Italy's most well-known and widely planted red grape variety, 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.
Sangiovese Grape Characteristics
- High acidity
- High tannin
- Medium levels of alcohol (typically 13-14% ABV)
- Flavors: Cherry, blueberry, blackberry, plum, violet, earthy
- Oak influence: Affinity for oak, often shows in cedar and vanilla spice
The Taste of Sangiovese
Sangiovese is a dry, 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. Expect cherry -- red, black, sour -- smoke and earthy herbaceousness, spicy oak-induced nuances and peppery tones and even streaks of sweet tobacco to show up in a given bottle of Sangiovese. Serving with a slight chill can tone down alcohol and tame the tannins, allowing the fruit and florals to shine.
How to Buy Sangiovese
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 (the largest of Italy's wine regions and carries a minimum of 80% Sangiovese in the "Chianti" labeled wine), or "Chianti Classico" DOCG (marked with the black rooster bottle symbol, Chianti Classico comes from better wine growing regions, often hillside, within Tuscany's larger Chianti wine district, expect more body, more 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. The often pricey 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 also blended with daring doses of Bordeaux's best grapes, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc.
To confuse matters just a bit more, Brunello (a grape name) di Montalcino (a place name) is an intense, full-bodied, age-worthy red wine made from a coveted strain of the Sangiovese grape.
Sangiovese Food Pairing
Thanks to Sangiovese's innate acidity, savory character, and medium-body, this Italian red wine gem is an extremely versatile pairing partner. A classic for partnering with Italian icons like pizza and pasta with tomato sauce, Sangiovese is also a top pick for grilled steak, roasted poultry, and pork chops and remains completely at home with aged Parmesan or Provolone cheese finds. For best flavors, it's best to drink most of the market's Sangiovese young, though Super Tuscans and Riservas are built to go the distance.