In Tuscany, it is practically synonymous with "red wine": we are talking about Sangiovese, the most widespread black grape variety in Italy, used for the production of some of our greatest wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Over the centuries, it has indeed conquered the entire national territory, being cultivated from Romagna to Puglia, with a vineyard area accounting for 11% of the total national area. In short, Sangiovese grapes are one of Italy's most precious oenological treasures, known worldwide: let's explore its ancient history, characteristics, wines, and pairings!
The history of Sangiovese and the origin of the name
Let's start with a bit of history about this esteemed grape variety. The first to mention "sangiovese" was Giovanni Vettorio Soderini, a Tuscan agronomist, who discussed it in a viticulture treatise as early as the 1600s, calling it "Sangiogheto." But where does "sangiovese" come from? The origin of the name is still uncertain. There are several theories: one suggests that the name was given by monks from a monastery on Mount Jupiter in Santarcangelo di Romagna. They poured wine, evidently made from sangiovese grapes, for an esteemed guest. Impressed by the quality and vivid red color, he asked for the name. The monks, who had never thought to name it, improvised and replied with sanguis Jovis, meaning "blood of Jupiter." Another theory suggests that the name comes from "Sangiovannese", meaning originating from San Giovanni Valdarno, in Tuscany.
What is certain is that this grape variety was already widespread in Etruscan times, finding its ideal territory in the central regions of Italy.
Characteristics of the Sangiovese Grape
A unique and special grape that gives rise to memorable wines. What are its characteristics? Starting with the basics, it is a late-ripening, robust, and resistant grape with good adaptability and a tendency to high yields. It has medium-sized, three- or five-lobed light green leaves, while the berry is medium to large, regularly oval in shape. The skin is violet-black, rich in pruina, a waxy substance produced by the superficial cells of the berry's skin that protects it from UV rays and dehydration. Due to its adaptability and vigor, it does not require specific soil conditions, but, like many red grape varieties, it performs better in clay-limestone soils, preferably hilly and mountainous, with good sun exposure and ventilation.
Sangiovese: Organoleptic Characteristics of the Wine
Let's now focus on the wine, where each sip offers interesting aromatic nuances for a true taste journey.
The first aspect to consider is undoubtedly the color, so unique and characteristic: an intense ruby, characterized by a slight transparency that tends towards garnet with aging. The second is the olfactory aspect: Sangiovese aromas are easily recognizable, such as plum, cherry, and blackberry, complemented by those derived from the maturation in wood, such as vanilla, coffee, and cocoa. On the palate, the lively acidity of this grape variety stands out immediately, along with excellent tannic structure. In cooler years, acidity and tannin must be carefully controlled, often resorting to blending to mitigate some typical varietal aggressions.
In general, wines made from Sangiovese grapes are alcoholic, full-bodied, and enveloping, yet fresh, dry, and tannic at the same time, offering timeless elegance that matures over time.
Famous and Appreciated Sangiovese Wines
The first thing to consider is the remarkable versatility of this grape: under the right conditions, Sangiovese produces extremely refined and long-lasting wines, but it can also be cultivated for everyday and less demanding products. Sparkling and passito wines are also produced from it.
Sangiovese, in its Grosso variety, contributes to producing some of the best Italian and global red wines, along with Piedmontese Nebbiolo. Sangiovese is vinified both in purity and in blends, often with Cabernet Sauvignon in Tuscany or with autochthonous southern grapes in the southern regions.
Examples? In Brunello di Montalcino, it is used in purity, as per regulations, while it forms the basis of Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in Tuscany, as well as many other excellent wines like Morellino di Scansano. In Umbria, it is the foundation of the prestigious Torgiano and Montefalco Rosso, while in Marche, it is an essential part of Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conero.
Production Area in Italy and the Global Spread of Sangiovese
As mentioned earlier, Sangiovese is one of the most widespread grape varieties in Italy, alongside Barbera, and is cultivated throughout the country. Its primary region is undoubtedly Tuscany, where the prized Sangiovese Grosso is sporadically cultivated in the qualitatively best areas to produce the great Brunello, Chianti, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Emilia-Romagna is the second region in terms of Sangiovese vineyard extension, although it differs quite substantially from the Tuscan variety. Sangiovese Piccolo, much more widespread, is cultivated everywhere in central-southern Italy, thanks to the grape's fame and quality. It can be found in Campania, Puglia, Sicily, as well as in Umbria, Marche, Lazio, and Abruzzo. In Italy, Sangiovese is like the French Cabernet in its omnipresence. Its spread also reaches Sardinia, Lombardy, and Valpolicella.
Such a treasure could not help but conquer the rest of the world. For example, California seems to have fallen in love with Sangiovese in the 1990s when it began cultivating it, albeit with varying results, in the Napa Valley, dedicating extensive areas to it.
How to pair Sangiovese with food
A great wine requires great pairings. A significant red like Sangiovese pairs perfectly with meat, from pasta dishes with meat sauce, such as classic Tuscan pappardelle with wild boar ragù or baked lasagna, to grilled and oven-roasted red meats. Not only that: pairing it with cheeses, especially the more flavorful and aged ones, yields sensational flavors. The "reserve" versions express the best in terms of structure and aromas and can also be paired with feather and fur game, such as wild boar or pheasant. However, being very versatile, fresher, younger, and less structured Sangiovese-based wines can also be paired with lighter and more immediate dishes, such as Romagna-style piadina with a platter of cold cuts.
Where to Taste Sangiovese? Brunello and Vino Nobile at La Poderina and Fattoria del Cerro
Standout for its intense ruby color, clarity, and brilliance, and the scents of sour cherries and berries: we are talking about Brunello di Montalcino, one of the great reds in Italian winemaking tradition. La Poderina Estate, located in Montalcino, in the Castelnuovo dell'Abate area, is known for producing this wine and for the particular elegance and balance of its grapes. Thanks to a company philosophy that believes in innovation in the service of tradition, highly qualitative systems with yields of 60 quintals per hectare are adopted in the vineyard, below the 80 quintals allowed by the regulations. Here, Brunello is produced in two versions: "Poggio Abate" Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Also, using Sangiovese grapes, La Poderina produces Rosso di Montalcino DOC. We recommend a Sangiovese tasting at the Estate, and those wanting to deepen their knowledge of the Sangiovese grape can book a off-road tour of La Poderina's vineyards with our agronomist.
Let's move from Castelnuovo dell'Abate to Acquaviva di Montepulciano. Over the centuries, Sangiovese has differentiated into various varieties, also called clones or biotypes, among them the highly prized Prugnolo Gentile, which is the basis for great wines such as Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG and Rosso di Montepulciano DOC. The combination of pedoclimatic environment, winemaking style, and typical terroir elements contributes to the uniqueness of Vino Nobile, with its soft and intense olfactory profile, featuring floral and red fruit notes. To taste these labels, our advice is to visit us at Fattoria del Cerro Estate for a tasting experience of four great wines in the Villa, accompanied by a board of typical local products and a tasting of our olive oil production. An excellent starting point to explore the beauty of the Tuscan territory and taste all the goodness it has to offer.
What are your favorite Sangiovese-based wines?