Ok, so that’s an awfully dramatic post title. But hey, when the most commonly given etymology for sangiovese is sangue (blood) di Giove (Jove, Jehovah, God), a blogger makes do with what he has. In any case, if you haven’t yet had a chance to try the (arguably) most famous grape from Italy, consider this a basic primer.
Grown throughout central Italy, sangiovese is most closely associated with the three major wines of Tuscany: Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. While each of these three wines share the basic qualities of the grape (spiciness, earthiness, medium tannins), they can vary quite widely.Chianti is the most well-known of the three, though in the past it might have been more accurate to call it infamous. Starting in the 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, most Chiantis were mass produced, with a sizable percentage of white grapes blended in to stretch production. Often sold in those straw covered “fiascos,” they mostly showed up in red sauce and red-checked tablecloth Italian joints. Fortunately, over the last twenty-five years many steps have been taken to ensure the quality of wine designated Chianti and especially Chianti Classico. Thanks to techniques from replanting vines to more modern pruning and bottling techniques, since the late 80s Chianti has emerged as a truly world-class production area. At Serafina, we carry a wide range of Chiantis, which are often at their best with a hearty tomato-based pasta (like the bucatini all’Amatricianna) or a nice cut of pork.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a personal favorite of mine. The region lies southeast of Siena, and the slightly warmer climate gives the wine a slightly more inviting quality, softer and gentler tannins than Brunello, and less acidity than Chianti. When well chosen, they are a breeze to pair with almost any dish, though the perfect dish for them is the Trofie dell’Estate, a simple dish of trofie pasta, sauteed summer squashes, and fresh cherry tomatoes.
Brunello di Montalcino is the broad-shouldered cousin of Chianti and Vino Nobile. Grown from a sangiovese clone named, shockingly, brunello, it packs a serious tannic punch, giving it the aging potential of the celebrated Barolo and Barbaresco from Piedmont. By law, true Brunello has to spend at least four years aging before being released to the market. As a consequence, many producers also carry a Rosso di Montalcino, a younger, lighter version of the grape suited for more immediate consumption. Brunello is at its best with game or rich meats like pork and beef. It’s also a great wine to savor on its own, allowing the rick dark fruit to roll over your tongue.
If you’re looking for a way to expand your knowledge of Italian grapes and wines, starting with sangiovese is a great idea. In Chianti and Vino Nobile, you can see the elegance, beauty, and aroma of the region, while in Brunello you can sense some of the history, and the power that Tuscany in general (and Florence in particular) once controlled. Like any great wine, they’ll transport you to another time and place if you let them.