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Sangiovese

Sangiovese (from the Latin 'sanguis jovis', meaning 'blood of Jove') is perhaps the most widely planted variety in Italy. It is most frequently encountered in central Italy, where its stronghold is its place of origin, Tuscany. It seems likely that this ancient red variety was known to the Etruscans. In light of its age, its first historical citation in 1722 seems remarkably recent.

As well as being one of the great grape varieties of the world, producing some of the world's finest wines, it also plays a more humble role as the workhorse red grape variety of the region.

Sangiovese (from the Latin 'sanguis jovis', meaning 'blood of Jove') is perhaps the most widely planted variety in Italy. It is most frequently encountered in central Italy, where its stronghold is its place of origin, Tuscany. It seems likely that this ancient red variety was known to the Etruscans. In light of its age, its first historical citation in 1722 seems remarkably recent.

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It is difficult to generalise, for there are 14 sub-varieties of vastly differing type and quality (indeed, the four main ones produce wines with such varying characteristics that one could be forgiven for not deducing their shared ancestry).

Sangiovese is the lifeblood in most central Italian reds; it is the only variety permitted in Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello, meaning 'little brown', is one of the four main offspring varieties, having first been planted by the Biondi-Santi family at the end of the 19th century - most Sangiovese in Tuscany is now either Brunello or a sub-variety that is very similar) and the principal component in the blends for Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano and most modern supertuscans (in which Sangiovese is blended with a non-Italian varietal such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) such as Tignanello (in this case, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Key Regions

ITALY: Tuscany (here used for Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano); Umbria (here, to the south of its Tuscan heartland, the variety is crucial for making quality wines) and Romagna - most notably Bologna (here, to the north, it is prized more for its quantity)

FRANCE: Corsica - known as Niellucciu, it is grown on the slopes of Sciacarellu and has overtaken the local variety Sciacarello/Sciaccarello (pronounced 'shackarello') to become predominant in the majority of the island's wines; in particular, it is to be found in the appellation of Patrimonio. 

NORTH AMERICA: California (mostly in the Napa Valley) - it was introduced here by Italian immigrants in the late 1800s, but has only garnered popular interest recently with the popularity of the supertuscans - and Washington State.

SOUTH AMERICA: Argentina (mostly in the Mendoza province).

AUSTRALIA: (introduced here in the late 1960s, it is becoming more important as Australian winemakers look for a greater diversity of varieties to counter the tendency to rely too much on certain popular varieties like Shiraz and Chardonnay)

Climate Suitability

While Sangiovese vines are usually fairly sturdy and disease-resistant, the small bluish-black berries are quite thin-skinned and so have a vulnerability to rot. This is especially the case in damp and cool years, which, unfortunately, occur more often than not in Tuscany during October (it is a region which can appear extremely bleak in winter).

The late-ripening nature of the variety can be either a blessing or a curse, for in a dry, hot climate - in which Sangiovese thrives - it creates rich and long-lived wines, whereas cool years mean harsh tannins and high levels of acidity. The variety performs well in various types of soil but perhaps finds its most elegant and memorable expression when grown in those containing limestone, which seem to allow the wonderful aromas that are inherent in the grape to be fully revealed.

Only the best vineyards produce consistently good wines with this variety. Over the years Sangiovese has in some cases, alas, suffered from overproduction and poor vinification. The former has led to light-coloured, poor-quality wines of high acidity. This was especially so in Romagna in the late 1960s and early 1970s whan inferior offspring varities that gave high yields were widely planted. Greater care has been taken with recent plantings.

Colour and Flavours

The colour of the wines vary from deep ruby-red to garnet-red, depending on the method of vinification used. Over-production usually results in a lighter wine, whereas those with yields kept low develop deeper colours (the latter is especially true of the better wines).

Styles can differ considerably, from fairly unremarkable wines made to be drunk young - some basic Chiantis, for example - through to astoundingly complex wines such as Brunello, which can be matured for a couple of decades (some even say a century).

In the best expression of this variety, one might detect rustic aromas of black cherry, Morello cherry, blackberry, leather, herbs and even, depending on the terroir, a smokiness; concentrated flavours of vanilla, bitter cherry, blackberry, herbs and, with age, plum and truffle accompany lovely silky tannins.

Synonyms

Brunello, Brunello di Montalcino (in the southern Tuscan zone of Montalcino); Calabrese; Cardisco; Cordisio; Dolcetto Precoce; Ingannacane; Lambrusco Mendoza; Maglioppa; Montepulciano; Morellino; Morellone; Negretta; Nerino; Niella; Nielluccia, Nielluccio (in Corsica); Pigniuolo Rosso; Pignolo; Plant Romain; Primaticcio; Prugnolo, Prugnolo di Montepulciano, Prugnolo Gentile, Prugnolo Gentile di Montepulciano (in the Montepulciano region); Riminese; San Zoveto; Sancivetro; Sangineto; Sangiovese dal Cannello Lungo; Sangiovese di Lamole; Sangiovese Dolce; Sangiovese Gentile; Sangiovese Grosso; Sangiovese Nostrano; Sangiovese Toscano; Sangioveto dell'Elba; Sangioveto Dolce; Sangioveto Grosso; Sangioveto Montanino; Sanvincetro; Sanzoveto; Tignolo; Tipsa; Toustain; Uva Abruzzi; Uva Tosca; Uvetta; San Gioveto; Uva Brunella; Uva Canina

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  1. Chianti Classico, Geografico

    Chianti Classico, Geografico, 2013 75cl

    From the heart of the Chianti region with plenty of the cherry fruit character that is the calling card of wines made there. What sets it apart is the cleanness of the ripe fruit and violet notes that combine for a velvety smooth experience in the mouth.

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  2. Chianti, Duca di Sasseta,

    Chianti, Duca di Sasseta, 2015 75cl

    Light and very approachable this is an easy-drinker suitable for most occasions. Lovely fresh cherry fruit content is presented with medium to light body and low tannin for a refreshing drop that has an unimposing, delicate finish.

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  3. Chianti Classico Riserva, Montegiachi

    Chianti Classico Riserva, Montegiachi, 2012 75cl

    From one of the more progressive co-operatives in Tuscany with an inviting bright ruby colour. Two years in oak have allowed the fruit to mature and this combines well with a strong aroma of violets.

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  4. Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponti

    Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponti, 2013 75cl

    Made from Sangiovese and Merlot, this wine has fantastic aromas of blackberries, coffee and toasted oak with big silky tannins and a long, long finish.

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  5. Lenotti Rosso Passo

    Lenotti Rosso Passo, 2014 75cl

    A soft, medium bodied red with classic Italian flavours of sour cherries and plums. The tannins are velvety in the mouth and lead to a pleasing finish.

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  6. Rosso di Montepulciano, Duca di Saragnano

    Rosso di Montepulciano, Duca di Saragnano, 2015 75cl

    Light in character with low tannin and plenty of cherry fruit flavour. A very approachable wine that is delicious on a warm day, a real thirst-quenching red.

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  7. Sassaiolo Rosso Piceno, Monte Schiavo

    Sassaiolo Rosso Piceno, Monte Schiavo, 2011 75cl

    A ripe, red berry and cherry nose. The flavour is approachable and driven by blackberry, red fruits and an underlying subtle spice. The finish is lively and lingers with well balanced tannin.

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  8. Coriole Sangiovese Shiraz, McLaren Vale, 2012

    Coriole Sangiovese Shiraz, McLaren Vale, 2012 75cl

    This interesting New World blend shows the best characteristics of both grapes used in the blend. The nose has wonderful redcurrant, cherry, dark chocolate and earthiness yet hints of liquorice and spice lead into a medium bodied, juicy finish.

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  9. Mitchell Grenache Sangiovese Mourvedre, Clare Valley, 2010

    Mitchell Grenache Sangiovese Mourvedre, Clare Valley, 2010 75cl

    Made from an unusual blend of grapes not widely found in Australia this wine shouts blackberry fruits, this wine has a soft yet spicy, smooth, lingering finish.

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  10. Hannibal, Bouchard Finlayson, 2013

    Hannibal, Bouchard Finlayson, 2013 75cl

    Aromas of wild berry are well supported by a rich and full palate that has plenty of spicy character. The finish is deep, bringing hints of leather to a complex and rewarding wine.

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