Wine and Grape: The Sangiovese

Sangiovese

In the previous posts we discussed at length about Tuscany’s most significant wines – Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Rufina and the Super Tuscans; now, let’s see the most fundamental component of these superstars – this most excellent grape and Italy’s pride – Sangiovese.

The Sangiovese grape is one of the most famous and most popular grapes in Italy, and is, in fact, the most widely planted grape variety on the Peninsula. It is mainly cultivated from central Italy to Rome and Lazio, and it is the traditional grape variety in Tuscany.

The origin of Sangiovese is uncertain. It is likely that the Etruscans were already familiar with this grape variety and they spread it through their trading routes; later on, it became a cultivated grape for Roman winemaking.

The most popular theory suggests that the name Sangiovese refers to the Roman God Jupiter. According to legend, the name ‘sanguegiovese’ (Sangue di Giove) meaning ‘Blood of Jove’ was given by a Capuchin monk of Santarcangelo monastery in Emilia-Romagna.

However, the first official records dates back to the 16th century, when the Florentine agronomist, Giovanni Vettorio Soderini (1526-1596) identified the grape as ‘Sangiogheto’ in his ‘La coltivazione dell viti’.

The Sangiovese grape only began to gain widespread attention and recognition throughout Tuscany in the 18th century, when it along with other varieties such as Malvasina and Trebbiano became the most widely planted grapes in Tuscany.

In 1872, the late prime minister and wine maker, Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) created the first modern recipe of the Sangiovese-based Chianti wine, blending 70% Sangiovese with 20% Canaiolo and 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Other excellent Sangiovese-based wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, also began growing in popularity from the end of the 19th century.

The quality of Sangiovese wine was variable, but the quality has increased significantly since the 1980s thanks to improved winemaking techniques; also, the introduction of the DOC classification in 1963 made the regulations clear.

After an interesting historical past, by the 1980s more and more Tuscan winemaker began their own experiments on their Sangiovese wines outside of the DOC/DOCG regulations. We now call those wines Super Tuscans and we can consider them as the Sangiovese’s modern incarnations. Since 1992, the Super Tuscans have been labelled IGT wines, which gives a certain freedom to the winemakers.

The Sangiovese grape was also brought to California in the late 19th century, and it has also now become more and more popular there, partly due to the international success of the Super Tuscans.