Tuesday, May 20, 2014

WINE STUDY: Sangiovese, Please!

Lazio's Tarquina_Tomb of the Leopard fresco
It's the 'Blood of Jove', and has been around so long that it has developed in its native land numerous successful clones(14).  Having long history in this land of wine, you might expect that its development is shrouded in some mystery, having evolved from varieties Calabrese Montenuovo, an ancient parent, and Ciliegiolo(disputed) which is rooted to Italian as 'cherry'.  Throughout the centuries, it has traveled from its home, with only a very few pronounced successes.  This thick skinned, high tannin red grape of robust natural acid, also tends to be quite finicky in its flourishing vineyard site selections.  And yet, when comparing the localities where it does do well, it offers a unique sense of place, of terrior. In Tuscany it has found a home, and Sangiovese is its name.

Tuscany alone has 33 DOC's, 9 DOCG's, defined and regulated production areas, and most of them dedicated for zones of Sangiovese production.  Little grown outside Italy, this iconic varietal only represents about 10% of all plantings within its native Italy. Although the grape is recommended in as many as 53 provinces, Sangiovese has been identified in 259 DOC's across Italy, but it is in Tuscany where it shines brightest. That being said, the varietal over its long history has produced relatively few notable wines, squandered its place on the wine globe with straw-wrapped (fiascos)bottles, damaging its pedigree perception. and in the past seemed only to draw attention to itself via scandal. Reform was instituted in new national regulations 1963, and overhauled in 1992 to comply with the expanding EU requirements.

Even within Tuscany there are style and regulatory variations. Fruit forward to rustic in style, Tuscan Sangiovese can be lighter if blended with permitted a sub-zones white grapes(Malvasia and Trebbiano), or hearty if blended with domineering Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be oak driven if a Chianti Superiore, which has a minimum aging of 9 months with a minimum alcohol of 12%, or have a fruit-driven style if labeled simply Chianti, which has minimums of 3 month aging and 11.5% alcohol. It can be confusing, but such distinctions offer a broad compositional canvas for regional Sangiovese.

Regulations differ region to region, consortium to consortium, perhaps because of the historical power of the unified growers & producers.  As an example, Chianti Classico, the original administrative dictated zone, requires minimum 80% Sangiovese, and blending varieties are restricted(prohibits white varieties). Historically blended with Colorino or Mammolo, some contemporary producers have blended non-native, international varieties, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, creating blends outside what was allowed, and thereby creating the IGT's of 'Super Tuscan' fame.

In the south of the region, Vino Nobile Montepulciano DOCG is made with the Prugnolo Gentile clone; a wine which is minimum 70% Sangiovese, with components of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo.  South of Sienna, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, is restrictively vinted from the Sangiovese Grosso clone, and has longer minimum aging requirements than any other Sangiovese production zone. Reflected by growing price points & awards, within the last generation or two, the blood of Jove, has had a regional quality revolution, spawning many estates crowning achievement after a successful vintage.  A congestion of vowels, the names of great producers lumber across the palate; Marchesi Antinori, Castello di Fonterutoli, and Fattoria di Felsina. And, there are more and more traditionalists finding their way to advancing quality and consistency every day.

Soon I will embark on a personal discovery of the regional and sub-regional terrior driven Sangiovese clones of central Italy.  Our exploration will take us from the land of Nebbiolo to the ancestral land of Verdicchio, traversing Tuscany and Umbria on the way. Future posts will provide personal insights from this newly certified Wine Educator into our immersed  wine study where we will commonly have the opportunity to say, "Sangiovese, please"!
Salute! And thanks for coming along to raise a glass or two!!

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