The Sangiovese varietal is the most planted wine variety in Italy and has made the Tuscany region renowned for its Chianti wine. In Chianti, Sangiovese must account for 70% of the blend and in Chianti Classico the minimum rises to 80%. Other better-known Tuscan wine blends made mainly from Sangiovese grapes include Morellino di Scansano, which must contain 85% and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, with 70% Sangiovese grapes.
Beyond Tuscany, Sangiovese is widely planted in Lazio, Umbria, Marche (all of which border Tuscany) and Corsica. In Corsica the variety is known as Nielluccio or Niellucciu.
In addition to being a mainstay in many varieties of red wines, Sangiovese is often used for Vin Santo wines, which are a style of Italian dessert wine. Vin Santo is traditionally found in Tuscany.
Sangiovese can come in different stylistic expressions based on where it grows. There are many different mutations of the variety found throughout Italy, which results in very different tasting wines. From the delicate, floral strawberry aromas of Montefalco Rosso to the intensely dark and tannic wines of Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese wines have wide appeal.
Sangiovese is seldom found outside of Italy. Of the approximate 70,800 hectares of Sangiovese grown worldwide, almost 63,000 hectares are grown in Italy, followed by about 1,940 in Corsica, and 800 hectares in each of Argentina and the United States.
Sangiovese is savory and offers a wide range of tastes. Flavours can vary from very earthy and rustic, as in many Chianti Classico, to round and fruit-forward options. Regardless of where it is grown, it always contains hints of cherry and subtle notes of tomato.
The range of flavours include tart cherry, red plum, strawberry, roasted pepper, tomato, leather, tobacco, smoke, oregano and thyme.
Sangiovese is often lightly oaked in oak barrels. The tannin and acidity level is usually quite high with ageability ranging normally from 4 to 7 years, with some varieties from the Brunello di Montalcino region being aged from 10 to 18 years.
Sangiovese pairs with a wide range of foods because of its medium weighted body and savory character. Use Sangiovese wine as a congruent flavour with herbs and tomatoes. This technique will bring out more fruity flavors in the wine.
A Sangiovese with high tannins will pair well with rich roasted meat, cured sausages and hard cheeses. Vegetarian pairings include butter and olive oil; the richness in the fat helps cut through the wines’ tannins.
Sangiovese is a long-time personal favourite of mine, whether on its own or as the mainstay in a Chianti blend. If you have never tried Sangiovese, it is well worthwhile seeking it out in the Italian Tuscany section of your local wine store.