Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos courtesy of the producers
It is one of the most widely planted Italian grapes, with vines also planted in other parts of the world; Sangiovese is the beloved red wine grape of central Italy and specifically Tuscany. Sangiovese derives its name from the Latin “Sanguis Jovis” i.e. the blood of Jupiter. Sangiovese is a versatile grape that spans the entire length of the quality spectrum from easy-drinking Chiantis to the very high-end Brunello di Montalcino.
Sangiovese is successful because it can adapt very well to the terroir where it is planted. This adaptability allows the Sangiovese grapes to produce such different tasting Italian wines as Chianti and Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Montefalco Rosso etc. But it is not only in Italy that Sangiovese produces brilliant wines. I’ve drunk very pleasant Sangiovese-based wines from as diverse areas as Arizona, California and Rio Grande do Sul’s, Vale dos Vinhedos in Brazil.
The best known Sangiovese wines are Chianti/Chianti Classico and Brunello. These are produced in quantities, in vineyards located in Central Tuscany, between Florence and Sienna that have been planted since the time of the Etruscans. Not as well known, but just as delectable, are the Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco wines from vineyards that are planted on the Tyrrhenian coast of Tuscany, the area known as Maremma and/or Toscana Maritima.
When it comes to Brunello, there are 2 schools of thought as to how the end product should be perceived. “Old school” means wines that need very long aging to develop the delicate aromas typical of the variety: black fruit, wild berries, violets and eucalyptus backed by high tannins and acidity. “New school” means black cherry and plum fruit with toasted vanilla notes from aging in smaller barrels and barriques that yield a softer, consumer-friendly and ready-to-drink wine. Both styles exhibit freshness, balance and power, with affinity to good food, especially succulent grilled steaks.
The 6 best Sangiovese wines that I recently had came from Montalcino, the Chianti Classico area, Scansano and, surprisingly, Arizona in the United States.
The 2013 Col d’ Orcia Brunello di Montalcino and Castello Banfi’s Brunello 2012 were very interesting, though they were not the very best Brunellos of the last decade. Both are rated at 91/100 points. The Col d’ Orcia Brunello is an organic wine, notable for its bouquet, fresh and intense, with aromas of ripe fruit infused with spice. Aged for 4 years, 3 of which are in Slavonian and Allier oak casks, followed by at least 12 months in bottle, with aging at controlled temperature. The Castello Banfi Brunello is notable for meticulous grape selection that is followed by vinification with skin contact for 10-12 days. Released in the 5th year after harvest, the wine is aged for a minimum of 4 years, including 2 years in smaller oak barrels of various sizes, mainly French oak barriques and Slavonian oak casks. As good Brunellos, both are priced in the $60 to $85 per bottle price range. They are very age worthy and will give to the knowledgeable buyer that decides to cellar them for a few years plenty of pleasure.
A few years ago, I visited Castello di Albola. Castello di Albola is an elegant wine producer in the Chianti Classico appellation; its wines are imported by Zonin USA from the winery in Radda. This is the result of a traditional red wine vinification process that includes three weeks of grape maceration with their skins and seeds. Once maceration and malolactic fermentation have been completed, the wine is matured in Allier oak barrels for 14 months, followed by long aging in bottle. I consider it a classic medium to full-bodied dry red wine with polished tannins, ripe acidity and a long finish. What impresses is the great nose redolent of black fruit and new leather; some cigar box and cedar hints that are evident in the long finish. It is priced at around $70 per bottle and I would rate it at 94/100 points.
Another very notable Sangiovese-based wine I recently had was Tenuta dell’ Ammiraglia’s Morellino di Scansano Riserva Pietra Regia. I visited the winery in 2015 and I have been cellaring the bottle they gave me since then; I opened it a month or so ago. Produced by the Frescobaldi family in one of the most modern wineries of the Maremma, the Riserva Pietra Regia was actually a blend of mostly Sangiovese (90%), with some Ciliegiolo and a touch of Syrah. On the nose there were ripe plums, red currants and blackberries with notable violet notes that give way to a spiced balsamic finish. In the mouth, the wine was elegantly structured with dense tannins accompanied by marked acidity that made the wine cut through the fat of the Tuscan-style Bistecca Fiorentina I paired it with. The wine’s finish was rich in toasty notes with a sweet and persistent aftertaste. Unfortunately, this wine is not available in the US yet, I rate it at 93/100 points.
Yet another distinctive wine I was privileged to recently drink was the 2014 Antinori Tignanello. A beautifully balanced blend of 80% Sangiovese, with 5% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; it is produced exclusively from a vineyard of the same name located at the heart of the Chianti Classico region, though because it does not conform to the strict DOCG regulations, it does not sport the Chianti Classico designation. I was invited to a cocktail party for Baglietto Yachts, the famous Italian super-yacht shipyard that was showcasing their recent tailor-made builds; the event took place at CORE Club in Manhattan and Tignanello was one of two wines offered with the walk-around appetizers. A silky palate with a rather intense mineral core, it is a supple wine with fine tannins. Priced in the US in the $90 to $110 range, it is so distinctive that one should recognize it on first sip. I would rate it at 95/100 points and it’s a long lived wine that promises delights for years to come.
Finally, a genuine surprise during a recent trip to Arizona. On the return trip from Sedona to Phoenix, we stopped at a tasting room on Page Springs Road, Cornville that belongs to the Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery. There were a few California-styled wines to taste, mostly Cabernets and Zinfandels, but I was surprised to see a bottle labeled Sangiovese among the red wines; an Arizonian Sangiovese! The sample turned out to be a nice every-day drinking wine, with cherries and plums on the nose and palate and pepper on a rather short finish, notable for mild tannins. Definitely not a Brunello or a Chianti Classico but was very reminiscent of an everyday Chianti; and very pleasant indeed with the right food. The bottle was listed at about $30, which is a bit high for a local wine. I would rate it at 88/100 points, the same rating I would give to a straw covered fiasco of Chianti.
To your health!
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