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Friday, May 2, 2014

Under the Tuscan Grapevine: Sangiovese

Sangiovese, the most planted red grape in Italy, is the defining grape of Tuscany. While the varietal is concentrated mostly in central Italy, it is planted in nearly 60 of Italy’s wine regions.  It's in Tuscany, however, the grape reaches rock-star status producing some of the country’s most distinguished, complex and age-worthy wines such as Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile de Montalcino.  But, Sangiovese also creates easy-drinking wines at the moderate end of the quality and price spectrum…a Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino or a Morellino di Scansano---all of which are 100% Sangiovese. 

Known for its naturally high acidity, the Sangiovese grape offers moderate to high tannins.  Sangiovese wines have the potential to age because of their tannin structure.  Tuscany’s wines with the longest aging potential is Brunello di Montalcino that can age for upwards of 20 years in ideal vintages.  The potentially lighter Vino Nobile di Montepulciano tend to have a shorter life span of 5-10 years.  The aging possibility of Chianti is highly variable, depending greatly upon the producer, vintage and the sub-zone of Tuscany in which it is produced.

Flavors are dependent upon the terroir in which the varietal is grown as well as the winemaker’s touch.  Traditionally, Tuscany’s profile for Sangiovese is one of sour cherries and herbal nuances.  The modern version, however, is more plum-like with notes of cinnamon and vanilla (both of which come from aging in newer oak).  The younger, drink-now-style boasts a strawberry profile.

One can’t discuss Sangiovese without addressing how the varietal pairs with food.  The wine’s high acidity and moderate alcohol make it quite food-friendly.  Tomato-based sauces in pasta and pizzas are a classical pairing.  Herb seasonings such as basil, thyme and sage play off the herbal notes in the grapes.  Sangiovese that has been aged in new oak works well with grilled or smoked meats and poultry.  The wine also pairs nicely with aged cheeses.

In short, Sangiovese is the work horse grape of Tuscany.  It is used to produce everything from red still wine to rosé, sparkling and the region’s iconic sweet wine by the name of Vin Santo.  Its price point ranges from $15 - $150, so there’s something for everyone from serious oenophiles to novices.  Here’s a list of my faves, listed in order of descending price:
  • Ca' Marcanda (Gaya's Tuscan baby from the coastal Maremma) $85
  • Poliziano Asinone (Vino Nobile di Montepuliano) $65
  • Poggio Nardone (Brunello di Montalcino)  $50
  • Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri  $25 BEST BUY
  • Pupille Morellino di Scansano (from the Maremma)  $20

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