trees, is a region that epitomizes the essence of Italy. But perhaps nothing embodies the spirit of Tuscany more than its wines, particularly those made from Sangiovese, the noble grape that reigns supreme in this picturesque corner of the world. In this exploration, we'll delve into the multifaceted world of Sangiovese, its diverse expressions, and the esteemed producers who craft these iconic wines.
Sangiovese: A Grape with Heritage
Sangiovese, believed to have originated in Tuscany, is a grape variety with a rich history and a deep connection to the land. Its name, derived from the Latin "sanguis Jovis" (the blood of Jove), hints at its revered status among winemakers and enthusiasts alike. Sangiovese is known for its ability to reflect terroir, resulting in wines that range from elegant and fruity to bold and structured, depending on the region and winemaking techniques.
Classic Sangiovese Wines and Their Producers
Chianti Classico: The heartland of Sangiovese, Chianti Classico is home to some of Tuscany's most renowned producers. Among them, Antinori, Castello di Volpaia, and Fèlsina stand out for their commitment to quality and tradition. Antinori, a historic family-owned estate dating back over six centuries, produces Chianti Classico wines that balance tradition with innovation. Castello di Volpaia, located in the medieval village of Radda, crafts elegant and age-worthy Sangiovese-based wines. Fèlsina, with its emphasis on organic and biodynamic practices, produces Chianti Classico wines of remarkable depth and complexity.
Brunello di Montalcino: In the hills surrounding the town of Montalcino, Sangiovese reaches its pinnacle in the form of Brunello. Biondi-Santi, Poggio di Sotto, and Il Poggione are among the esteemed producers of this iconic wine. Biondi-Santi holds a special place in the history of Brunello, being credited with its creation in the 19th century. Poggio di Sotto, known for its meticulous vineyard management and low-intervention winemaking, crafts Brunello wines of exceptional elegance and finesse. Il Poggione, with its centuries-old estate, produces Brunello wines that showcase the power and longevity of Sangiovese.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: South of Montalcino lies the town of Montepulciano, home to another Sangiovese-based gem, Vino Nobile. Avignonesi, Boscarelli, and Poliziano are esteemed producers in this appellation. Avignonesi, a pioneer of organic viticulture in Tuscany, produces Vino Nobile wines that balance tradition with innovation. Boscarelli, a family-owned estate with a history dating back to the 1960s, crafts Vino Nobile wines of elegance and complexity. Poliziano, known for its commitment to quality and terroir expression, produces Vino Nobile wines that reflect the unique characteristics of Montepulciano.
Blending Partners and Emerging Stars
While Sangiovese shines on its own, it also excels in blends, particularly in regions such as Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano, and Bolgheri:
Morellino di Scansano: Located in the Maremma region, Morellino di Scansano is known for its approachable and fruit-forward Sangiovese-based wines. Producers like Fattoria Le Pupille, Le Macchiole, and Poggio Argentiera are leading the way in this appellation. Fattoria Le Pupille, under the guidance of winemaker Elisabetta Geppetti, produces Morellino wines that combine tradition with innovation. Le Macchiole, known for its focus on single-variety wines, crafts Morellino wines that showcase the unique characteristics of Sangiovese. Poggio Argentiera, with its sustainable farming practices, produces Morellino wines of purity and expression.
Carmignano: Just west of Florence, Carmignano is known for its historic tradition of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon. Producers like Capezzana, Fattoria Ambra, and Capezzana are at the forefront of this appellation. Capezzana, with its centuries-old estate, produces Carmignano wines that balance tradition with modernity. Fattoria Ambra, a family-owned estate with a focus on organic farming, crafts Carmignano wines of elegance and finesse. Capezzana, with its commitment to sustainability and biodiversity, produces Carmignano wines that reflect the terroir of the region.
Bolgheri: Along the coast of Tuscany, Bolgheri is known for its bold and opulent Super Tuscan wines. Producers like Tenuta San Guido, Ornellaia, and Antinori are synonymous with excellence in this appellation. Tenuta San Guido, the birthplace of Sassicaia, produces Super Tuscan wines that have achieved international acclaim. Ornellaia, with its focus on precision viticulture and winemaking, crafts Super Tuscan wines of complexity and depth. Antinori, a historic family-owned estate with a global presence, produces Super Tuscan wines that exemplify the marriage of tradition and innovation.
Local Foods to Pair with Sangiovese Wines
To complement the diverse expressions of Sangiovese wines from Tuscany's various appellations, here are some local dishes to enjoy:
Chianti Classico: Pair with Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak), Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato and bread soup), or Ribollita (Tuscan bean soup).
Brunello di Montalcino: Enjoy with Pici all'Aglione (hand-rolled pasta with garlic and tomato sauce), Cinghiale in Umido (wild boar stew), or Formaggio Pecorino (aged Tuscan pecorino cheese).
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Pair with Pici al Ragu di Cinghiale (hand-rolled pasta with wild boar ragù), Pappardelle con Anatra (pappardelle with duck ragù), or Salumi Toscani (Tuscan cured meats).
Morellino di Scansano: Ideal accompaniments include Tagliata di Manzo (sliced beef steak), Pappardelle al Cinghiale (pappardelle with wild boar ragù), or Torta di Ceci (chickpea flour tart).
Carmignano: Complement with Peposo alla Carmignanese (Carmignano-style beef stew), Fagioli all'Uccelletto (beans cooked with tomato and sage), or Crostini Toscani (Tuscan chicken liver crostini).
Bolgheri: Pair with Tagliata di Manzo (sliced beef steak), Pappardelle al Cinghiale (pappardelle with wild boar ragù), or Crostini di Fegatini (chicken liver crostini).
Sangiovese is not just a grape variety; it's a symbol of Tuscany's rich winemaking heritage and terroir. From the historic estates of Chianti Classico to the coastal vineyards of Bolgheri, Sangiovese wines offer a captivating journey through the diverse landscapes and traditions of this iconic wine region. So, whether you're sipping a glass of Brunello di Montalcino or a Super Tuscan blend, take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship, history, and passion that went into creating each bottle. Salute!