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What is Sangiovese?

Sangiovese is a grape with great potential that is not often realised, frustrating its admirers and confusing newcomers.  While not an ancient grape, it has taken on a traditional name that means ‘Blood of Jove’.

sangiovese grapes

Sangiovese grapes on the vine

The perfect food wine

The Sangiovese vine produces purple-skinned berries, ripening late and slow on a range of soils. The grapes produce wine that is high in acid, light in colour and moderate to high tannin. The best wines show distinct flavours of tomato leaf, strawberry, sour cherry and readily exhibits spicy, oaky flavours when aged in barrel. It is often blended with other grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.

With these flavours and structure it is suited not just to the staples of Central Italian cuisine, but the wider range of Mediterranean cooking. Tomatoes, herbs and red meats all work well with chianti. It can balance, enhance or harmoniously accompany a huge range of dishes, from pasta, pizza, roast chicken, charcuterie, moussaka, sausage, grilled and smoked meats and more.

montalcino town

Brunello di Montalcino, home to some of the world’s best sangiovese

Under the Tuscan sun

  • Chianti – a large designated area between Florence and Siena, Chianti is famous the world over, although not always associated with quality. With so many producers and a range of climates, the best Chianti is delicious and rewarding, while much else is merely inexpensive
  • Brunello di Montalcino made from 100% Sangiovese (known locally as Brunello), this DOCG is often seen as the apex of Sangiovese production. Minimum ageing restrictions mean these wines are often made for the cellar, and often have a higher price tag.
  • Super Tuscans– more often known for producing international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the producers making big, expensive wines outside the local laws haven’t turned their back on Sangiovese. Notably Sassicaia, who were given their own DOC in 2013, produce two blended wines including Sangiovese.

Traditional basket like fiasco bottles are used in Chianti

Sangiovese elsewhere 

The most notable example of Sangiovese produced outside of Tuscany is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Not to be confused with the Montepulciano grape, the Vino Nobile has a minimum of 70% Sangiovese and the rest lesser-known local grapes. At two years ageing in barrel and generally riper fruit, these wines are usually more structured and ageworthy than most Chianti.

Sangiovese made some headway in California but hasn’t gained a lot of traction. It is increasing in popularity in Australia where over 250 producers make a red wine from Sangiovese, finding it suited to the warmer climates of South East Australia.

Read more about lesser known grape varieties in Alternative Varieties in Australia, or check out our Beaujolais 101.

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Kieran Clarkin
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