Sangiovese: Behind the Varietal


You can’t talk about Tuscan wine without mentioning the region’s famed grape, Sangiovese. Derived from the Latin phrase “sanguis Jovis” (meaning “blood of Jove”), this grape is the main component in Chianti, Tuscany’s trademark wine.

But Sangiovese wasn’t always regarded as a prized grape, and it actually has quite a rocky past. First of all, Sangiovese has never been an easy grape to cultivate. It has a naturally high acid content and a thin skin, which can result in sour-tasting wine with a flat flavor if not properly grown and cared for. Its thin skin also causes the grapes to rot easily when damp, so they require extra handling and care. Secondly, due to strict winemaking regulations and lax winemakers who seemed to be indifferent about the inferior taste, Chianti once earned itself a reputation for being a cheap Italian table wine people drank for the decorative straw-cased bottle casing rather than for the wine itself.
Divya Gugnani

Divya Gugnani acquired a taste for her future in culinary arts while building a career in finance. In addition to a B.S. from Cornell University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, Divya holds a degree from the French Culinary Institute, where she discovered her inner chef. Divya has catered numerous events and worked in several restaurant kitchens while managing her corporate boardroom responsibilities. With the creation of Behind the Burner, Divya blends her long-time passion for culinary arts with her expertise in business ventures.

Happily, thanks to more meticulous winemakers, new techniques and creative blending, Sangiovese has made a comeback. To bypass the problem of high acidity, many winemakers began using grapes from low-yielding vines in order to create a balance of flavor. Additionally, they aged the wine in oak barrels in order to infuse body and depth into the wine with the smoky, caramel taste of oak. Blending Sangiovese with full-bodied, robust varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot is another way winemakers add fruity flavor and smooth texture to the wine.

You will notice, however, that whether it is used in a Chianti Classico or a sweet Tuscan Vin Santo, Sangiovese is rarely bottled on its own (with the notable exception of Brunello di Montalcino). Although it can be delicious when bottled solo, Sangiovese really is a grape that plays well with others. It is most frequently blended with local white Italian grapes to produce Chianti, or combined with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make the “Super Tuscans.” Sangiovese is a grape that depends largely upon the winemaker’s touch and care, which is clearly reflected in every bottle.

On its own, Sangiovese has a delicate fruit flavor of sour cherries, strawberries and plums, with a bouquet of orange peel and spices. Sangiovese tends to be a light, translucent shade of garnet and contains medium to high levels of acid. On the palate it is a lighter-bodied wine with a medium finish, making this a food-friendly wine that pairs well with tomato-based dishes like pizza, soups, veal chops or other traditional Tuscan fare.

To learn more about Sangiovese, watch this video with wine expert Michael Green.

Mentioned in this article


  • I have had a few wonderful Sangiovese wines from the Puglia region of Italy. I have to look very hard to find them, but it seems to always be worth the touble. My family is from Martina Franca, a small town in Puglia. We have visited this area and cannot wait to return.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 2:54 PM

  • Bolla makes a nice, inexpensive wine from sangiovese (not paired with any other grapes).

    Jul 28, 2010 at 3:37 PM

  • Snooth User: squawk
    111919 6

    "Derived from the Latin phrase “sanguis Jovis” (meaning “blood of Jove”),

    . . . or Jupiter's blood.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 3:42 PM

  • With so much inexpensive (read "cheap") California why would anyone bother trying to sort through the Tuscans where most often you end up paying a lot for very little or nothing at all (worth drinking) unless you resort to the "one small sip, one big bite of food" strategy??

    konrad streuli

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:42 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    Again, this seems like an appetizer-as-a-meal. Where is any detailed info on Chianti, Brunello, Nobile, etc? And there are several very good 100% sangioveses. Why no mention of sangiovese outside Tuscany, even if the best are arguably from there? Moreover, I find this type of piece extremely lacking without any reference to specific wines.

    This is more a tease than a true backgrounder. It almost seems like this is written so that there is nothing of any specificity and detail to grab onto. You got a lot of flack for that in the comments on your last article, so I was hoping for more meat this time around--and this criticism is meant constructively...

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:48 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    I tried to watch the linked video but the audio portion just plain faded out so I gave up. Definitely a technical problem to be fixed.

    Snooth should be putting together their own videos on this type of subject! I know the content will be good from Greg, so just get someone with some production experience to lend a hand...

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:54 PM

  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 14


    I am on my way to Tuscany in 5 weeks for some tasting and dining. Any vineyards or specific wines you would classify as "can't miss"? In addition, I am from Brazil and as our import duty fees are quite high here, I always like to bring back a case of mixed wines for cellaring. I was in Tuscany 3 years ago and found some Tignanellos etc. that I put up for later. Would appreciate your expert opinion on any interesting options for purchase.
    Thanks in advance;

    William Ryan

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:57 PM

  • My everyday favorites are Antinori Santa Christina, Monte Antico, and Falesco Vitiano. All three are mostly Sangiovese, with some Merlot and/or Cabernet added. Easy to find and under $10.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:59 PM

  • Snooth User: lpraden
    418238 1

    Talking about California adaptations, the Benessere Winery in Napa, CA makes a great Sangiovese, I hadn't had much exposure to it until I went to the winery a couple of weeks ago, the staff was extremely accomodating, a well run family business. The wine isn't "cheap" but it's not crazy expensive either, but it is very good.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 5:22 PM

  • Snooth User: civiletti
    192021 20

    The wines of Tuscany may be generally expensive, but there is good inexpensive Sangiovese from the south. Try Di Majo Norante Sangiovese from Molise, which I have found for less than $8 per bottle. Good stuff. Robert Parker gave the 2005 vintage 90 points.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 6:32 PM

  • Snooth User: kcousins
    215160 25

    My wife and I recently returned from a two-week quest to find the better CalItalian wines (focusing primarily on Sangiovese). Unfortunately, Benessere wasn't open when we were in Napa, but Luna has a very pleasant Super Tuscan.

    Aside from the wineries we missed (we tasted at over thirty), our favorites were in the Paso Robles area - Caparone (unfined, unfiltered - very "old school"), and Donatoni (my wife's favorite, as she likes slightly sweeter wines than me).

    Jul 28, 2010 at 7:08 PM

  • Snooth User: squawk
    111919 6

    Generally, I don't find Chianti more expensive than a California grown sangiovese. There are some excellent values whether Tuscan or Californian made.

    Additionally, it is clear the author's article was not meant to be an encyclopedia for Tuscan wines, though I do agree with you, there isn't much "mangiare" in the article to provide much value for the reader wishing to learn more about Tuscan wines.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:00 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    William, are you looking for wines with lots of sangiovese, or are you also open to those from French varietals? Have you had all the others in the Tignanello class (Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, etc., etc.)? Interested in Vin Santo? And how about wines from outside Tuscany, since it seems to be easier to take them home from Italy than buy them in Brazil. Barolo, Barbaresco, etc?

    Rich multitude of choices while you're there. Can make several recommendations if you narrow things down to fit your take-home case....

    Jul 28, 2010 at 8:02 PM

  • Snooth User: normgary
    542733 1

    I'm happy to add a recommendation about California sangiovese. There are some excellent ones being grown in Amador county in particular. My favorites are from Noceto. They have 4 designated vineyard bottllings and a riserva that I believe may be a blend of what there winemaker thinks are the best choices from the different vineyards. All are distinctive and delicious. And they run about $25; not bad against mid to upper level Tuscans.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 11:33 PM

  • A few years back I spent a splendid holiday within the Chianti Classico area. My two fond memories are the multitude of road signs that point to the vineyards and secondly the great wine that you can find. In the UK good Chianti is difficult to find and is expensive, but in Tuscany it is different.

    For William and others, here is a short list of my great experiences where even the non-riservas are good: San Felice, Castell'In Villa, Felsina-Berardenga, Fonterutoli, Fontodi, Isole e Olena, Monsanto, Nittardi, Palazzino, Paneretta, Vicchiomaggio, Vignamaggio. Generally exercise some caution as the "black rooster" symbol is not a sign of quality as it is a symbol of the organisation that controls the DOCG mark.

    Besides visiting the vineyards themselves, there was a great wine shop in Castellina. The owner told me I had a very good list when I visited. I hope it is still there.



    Jul 29, 2010 at 6:58 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    Here are a couple of past threads from the Snooth Forum where good Tuscan sangioveses have been discussed;
    There are several chiantis and brunellos that are well worth hunting down, drinking on the spot, and taking home to Brazil, or wherever, mentioned there.

    If you do want pointers on Super Tuscans and Nebbiolos, please say so.

    Jul 29, 2010 at 7:09 AM

  • Snooth User: lugosch
    220093 13

    It is not really true that Sangiovese is rarely bottled on its own. The best sangiove wines are usually unadulterated:
    Nearly all of the best Chianti Classico Riservas are 100% sangiovese.
    The "Super Tuscans" by and large are either bordeaux blends with little or no Sangiovese or essentially Chianti Classico super-riservas, such as as Fontodi's Flaccionella, Montevertine's La Pergola Torte, Isole e Olena's Cepperrello - all pure sangiovese.

    Jul 29, 2010 at 5:57 PM

  • I haven't seen anyone mention Texas sangiovese so I feel the need to jump in! 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. Very different and more old world than the Cal variety. Flat Creek does a fair job also down in the Hill Country but it has not been as consistent as when Craig Parker was making their "Super Texan".

    Read more:

    Jul 29, 2010 at 6:18 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    Still plenty of blending going on in Chianti, in fact previously is was a mandated requirement for use of the denomination's name. However, one major driving force behind development of the Super Tuscan's (the other being the wish to utilize French varietals) in recent decades has been the desire by some wine makers to make 100% Sangiovese wines. So yes there are an increasing number of those these days, and requirements are also evolving--slowly, though, as with all bureaucratic endeavors...

    Jul 29, 2010 at 6:23 PM

  • Have to say say this is a very week article. One of the problems I have here is regarding the biased Cab and Merlot comments. It is deeply lacking detail. Where is the reference to Canaiolo? A much more important grape historically than the international varieties. And which decade was being researched when it is stated - It is most frequently blended with local white Italian grapes to produce Chianti - ??? That is just wrong today. Also, a huge shift toward single varietal Sangiovese across the region must be noted. Chianti has be producing single varietal examples since 1996 under law and much longer in reality. And IGT toscana designation yields scores of single varietal examples. Wow that's poor article. Would like to revise it myself.

    Jul 30, 2010 at 3:15 AM

  • As others have said, the article is sadly lacking in insight and information - a puff piece. I say this with utmost respect to its author - she may have discovered her inner chef but she has yet to meet her inner oenologist.
    One of the reasons why sangiovese has been such a beloved variety since Roman times is that it is so adaptable to varied growing conditions. I've never heard from anyone here in Chianti that it is a difficult grape to cultivate.
    True, Chianti suffered a bad reputation during the 60's and early 70's but the reasons were more complex than those sited here. As for the decorative straw-encased bottle that was the real object of consumers' desire, it's a shame Ms. Gugnani didn't tell the real story of both fiasco's - the cheap wine and the bottle - it would have made for a much more interesting article.
    Vinsanto is a wine that is made from white grapes - Malavasia del Chianti and Trebbiano. Sangiovese does not find its way into this wine. Thankfully, we weren't treated to the "holy wine" blooper!
    Sangiovese is very often bottled on its own. In fact, according to the D.O.C.G rules after 2006, Chianti Classico must contain a minimum of 80% sangiovese. Before 2006 it was 70%. The key word is MINIMUM. It can contain 100% sangiovese and be called a Chianti Classico. It can also be an endless variety of I.G.T. wines - some are excellent.
    Lastly but not leastly, pizza is definitely NOT traditional Tuscan fare.

    Note: the black rooster emblem is not, as Chris Hatten suggests, the symbol of the organziation that controls the D.O.C.G. mark - which is granted and administered by the Italian government. The black rooster is the the mascot of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico - a consortium of over 600 producers and bottlers ofD.O.C.G. Chianti Classico wine whose mission it is to protect and valorize the brand.

    Jul 30, 2010 at 5:37 AM

  • Ehi Don't forget the Romagna's wines! Romagna is the other side of Sangiovese!

    Jul 30, 2010 at 6:27 AM

  • Ohhh right! I forget about that region just to the nort, over those mountains! ;o)

    Sangiovese di Romagna - excellent!

    Jul 30, 2010 at 6:51 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    tgiFLORENCE, you seem to be forgetting Occhio di Pernice. There are definitely some vin santos made from sangiovese. Even if they are the exception that proves the rule, some OdPs may be the best vin santos I've personally had. If you haven't already, be sure to try the version from Avignonesi, though it's certainly not the cheapest one out there....

    Jul 30, 2010 at 7:44 AM

  • You're absolutely right! Please forgive my absentmindedness. I am thinking of the traditional vinsanto as produced in the Chianti region. I've tried some of those rosé vinsantos from Prato - not bad! But my heart belongs to the patiently aged traditional vinsanto of Fattoria Montagliari. Once you've tried the 1995, you'll be convinced. Once you've tried the 1985 you'll be in love. And when you've tried the 1962... it's LURV!

    Jul 30, 2010 at 8:44 AM

  • and of course from the traditional style the vin santo from San Guisto a Rentennano is magic if you can find a btl... As is the, i believe it's 100% Sangiovese - Chianti Riserva Le Baroncole Wow there's a Sangiovese with a little thicker skin...

    Jul 30, 2010 at 9:47 AM

  • One of the best replants of Sangiovese is California's Silverado Trail. I will never forget when I first enjoyed the Silverado 1997 Sangiovese and sold it in a restaurant for $9.00 glass to every celebrity in town!

    Jul 30, 2010 at 1:23 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    Try La Tierra de Jonata from Santa Ynez Valley. A very good California sangiovese... bigger than a typical Tuscan, but good acidity and balance, and promises good ageability, too.

    Jul 31, 2010 at 2:26 AM

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