Alright, here’s the low-down on Sangiovese (san-joe-vase-eigh), Italy’s most widely planted varietal, especially in the center portion of the boot.  Sangio has been around for a long, long time.  In fact, it is thought to be ancient with some records from way back when using names similar like “sangiogheto” or using one of the many, many synonyms to Sangio like Morellino, Nielluccio, Prugnolo Gentile, Brunello and more.  Also, the meaning of the word is “the blood of Jove,” so yeah probably quite old.

It is most popularly recognized as being the principle variety of Chianti.  Chianti covers a huge portion of central Italy, more land than all of Bordeaux in fact.  It is nearly 100 miles from north to south, but it was not always this way.  In 1716, Chianti was delimited.  It was one of the first wine regions in the world to be specified in this nature.  That original geographical location is now known as Chianti Classico produces mighty fine wines.  There are now several other “Chianti’s” that I describe below.  First, some otherness on Sangiovese…

In 2004 researchers in Alto Adige discovered that the parents (they must be so proud) of Sangio are Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montennovo therefore Sangio is one half Tuscan and one half Southern Italian.  So if my experience of living in Florence as a blonde American taught me anything, it taught me about Italian men.  Those from Tuscany wear shiny belt buckles and love vodka (and blondes).  The ones from the south eat pasta for breakfast because they’re workhorses, know how to farm but know how to eat well too.  This makes sense… Sangio as a wine is lively, bright, and fashionable, but has some innate wildness and strength to it.  Anyway, Sangiovese is a slow and late ripening grape that is often not harvested until after September 29.  In hot years is produces rich and sometimes too alcoholic wines that can live for a long time.  In cool years, it has very high acidity and hard tannins.  If overproduced, the color is terribly light and brown easily; does not age well.  It sounds like I’m dissing Sangio which I don’t mean to do; let me tell you the good stuff:

Sangiovese is fantastic.  It’s high in acid making it perfect for Italian food and lots of dishes with similar weight and acidity.  If you have never had pizza and Chianti, please do.  Immediately.  It’s got a lot of tannin too which makes it intriguing, full of character and strong.  The combination of these factors grants it great ageing capability.  The flavor profile is incredibly diverse and can range from bright fruit to earthy funk.  There is something about Italian terroir that is exceptionally unique.  Sometimes I smell a wine, even a Cab from Italy and it just smells… Italian… Here are some aromas and tastes from past tasting notes: under ripe cherry, candied cherry, strawberry, campfire, cigarette smoke, tart cherry, grass, wet hay, green pepper, stones, barn, red apple, bing cherries, sugar cookie, leather, smoke, tobacco, tea, dates, cinnamon, vanilla.

Now for some specifics about what’s on the table for tasting group (because there’s other options for Italian Sangio, but I didn’t want to introduce them all.)

Chianti Classico: Sangiovese was always part of the blend with other varietals like Canaiolo, Mammolo, Malvasia (white), Trebbiano (white) and others. Today, it is the principle varietal.  As of 1984 Sangiovese must account for at least 80% of the final wine thought some producers go for single varietal.  Other grapes including the non-traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah are permitted up to 20%.  The area stretches from just outside Florence to Siena in the south.  The soil types and aspect varies significantly from north to south leading to suggestions that sub-regions be created.  A producer I like from here: Felsina

Chianti Rufina: Just northeast of Chianti Classico.  The altitude here is a bit lower than that in Classico but there is a pass in the Apennine Mountains to the north that introduces a cool breeze.  Slightly lighter is style and often lower in price.  A producer I like from here: Selvapiana

Morellino de Scansano: Southwest of Chianti Classico not far from the coast in an are loosely defined as Maremma.  These wines are 100% Sangiovese and grown in hillside vineyards ranging from the sea up the village of Scansano.  Wines from here are muscular.  And usually inexpensive.  A producer I like from here: Fattoria Le Pupille

Vino Nobile di Monepulciano: This region is east of Chianti Classico.  These wines used to be a blend with Sangio as the principle but now, it is solely Sangiovese.  They call Sangio “Prugnolo Gentile” here.  The wines are big and often have more alcohol than Chianti Classico.

Brunello di Montalcino: The village of Montalcino is south of Chianti Classico.  It enjoys a cool maritime breeze which is good for the thin-skinned varietal. “Brunello” is the name for Sangiovese here.  The wines is made of solely Sangio.  What makes Brunello di Montalcino stand apart from other expressions of the grape is the arid climate, the aforementioned cool breeze, and the ageing process.  Before Brunello di Montalcinos are even released, they are aged in cask for at least two years and at least four months in the bottle with a total of four years.  I haven’t had much Brunello di Montalcino (yet), but one producer I like is Il Poggione

Rosso di Montalcino: Same delimited are as Brunello di Montalcino but may be released after it is one year old.  Interesting tid bit: Wines labeled “Sant’Antimo” are actually of the same delimited area of Brunello & Rosso di Montalcino but use new oak which Brunello and Rosso do not.

Tasting notes to follow shortly….

p.s. for those who are on the edge of your seats about the Riesling tasting, I can’t find my notes.  They’re somewhere… will post when found.

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