Sangiovese - A Baker's Dozen

Chianti goes head-to-head with a pair from Sonoma.

 


Sangiovese's claim to fame is its role as the heart and soul of Chianti, Brunello and many Super Tuscan wines, though it is gaining ground as a varietal wine around the globe. When grown in a suitable location, the grape’s soft tannins, succulent acidity, and moderately intense cherry and herb flavors make Sangiovese very easy to drink, as well as supremely versatile at the dinner table.

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.
So, when I am tasting through Sangiovese what is it I am looking for? Not surprisingly, the first requirement is balance. This happens to be particularly important with Sangiovese, since the acidity of Sangiovese can be particularly pronounced. In certain climates it’s easy to get the grapes ripe enough to soften that acidity, and add enough flesh to conceal what’s left, but the price paid is usually elevated alcohol levels, so you’re trading one fault for another.

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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Comments

  • Snooth User: rreichert
    Hand of Snooth
    30553 412

    How prevelant you guys are today!

    I just sat through a great tasting of Sangiovese last night and was gearing up to do some writing on it. This is a great addition to the bunch.

    Cheers!

    Ryan

    Feb 25, 2010 at 1:08 PM


  • My wife and I are particularly fond of Sangiovese from Feld Stone winery in Sonoma as well -- 2004 thru 2006. The Sausal Zin was also particularly good -- 2002.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 1:15 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Hey Ryan,

    So what did you try and what did you think?

    Hi Stewart, Haven't tried the Fieldstone Sangiovese but it's one I'll look for. I've always liked their wines.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 2:34 PM


  • Gregory: Thanks for your response. I know you'll really like their version. Forgive me if I sound presumptive, but watch out...there are three wineries using the name. The one we like is "Field Stone" in Healdsburg, CA. Again, sorry. I mean no disrespect

    Feb 25, 2010 at 3:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Hey Stewart.

    None taken. that's the one I am referring to as well. At least I think that's the one! Older winery in Sonoma, makes nice cab, excellent Petite Sirah? Come to think of it I need to add them to my list of wineries to visit next time I am on the west coast.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 3:51 PM


  • Snooth User: mbew
    169856 6

    Walla Walla also has some very nice Sangioveses. Russell Creek and Balboa Candy Mountain are 2 fine examples.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 4:33 PM


  • Snooth User: whipper68
    129212 2

    We have a wine here in the Great Northwest that won best Red Blend at Ray's Boathouse. They have the Best view of the sound in Seattle.

    Wine is 69% Sangio and about equal parts cab and syrah. Made by Brian Carter Cellars.. Cost $30

    Feb 25, 2010 at 4:43 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    So hard to find the geek wines from the Pacific Northwest around here in NYC. I think you guys drink it all yourselves.

    I've enjoyed an afternoon snacking and drinking at Ray's Boathouse. Looking forward to another visit!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:10 PM


  • Snooth User: jhberger
    133570 8

    Paolo diMarchi of Isole e Olena is one of the true artists of Tuscany and Cepparello is his high point. The Chianti Classico he produces are also among the best the region has to offer and at around $25, more accessible than Cepparello. On this side, Michael Muscardini makes a beautiful Sangiovese in Sonoma.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:27 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,434

    I have always like Ray's Boathouse--not only for the fish and the view, but also their very well-selected winelist...

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:38 PM


  • So why do you suppose more vintners don't produce a California version of Chianti? We could use some good everyday spaghetti wine right here in the USA. I know a few wineries in Santa Barbara and Paso are making some and you have identified a few from No Cal but given our climate how come more don't?

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:41 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    An excellent question. I would love to see more sangiovese, Barbera, temranillo, and Portuguese varieties planted, and produced in lighter styles. I think the problem is simply that these wines don't command the prices, and perhaps in a way, the respect that Cabernet and Pinot do.

    I think that as the wine mentality improves more producers will admit that their vineyards are not ideal for these grapes and will turn to more forgiving grapes to produce solid wines that might even be profitable!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:50 PM


  • Snooth User: luvgrapes
    168407 14

    Greg, add Santa Cruz Mtn Vineyard to your next trip as well. Jeff Emery is doing some great things with Spanish & Portuguese varietals. Even makes a "Portuguese-style dessert wine" for which he grows the Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional & Tinta Cao...and even better he is part owner of the distillery that produces the alambic brandy that he adds to his 'Port-style wine.' How cool is that. Even the Portuguese can't produce/use alambic brandy anymore. Sorry to drift away from Sangiovese as the discussion topic.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 8:19 PM


  • I recently visited Montalcino and found out some interesting facts about Sangiovese....if you'd like to check it out, it's the Feb. 3 article on http://www.deepredcellar.com

    Feb 26, 2010 at 5:06 AM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 168,936

    Great stuff Greg, you also hit on a lot of bottles I haven't tried. Amazing how much Sangiovese is out there, so many good producers too. (Unfortunately, a lot of bad ones too)

    Have you ever tried Pride's Sangiovese?(expensive, i know but I was wondering if it was worth seeking out.)

    Feb 26, 2010 at 10:33 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Hi Eric,

    Never tried Pride's. Have tried Leonetti's though. Expensive, big and plush. Fun to drink but lacking the acid and brightness that i look for. I would be curious about trying Pride's.

    Feb 26, 2010 at 10:44 AM


  • Dear Gregory,
    Here in Mendoza, Argentina, we developed a perfect Sangiovese at Escorihuela Gascón Winery.
    Perfect in acidity, and on the "leggero" side. A must try with italian pasta and risottos with asparagus or sea food (wouldn't do though this any too spicy or with meat sauce) or fish, specially grilled salmon or a good baked branzino with dill.

    Here, as chef at the Restaurant Puro Sur in the Hotel Patagonia, we have been working very well this grape, unknow up to this year.

    We do very frecuently experiences on "choose the wine and we serve the food accordingly". Having the expierence of 6 years living in Italy, your articles on the different wines and regions of the country are cery good reminders.

    Greetings and Salud!

    Feb 26, 2010 at 11:39 AM


  • Snooth User: cippa
    199041 12

    Hi to all,
    I live in the native land of the Sangiovese can indicate to you some less famous labels but that they deserve of being drunk.
    CAPARZO Rosso di Montalcino 2007 (great vintage , i sell 8 euros) a really easy wine, you cant stop to drink...
    . Observe the Sangiovese of MONTECUCCO close Montalcino, powerful and sometimes blended with Cabernet. (companies Monte Antico or Muschi Alti, the second rich of wood and vanille ). One of the best ones for power, structure, and quality -price is ELISEO of Gualdo del Re (9 euros) that it produces also one of 100 better Italian wines (" Rennero" , Merlot) . Many good surprise from South Tuscany , good terroir, hard to live and to work far from rich Chianti but real expression of job.

    Good Glass to All

    Feb 26, 2010 at 12:33 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Ciao Cippa,

    Love the Caparzo and Rossos (Montalcino and Montepulciano) very much. Only experience with Montecucco was with Salustri. Eh. I'll look for others though.

    Grazie.

    Feb 26, 2010 at 4:43 PM


  • Hi Greg -
    I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Sangiovese produced by Vino Noceto out of California? Particularly their 06 & 07 Riservas. I've tried them both and find them to be very enjoyable. keep up the great reviews!!!

    Thanks!

    Mar 02, 2010 at 11:23 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Hi John,

    I have only had the 2006 Sangiovese from Vino Noceto. I thought it was lovely, obviously new world but at the same time obviously Sangiovese. http://www.snooth.com/wine/vino-noc... I'm hoping to visit them in the coming year.

    Thanks very much!

    Mar 02, 2010 at 11:45 AM


  • Snooth User: MATEL
    332443 3

    I recently did a wine tour of Chianti and discovered the suberb 2006 vintage
    Chianti Classico...which perhaps will prove to be the best EVER !!
    Back home here in New Jersey I bought and am overwhelmed by the 2006 Villa Carfaggio which has intense nose, perfect color, and an unbelievable after taste.
    Also consider the 2006 Brunello and Vino Nobile de Montepulcianos which are coming on the market a decent price levels for wines of such high quality and are drinkable now.

    I certainly can recommend Dolce Vita Wine Tours. Claudio and Pat make Chianti memorable with their intimate knowledge of the vinyards and local restaurants.

    Matt Potash
    matel24@msn.com

    Mar 10, 2010 at 6:01 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 213,302

    Thanks for the follow up Matt.

    Mar 10, 2010 at 6:28 PM


  • I haven't seen anyone mention Texas sangiovese so I feel the need to jump in here! If y'all ever come through here on your way to another wine destination please stop by and I'll pour you a glass of Bar Z or McPherson sangiovese. This grape does really well in the High Plains and you need to see and taste it for yourselves. Flat Creek does a fair job as well but it has not been as consistent as when Craig Parker was making their "Super Texan".

    Jul 28, 2010 at 5:04 PM


  • Gregory & Eric - definitely seek out the Pride. I heard it is only to be had from the winery, but well worth the price. We were served it by a friend who carted some back from a visit to the winery. As I said, I usually only drink the local sangioveses here in Texas, but that Pride is amazing stuff!!!

    Aug 09, 2010 at 12:27 AM


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