Top 5 Domestic Sangiovese

The leaders from California


These are a rather powerful group of wines, but one of the beautiful things about Sangiovese in California is that, unlike with some grapes, power doesn’t equal heavy and dull wine!

These all have super ripe fruit with bright, refreshing acid and some lovely, nuanced floral and herbal aromas that are what make Sangiovese Sangiovese. It is those aromas which really help bring the wine to the table. Those non-fruity elements build the bridge with savory flavors, so I love to see them here.

All of these wines could stand a bit of cellar time to help round out the wines, but only the Two Mile really needs several years. And about that Two Mile: it is a bit of a bruiser and I may be wrong in predicting it will come around. It has an awful lot of wood, but there is great juice under there so I’m going to remain optimistic!

Photo courtesy padesig via Flickr/CC

2009 Girasole Sangiovese Mendocino 13.5% $13

Top Value

Rather minty and floral on the nose with a base note of gingerbread cookie, a hnt of wet dog, and some wiry cranberry tones. On the palate this is light bodied but has a lovely combination of acidity, ripe lean tannins, and transparent yet sweet fruits. The flavors run toward raspberry and amarena cherry with a nice soil tone and some dried herb stem details. The finish is bright and lively, full of sour cherry and refreshing acidity. A good value at this price. 88pts

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2009 Field Stone Sangiovese Lucio’s Block Alexander Valley 14.1% $25

This is a bit tight on the nose with lots of licorice, light toast and cranberry character on the nose, with big, floral fennel seeds. Round and opulent in the mouth but is bright and clear as a bell. Love this texture. Tall and tense on the tongue, the acids and fine if angular tannins all fall in line to support fine Craisin/wild cherry fruit that is clear and fresh if ripely sweet. This is exuberant with a bit of wood tannin appearing on the finish, which shows some sour plum and cherry pit tones that are enlivened by the wine’s rather bright acid. This is really appealing, perhaps not the nose varietal Sangiovese, though who really knows, this might be the terroir speaking. Nonetheless this is delicious. 92pts

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2008 Pietra Santa Sangiovese Cienega Valley $19 14.5%

This smells intense. At first it is low and dusty, and very stony on the nose, then come light notes of jammy red fruit accented by Maduro tobacco, briarwood and sage with a background note of cumin. Very broad in the mouth with a nice transparent feel, though air does add weight here. The fruit is bright cherry fruit, a little bitter around the edges and offset by soft, leafy greens and rusty iron notes. This regains pretty impressive focus on the finish where the fruit offers a lingering interplay of sweet and bitter cherries. There’s excellent underlying structure as well, with tannin that cuts decisively and a lingering granitic, stony finale. 92pts

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2009 Frank Family Vineyards Rutherford Reserve Sangiovese $59 14.5%

There’s a fine iron-rich leafy green note that greets the nose, followed by some spicy wood tones, a bit of prosciutto and black currant fruit, all wrapped in a generally sweet nose. Medium-bodied and almost elegant on entry with that lovely herbal counter point running straight through the red currant, red cherry toned mid-palate. This has good focus and fine balance, with a lovely harmony between wood spice notes, vanilla and red fruits that are touched with a hint of dried citrus peel. The finish turns nicely astringent with a slight mineral element adding cut and definition. Good length and fine balance mark the finish which ends with a bit of pomegranate. 91pts

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2007 Benessere Estate Sangiovese Napa Valley $28 14.4%

Firm, slightly candied black cherry fruit greets the nose followed by liquory strawberry fruit, strawberry seeds, damp cigar and low herbal notes, with hints of cocoa, nutmeg and crystallized flowers. Very polished in the mouth, this starts out with some graham cracker and marshmallow notes that lead to a mid-palate full of wild strawberry and cherry fruit. The oak spice recedes but doesn’t fully disappear and adds some nice detail. The palate doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the nose, but the finish shows that this remains quite youthful and well balanced, with a bed of low but firm tannins that need to resolve a bit more for this to show all it has got. Already, it is quite perfumed and really silkily textured. 90pts

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2007 Two Mile Sangiovese Polesky Lentz Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 14.4% $40

There’s very noticeable oak here, all maple and sweet, with plenty of vanilla. At the same time this shows some really impressive Sangiovese fruit, all lichen topped, stone crushed strawberries flecked with the occasional black currant. On the palate, this is rather powerful and very smooth. There’s a real sense of polish to the mouth feel even though the tannins remain firm and gently austere and the acid nicely supportive. The fruit turns a bit chunky in the mouth yet retains a lovely blend of strawberry and herb right through the finish, which is cut short by a quite formidable wall of wood tannins. Still, this has lovely fruit, shows a bit of heat on the finish. Probably will improve over the short term, next two to five years. 89pts

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Check out the full tasting notes on Sangiovese from Italy and California!

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  • Snooth User: cccanale
    987521 0

    I appreciate your list and while I realize that there are far to many great Cali Sangioveses for this list to be able to even scratch the surface, I am always interested in how you whittle things down to just 5. Do you focus on wines that highlight the essence of the sangiovese grape? My first experience with Cali produced sangiovese was from Altamura. And while this wine may lack in the traditional high acid tight tannin I often expect from it's Italian cousin, the pure surprise of its warm fruit punch seemed worth the price of admission. Just wondering if this wine was considered and cut form your list.

    Mar 06, 2012 at 11:24 AM

  • Snooth User: shsim
    Hand of Snooth
    1032666 1,295

    Wonderful list with a range of prices for everyone. I agree with cccanale, how do you usually narrow down what to put on these articles?

    Mar 06, 2012 at 12:10 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,731

    I'm pleased to see Field Stone getting the attention and praise. I have never been disappointed with one of their wines.

    Mar 06, 2012 at 2:31 PM

  • Sobon Estate Vineyards 2009 Sangiovese
    Greg your take on this dry viticulture wine, please. It seems a wine must be cellared to get high marks. This wine was wonderful tonight. and I don't care if will be better 5 years after I'm dead. This wine is not ashamed of it fruit, and keeps a little bite of tannin. The posters above don't seem to realize you can't taste them all, and some wineries make their product much more "accessible" to you.

    Mar 06, 2012 at 8:58 PM

  • I have been a fan of California sangiovese ever since acquiring some Phoenix Vineyards "Blood of Jupiter." I look forward to seeing which of these my local wine shop offers. Thanks.

    Mar 06, 2012 at 10:42 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,003

    I'll tell the winemakers at Two Mile you liked it, glad you got to try it--unfortunately the website is down right now for revamping. It can also develop a mushroomy flavor with some air, in my recollection. It's definitely not a bashful one. They made some terrific Petite Sirah, too, but this was, to me, the star of their lineup. Many of the California Sangios, IMO, fall apart quickly, but not so with the Two Mile.

    Mar 07, 2012 at 6:01 PM

  • Agree with cccanale, and glad to see our neighbor, Fieldstone, getting high marks. For those that love a pure Sagiovese in small lots , or highly awarded Sangiovese-driven blends, Windsor Oaks Winery has a long record of awards and fans for our Estate wines. We are on the geographic edge of where this varietal ripens, and I enjoy working our Summit vineyard block at the top of the mountain to deliver very age-worthy Sangios. Julie Lumgair (winemaker) Article with more details:

    Apr 07, 2012 at 7:14 PM

  • I had a bottle of the 2008 Stolpman Sangiovese Estate Grown last night and it was hands down the best California Sangiovese I've ever had. I just ordered a case from their web site.

    May 28, 2012 at 12:37 PM

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