Ahh, Sangiovese. It is Italy’s most widely planted variety and used to give me absolute fits when I first started studying Italian wine. That is because it goes by what seems to be a bazillion names that refer to either the clone or region – Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (completely unrelated to the Montepulciano grape), Prugnolo Gentile, Carmignano, Sangiovese Grosso, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Nielluccio, Montefalco Rosso, Morellino di Scansano and on and on. I’ve heard that there are close to 50 names for Sangiovese! And while Sangiovese can be found in various places up and down “the boot,”1 it’s beating heart is Tuscany. This medium-bodied, high-acid, high tannin wine can be savory, fruity, or a combination due to its ability to adapt to varied environments and depending on where its grown and the style in which its made. But there is no doubt that these Tuscan beauties are absolutely food-friendly wines that should occupy a place on your table from time to time. And whatever your preference in wine, there is a Sangiovese for you! This month, the #ItalianFWT bloggers are taking a closer look at Sangiovese wines around Italy.
So let’s check out some of those names.
Tuscan Regions for Sangiovese
Sangiovese is the predominant variety (minimum of 70%) in Chianti DOCG wines, including its seven subzones2 which are some of the most recognized wines from the region. Whether you grew up seeing Chianti in those little straw baskets (fiasco) or recall Anthony Hopkins in the move The Silence of the Lambs discuss pairing a nice Chianti with someone’s liver and fava beans, chances are you know something about Chianti. High acidity with notable characteristics of sour cherry and balsamic. And even as notable as these are, I still sometimes confuse it with Nebbiolo when tasting blind. Ack!
Chianti Classico DOCG
Like Chianti, Chianti Classico wines also must consist predominantly of Sangiovese, albeit with a higher minimum for Sangiovese at 80% as well as a longer ageing requirement before being released to the market. The grapes for these wines must be grown in a smaller area within the heart of Chianti. Symbolized by the black rooster on the seal of the wine, Chianti Classico wines are generally of a higher quality than Chianti wines.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG
This is where the Italians play dirty and really screw with your head. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is not made from the Montepulciano grape. Not even a little bit! But true to form, Montepluciano d’Abruzzo, which is made predominantly with Montepulciano may contain a small amount of Sangiovese. See how they mess with your head? Anyway, the name of this wine refers to the location of the town – Montepulciano – where the Sangiovese grapes (local name: Prugnolo Gentile) must be grown. Even though it has a longer aging requirement, it provides tremendous value and is often recommended when Brunello’s (see below) price hurts your feelings. A declassified DOC (as opposed to DOCG) wine from the region called, Rosso di Montepulciano, is made in times of lesser vintages or in the case of young vines and provides a less expensive, earlier drinking version of Sangiovese from Montepulciano. And yes, I know that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a mouthful, which is why some folks have taken to just calling it Nobile.
Morellino di Scansano DOCG
Located over in Maremma in the world of the Super Tuscans, Morellino di Scansano is the most southerly DOCG in Tuscany that focuses on Sangiovese. With a notable Mediterranean-influenced climate, the warmer temperatures of the region take some of the edge off Sangiovese’s usual acidity resulting in wines with plush and juicy red fruit. These are some of the earliest (and easiest!) drinking Sangiovese wines in Tuscany.
Located west of Florence in the hills of Montalbano, these folks were producing Super Tuscans before that was even a thing. Carmignano wines must be comprised of at least 50% Sangiovese along with up to 20% Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. These wines tend to exhibit more structure and body and have darker fruit than neighboring Chianti.
Located south of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino is considered by some to be the holy grail of Sangiovese. I don’t know that I necessarily agree, but these wines are certainly different and some of the price points might sting a bit. Brunello di Montalcino is named for the town of Montalcino where the grapes are grown. These wines must be made with one hundred percent Brunello, which is the local name of the particular Sangiovese clone. Yet another name for Sangiovese?! Say it ain’t so! Brunello has some of the longest ageing requirements before release (which drives up the price) and even then, many are years from really being drinkable and showing their best. Overall these wines are more powerful, intense, and fuller-bodied that those from the other Tuscan regions and have the ability to age for years. But there is what many refer to as a “Baby Brunello” for that. Like in Montepulciano, it is possible to make a declassified DOC wine that is softer and more approachable. Like Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino is made with one hundred percent Sangiovese in the same region. But it typically comes from younger vines and has a much shorter ageing requirement.
Pairing Rosso di Montalcino
While many people hold out for Brunello, I have to say, that I’ve found myself to be a fan of Rosso di Montalcino. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some Brunello stashed away in the cellar, but “stashed away” is the operative phrase here. Sometimes I want my Sangiovese now! Plus, I don’t view these wines as “lesser” as they certainly serve a purpose depending on what you’ve got on the table. And since its summer and we’re doing more grilling, I decided to pair a Rosso di Montalcino with a summer classic – hot dogs. Enter the 2015 Castiglion del Bosco Rosso di Montalcino.
Medium all the way through with acid, body, and tannins, this Rosso di M was smooth, nicely balanced, and offered up fresh red fruits.
And y’all! I may never drink another rose with a hot dog again! Really! We topped our grilled dogs with mild homemade chili (can’t even get black pepper past Thing 2!), melted smoked cheddar, crispy onion strings, and green onions. So. Darn. Tasty.
And so seamless was this pairing that when dinner was over and we retreated to the front porch to finish off the bottle, I found that I loved it more with the hot dog. Go figure! The lighter Rosso works with a number of things including pizza, pasta, mushrooms, risotto, sausage, roast chicken, and on and on.
Be sure to join our Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group as we discuss Sangiovese on Saturday, June 6 at 10am CDT on Twitter. Just follow the #ItalianFWT hashtag.
And be sure to check out what my fellow #ItalianFWT bloggers are sipping on:
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla is sharing Piadina Margherita + Bucci Piceno Pongelli 2014.
- Terri of Our Good Life served up Spatchcocked Chicken And Sangiovese.
- Linda of My Full Wine Glass is talking about “A taste of Tuscany to chase away the pandemic blues”
- Susannah of Avvinare is “Exploring Sangiovese di Romagna.”
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles is sharing “Sangiovese by another name…like Morellino or Prugnolo Gentile.”
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator is visiting “5 Sangiovese, 4 terroir, 3 producers, 2 regions, 1 country”
- Cindy of Grape Experiences is sharing “Tuscan Wine and Food Classics: Ruffino Chianti Superiore 2017 and Paglia e Fieno (Straw & Hay)”
- Jane of Always Ravenous is tempting us with “Tasting Tuscan Sangiovese Paired with Comforting Pot Roast”
- Katarina of Grapevine Adventures is talking about Tuccanese – A Sangiovese From a Pugliese Perspective
- Nicole of Somm’s Table is sharing three B’s with us today “Brunello, a Book, and a Boston Butt: Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino with Italian Braised Pork
- Jennifer of Vino Travels says “Montecucco: Tuscany’s Hidden Gem featuring Colli Massari”
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm thinks A Sangiovese by any other name is still a Dang Good Wine.
- I’ve had some from Umbria that I absolutely loved.
- The Chianti DOCG has seven subzones: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Sensei, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rufina.