Sangiovese is one of my go-to wines, as long as it’s made in a lighter style. There are some wines--100% Sangiovese (more or less) Super Tuscans and Brunellos, for example--that are fairly powerful, less food friendly than their lighter siblings, and come with a hefty price tag. These factors help to relegate them to "better occasions," but for everday drinking with everyday fare there’s nothing better than a fine, fun Sangiovese. Maybe a beautiful Barbera, but that’s fodder for a future email.
Gregory Dal Piaz is a proponent and admirer of a broad range of wines and styles. During his decades of collecting and tasting he has discovered that a wine need not cost a fortune to drink well. Feel free to ask him questions at the Snooth Forums where he regularly engages with beginners and experts alike.
When Sangiovese is planted in the best places and afforded a nice long growing season, the wines that can be produced feature that vibrant, succulent acidity, but with plenty of intensity and flavor to make that structural element just that: a single element among many.
Sangiovese has frequently been viewed as a blending grape of sorts; just check out Chianti. While there are indigenous grapes that seem to work magically with Sangiovese--Mammolo, Colorino and Malvasia Nera for example--the trend today in Chianti is towards using the Bordeaux varietals for blending.
Merlot seems to work quite well with Sangiovese, and can add a nice layer of flesh to a simple Chianti, and, when skillfully blended, can create balanced, rich Super Tuscans as well. Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, is a difficult, if popular, grape for blending.
Sangiovese ultimately produces rather subtle wines with a fine character and balance. Cabernet is used as a blending grape precisely to address these traits, which many in the international market see as faults. The tannin, richness, and aromatic qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon can easily overwhelm the subtlety of Sangiovese. While the resultant wines may taste pretty good, they don’t necessarily taste like Sangiovese, and when I reach for a bottle of Sangiovese I necessarily want it to taste of Sangiovese!
So, I prefer Sangiovese wines that are more delicate and nuanced, sort of. There are certainly different styles of winemaking in Tuscany. (That might be the understatement of the year!) For the sake of argument, I’ll break them down into the modern and traditional. Modern Sangiovese is fruitier for sure, with less of the earth, herb, and leather tones that one finds in the best traditional Sangiovese based wines.
Truth be told, I do not prefer one over the other. I find them both to be very valid examples of Sangiovese that please my palate and can work well with many cuisines. So, let's go onto a little rundown of the wines.
The clear winner was also among the most expensive of the wines. Isole e Olena’s 2005 Cepparello is simply gorgeous. It’s absorbed all of its oak and is exactly what I look for in Sangiovese: it's expressive, complex, and yet almost delicate.
Coming in tied for second place were two more modernly styled wines. The Castello di Ama is a particularly elegant wine, if a bit tarted up, while the Geografico was a big surprise. Sure, it’s a bit modern with all it’s sweet fruit, but its purity was lovely and the price is right!
In third place there were three wines: the La Massa, which was a very nice wine but one that has lost lots of its typicity; the Sa’etta, which was dark and rich, with a bit too much sweetness at this stage but lots of promise; and the lovely, complex, and wonderfully traditional Castel’in Villa, which just screamed Chianti! Of the three it would be the wine I would buy.
In fourth were a pair of wines from California that were similar in many ways. I can’t say I preferred one to another, though the Sausal held its alcohol a little better than the Acorn. These are much bigger and fruitier wines than their Italian counterparts, and really seem better suited to richer, meatier foods than many of the Chiantis.
Bringing up the rear was a wonderful Caposaldo Chianti that performs well above its pay grade and is really worth seeking out. At the price I can’t think of a better bottle of Chianti. It's a little fruit bomb, but something this fresh should be all about the fruit anyway. The Nipozzano was also quite attractive, if lean and dry. A wine that would certainly pair well with some nice prosciutto, for example, but, as a classic food wine, it suffers when tasted on its own.
The last three wines were all well made, but really had nothing that makes me want to recommend them when there are so many better options at their price points.
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