Four Sangiovese-based wines provided the theme at Dante Pizzeria Napoletana recently. From the latin, “Sanguis Jovis” or “Blood of Jove”, Sangiovese has been found to be a key genetic relative of many red varieties in Italy. According to Gambero Rosso, Italy’s well-regarded yearly publication on Italian wines, over 70 clones of Sangiovese have been identified. The latest research shows Cilieglio and the obscure Calabrese Montenuovo to be the direct genetic parents of this varietal. Much to people’s surprise, Sangiovese is not only the grape of Tuscay, the most planted grape in Italy (over 10% of total vine acreage), and is found in the regions of Marche, Umbria, Langhe, Lazio as well as to the south in Sicily.
Sangiovese’s success in Tuscany is partly due to a type of soil known as galestro which is found in Chianti-Classico, a kind of schistous, crumbly rock combining clay and marl. It also thrives in soils with high concentrations of limestone, but, too much clay, and the quality goes down.
As a varietal, Sangiovese tends to bud early and ripen late; hence, the importance of a long growing season. The best wines are produced from vines at the 200-500m (600-1600 ft) altitude level. Above this level and you’ll find producers switching over to Bordeaux varietals for maximum results. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are often blended (up to 20% is allowed) with Sangiovese as it tends to be lighter in color and body than the former. I Giusti & Zanza’s 2006 Belcore was a perfect example of this style with Sangiovese making up 80% of the blend and Merlot the remaining 20%. One of the favorites of the afternoon, the Merlot was immediately apparent in the dark ruby color of the wine. Lush ripe plum, tobacco, and subtle vanilla encircled an enticing aroma of perfumed violets. On the palate, the tannins were fine and velvety, acidity medium with a long finish. Incidentally, this wine was aged in French oak for eight months with a further 6 months in bottle. A great example of well-balanced oak and enough acidity for a perfectaccompaniment to food.
An interesting comparison was made between two wines: Donna Laura’s 2007 Ali, an IGT from Tuscany, and Cantina di Montalcino’s 2008 Chianti, a DOCG. Though both were made from 100% Sangiovese and unoaked, the Ali was rated more highly by almost everyone. This despite the much higher rating of quality on the Chianti. How did this happen? Partly due to the way in which the fruit was treated and the one year of ageing in stainless steel of the Ali. The aromas were more pronounced, the fruit riper and the acidity more in balance. Because of Sangiovese’s natural propensity for high acidity, it is especially important to ripen the grapes properly. Also interesting, the Ali sells retail for about $11 whereas the Chianti for about $20. It just goes to show you that there is no substitute for tasting!
Finally, we bathed in the scents and flavors of Terralsole’s 2003 Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello, also known as Sangiovese
Grosso in Montalcino, is considered the highest quality of all the Sangiovese clones. Made in a gravity-flow winery, Mario Bollag takes cask ageing very seriously with this wine having seen 8 months in 2.2 hl barrels and 16 months in 5.5 hl sized barrels, not to mention a further 6 months of bottle age. That is 30 months total and it shows. Classic garnet in hue the oak influence is evident (but not overbearing) in the aromas of spicy cinnamon, leather, tobacco, licorice and the sour cherry so characteristic of this varietal. The velvety tannins carried through to the long silky finish. A pure delight to Dante’s home-made fennel sausage.
There is one bottle of Terralsole’s 2004 Riserva left on the list. Going back soon………..Cheers!