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Sangiovese Wine: Pairings, Regions and Buying Guide

Sangiovese Wine: Pairings, Regions and Buying Guide

franco salzillo arriaga |

Sangiovese is one of the most important red native grapes of Italy, mostly planted in Central Italy, particularly in Tuscany region. It is a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo: the first one is a red native grape still widely planted in Tuscany, while the second one is an ancient red grape that was found in a little vineyard in Campania region and then it was discovered that it is the “father” of the Sangiovese grape. 

In general, Sangiovese is a red grape that has thin and waxy skin and it is a mid to late ripening variety, so it needs a lot of time and heat to fully ripen. Sangiovese tends to produce red wines with high acidity and high tannins, with both red and dark fruits notes and elegant dark spices hints. 

It is usually planted in warm to hot climate all around the world, even though its homeland is Italy: it represents the most widely planted grape variety of the country. The most important region is Tuscany, in which Sangiovese represents the key grape for the Chianti area and the Montalcino area, as well as for the production of some Supertuscans, blended with Bordeaux grapes. This grape variety is planted all around the world, the most important areas are Napa Valley and Sonoma in California, Mendoza in Argentina and Australia, where it was first planted during the 70s.

Which style of wines are produced from Sangiovese grapes

Sangiovese is a red grape variety that is prized for its ability to maintain the acidity even in the hottest climates. In fact, all clones of Sangiovese tend to be late-ripening, maintaining fresh red and dark fruits aromas and lively acidity; this features make the Sangiovese perfectly suited to hot climates such as California and Australia. 

Wines produced from Sangiovese usually display a deep ruby colour that easily turns to garnet after a period of barrel aging. The typical aromatics of Sangiovese are the red and black fruits: black cherries, fresh plums, blueberries, redcurrant and blackcurrant. Sangiovese also displays herbal notes of dried leaves and eucalyptus if grown in a cool to moderate climate. The wines produced from Sangiovese tend to be full-bodied, with high acidity and firm tannins well-balanced by the smooth texture; the alcohol level doesn’t reach extremely high levels, even in the hottest climates. 

Sangiovese wines are often matured in oak barrels, varying in size and type of oak. In fact, the traditional barrels used in Tuscany in the last decades were big barrels made of Slavonian oak or even cherry wood. Nowadays, it is most common to age the Sangiovese wines in French oak small barrels, 225l barriques or 500l tonneaux, in which it could gain complexity, tannins and elegant aromas linked to the oak. For example, big barrels are still used in Chianti and Montalcino, some of the oldest wine regions of Sangiovese, while small oak barrels are mainly used in other areas of Italy and in all New World countries where Sangiovese is grown. There are some areas where the Sangiovese is kept in stainless steel for some months and then the wine is released on the market: these are cooler regions, such as Romagna, in which the style of the wine is much more oriented on the freshness o the fruity flavors and the lower alcohol level.

Sangiovese is also used to produce rosè wines, thanks to its thin skin and fruity aromatics. However, this production is only a niche and this grape variety is mainly used to produce powerful red wines. 

Australian Sangiovese wines

Sangiovese was first planted in Australia in the 70s by Penfolds that planted a Sangiovese vineyard in Kalimna, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, using clones from the University of California at Davis, and Carlo Corino at Montrose in Mudgee established some trial plantings as well. However, it was Mark Lloyd of the renowned Coriole Vineyards in McLaren Vale.

Nowadays, Sangiovese is widely planted all around Australia, especially in Victoria region, Barossa Valley and Margaret River, in Western Australia. Sangiovese was first considered an “alternative” variety for the Australian winemakers and it took a lot of time to select the best clones in order to produce high quality Sangiovese wines in Australia, able to withstand the Italian ones. In fact, Sangiovese was first used to produce Shiraz-like wines, even though it is impossible to reach a similar style with this grape variety; the renaissance of Sangiovese took place when the winemakers decided to produce wines able to enhance the natural features of the grape variety, rather than producing a Shiraz-like style.

The most important wine regions related to Sangiovese are McLaren Vale and Victoria in general. Australia wine regions have an hot climate, that vary from maritime to continental depending on the specific vineyard and overall wine producing area. Broadly speaking, the Sangiovese ability to maintain acidity and fresh fruity aromas even if it is produced in an hot climate makes this variety perfectly suited to the different Australian wine regions. 

For example, McLaren Vale is well-known for the production of full-bodied red wines produced from Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, so grapes that need a lot of heat and time to fully ripen. In fact, the hot maritime climate of McLaren Vale allows the winemaker to produce structured red wines from grapes that need a warm to hot climate. McLaren Vale is also one of the most important wine regions for the Sangiovese, even though it has an hot climate. The clonal selection let the winemakers produce elegant Sangiovese red wines, not too jammy and heavy on the mouth. 

Sangiovese is also grown in cooler Australian wine regions, such as Hunter Valley and Margaret River, displaying fresher notes of red fruits and higher acidity. These wines are often matured in oak barrels, so they tend to display the same smooth texture and complexity of the Sangiovese wines produced in hotter regions.

Best Sangiovese wines from Italy

Italy is the homeland of Sangiovese, where it represents the 11% of the total plantings of the country. Even though it is planted in almost every Italian region, Tuscany is the most important one. Here, Sangiovese grapes are used to produce some of the most important European wines, such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. 

The Sangiovese grapes used to produce Chianti Classico DOCG are grown in a specific area that covers the hills from Florence to Siena, while the Chianti DOC covers a wider area. The Chianti wines tend to be made from 90% to 100% Sangiovese, often matured in big oak barrels from a year to two years. Chianti wines display a ruby color, with fresh red and dark fruit notes, such as red cherry and fresh plum, with firm tannins and high acidity that refreshes the mouth. This style of wines is perfectly suited for the food pairing, thanks to the acidity and freshness of the wine. The traditional pairing is the Fiorentina steak, a big piece of beef meat grilled and served with all the fat and bones. Moreover, the Chianti wines can be paired with meat in general, from spiced poultry to slowly cooked braised meat. Chianti wines can easily age up to 15 years, developing elegant tertiary notes in the bottle.

On the other side there is the Brunello, a completely different style of wine made in the Montalcino area from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Montalcino is a small village located South of Siena, it has a warmer climate compared to the Chianti one and here it is used a specific clone of Sangiovese for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG production, called “Sangiovese Grosso”. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is one of the most important wines of the world, it is produced keeping the wine for a minimum of five years in the cellar before release on the market. Depending on the style of the producer and the final customer, the wine could be kept in barrels from two to four years and then it is kept in bottle before release. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG wines display an elegant and complex profile, characterized by the tertiary aromas brought by the long aging process, such as dried leaves, tobacco, leather and preserved dark fruits. This style of wine is well-suited to beef meat pairings, but it is perfect for chocolate pairings or to be drunk alone during the evening. The best examples of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG can easily age up to 30 years in bottle, maintain their fruitiness and developing even more complex tertiary notes.

Finally, the Sangiovese is also used in blend with French grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to produce the so called “Supertuscans”, wines made from French grapes in Tuscany that can also contain a little bit of Sangiovese. These wines gained a lot of popularity in the last decades thanks to the winning of international prizes and their super-premium price. 

Sangiovese food and wine pairings

Sangiovese can be used to produce pretty different styles of wine, from the smoother ones produced in the Southern Australia areas, such as McLaren Vale or Victoria, to the fresher produced in Margaret River or in the Northern region of Hunter Valley. However, even though there are different styles of Sangiovese wines, they are all perfectly suited to meat pairings. In fact, the high acidity and firm tannins, that the Sangiovese always displays, are the ideal match for every meat dishes. For example, a fresher Sangiovese wine from Margaret River can be easily paired with poultry, like spiced chicken breast slowly cooked in the oven, but it can also represent an ideal match with spicy cuisines, such as the Indian one. Fuller-bodied and smoother Sangiovese wines from the Southern wine regions of Australia are the best pairing for grilled meat in general, especially beef and pork. In fact, the smooth texture and the ripe red and dark fruits aromas enhance the flavor of the grilled meat while the acidity and the firm tannins balance the fattiness of the meat, cleaning the mouth. This style of wines could also be used for unusual pairings, such as with dark chocolate and long-matured hard cheeses.


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