Sangiovese (san-jo-vay-zay), Italy's most widely planted red grape variety, is used to make a wide variety of wines, including chianti. Not widely planted outside of Italy, sangiovese is well-loved in its native country. The medium-bodied, high-acid, high tannin wine can have fruity or savory characteristics depending on the style. It has medium alcohol levels for red wine.
- Regions: Tuscany, California, Australia
- Origin: Tuscany, Italy
- Sweetness: dry
- Color: Light red to coppery red
- ABV: 13-15%
Taste and Flavor Profile
Sangiovese is a dry, light to medium-bodied red wine that tips towards higher levels of mouth-watering acidity and tighter tannins. The rich flavors range from rustic to fruity, depending on where and how the vines are managed. For fruit, expect cherry, plum, and red currant, as well as smoky and earthy herbaceousness. The grapes can exhibit savory characteristics like spicy oak-induced nuances, peppery tones, and even streaks of sweet tobacco. Black tea can also dominate the palate. On the nose, sangiovese can exhibit spice, dark, juicy fruit, and oak.
How to Taste Wine
For the best wine tasting experience, follow a few simple steps:
- Look: Take a nice, long look at the wine, examining the opacity and color through the glass.
- Smell: Swirl the glass for 10 or so seconds and take a whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deeper inhale, noting your first impressions of the wine.
- Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your tongue. Note the tannins, sugar, acidity, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (spice, fruit, wood) and then the finish.
Grapes and Wine Regions
Sangiovese is a thin-skinned, finicky grape that tends to linger longer on the vine, taking its sweet time to ripen and mature. While sangiovese plantings run from Emilia-Romagna down to the back of the proverbial boot in Puglia, it is central Italy, specifically the warm Mediterranean region of Tuscany, that remains the agricultural heartbeat of the sangiovese grape. The vines prefer sandstone soil and hot days.
Sangiovese has a summer growing season and is often harvested in late September and early October in the northern hemisphere. While the vast majority of sangiovese grapes are grown in Italy, it has become more popular in California and Australia.
Sangiovese is the grape name, but more often than not Italy's bottles are sold with "place names" on the bottle. The place that sangiovese is most commonly grown is in Tuscany's Chianti region. Look for bottles that say "Chianti" DOCG (must contain a minimum of 80% sangiovese) or "Chianti Classico" DOCG. Chianti Classico comes from better wine growing regions within Tuscany's larger Chianti wine district—expect more body, spice, and complexity.
Chianti Riserva wines are also sourced from the Chianti Classico wine-growing districts but are required to spend a minimum of two years in oak, adding concentration, smoky character, and cost. Super Tuscans are bold red wines produced outside of the DOC-designated zones that are typically built on the back of the sangiovese grape but are also blended with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. Brunello di Montalcino is an intense, full-bodied, age-worthy red wine made from a coveted strain of the sangiovese grape.
Thanks to sangiovese's innate acidity, savory character, and medium-body, this Italian gem is an extremely versatile pairing partner. A classic for partnering with Italian icons like pizza and pasta bolognese, pair it with anything that involves tomato sauce. Sangiovese is also a top pick for rare grilled steak, roasted chicken with pan sauce, and lamb chops, and is completely at home with aged Parmesan and provolone cheese.
Serve sangiovese in a red wine glass either at room temperature or with a slight chill. This can tone down alcohol and tame the tannins, allowing the fruit and florals to shine.
Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips
Sangiovese is frequently available at wine shops and some supermarkets and liquor stores under different Chianti, Super Tuscan, and Brunello di Montalcino labels. These wines tend to be a bit pricey since they have a long, rich history and are often high quality. These wines can also easily be found online or can be ordered through your local wine shop. A few options from American vineyards can be found labeled as sangiovese or as red wine blends featuring the grape. If you can't find sangiovese, try a syrah instead.
- Gianni Brunelli
- Castello di Ama
- Casanova di Neri
- Antinori Pèppoli