Italian Grapes 101: Sangiovese
You can’t talk about the noble grapes of Italy without mentioning Sangiovese. It is the grape behind some of the peninsula’s most revered wines. Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Morellino di Scansano – these are all results of the gorgeous Sangiovese grape.
With Sangiovese grown in more places than just Italy (like here in California!) it has many wondering – what kind of wine is Sangiovese? Well, it all comes down to this grape’s story, identity, and delicious flavors!
The Meaning Behind the Sangiovese Grape
There’s no denying that Sangiovese is an ancient grape of Italy. The origins of its name date back over 2000 years. In fact, Roman monks were most likely responsible for naming this noble grape. This legend makes a lot of sense once you learn what Sangiovese probably means…
In Latin, Sangiovese translates to Sangio Jovis, which means ‘the blood of Jove.’ Jove is also known as Jupiter, the King of Gods or the Zeus of Roman mythology. These Roman monks must have thought pretty highly of Sangiovese. Plus, with the wine’s bright red color, they must have thought it somewhat resembled blood.
While this might be the most popular theory behind Sangiovese’s name, there are other theories out there. Some believe that Sangiovese’s name originated from Sangiovannese, which means to be from San Giovanni Valdarno. Some believe this grape’s name evolved from a written text by an esteemed 16th-century agronomist named Giovan Vettorio Soderini. During his travels in Tuscany, he refers to the Sangiogheto grape behind all the delicious wines of the region.
Now you know the grape’s origins. But, how do you pronounce Sangiovese? The phonetic spelling is sahn-joh-veh-seh. Yes – the i in Sangiovese is pretty much silent!
This Grape’s Ancient History
Sangiovese has been around a long time (if its name didn’t give that away already.) We aren’t talking as old as the Romans. The Sangiovese grape predates the Romans, actually. Sangiovese was most likely around during Etruscan times. The Etruscans were ancient peoples who resided in present-day Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria. They were the first winemakers in Italy. The Etruscans loved grapevines and spent much time perfecting their grape-growing methods, passing down their knowledge to Romans and, some even say, the French.
Sangiovese’s more recent history tells us more about this grape’s identity as we know it today. The 18th century was when direct references to the Sangiovese grape began, with the most notable reference in Cosimo Villafranchi’s l’Oenologia Toscana. This was the first discussion of Sangiovese specifically in the Chianti area of Tuscany, where the grape is most commonly grown.
Over time, Sangiovese grew a family as well. There are various clones of Sangiovese, around 70 that enologists know of today. They are all very similar but do boast their own traits. The most common clones of Sangiovese are Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo.
So, What Does Sangiovese Taste Like?
If there’s one thing for sure, Sangiovese makes excellent wines. It wouldn’t have such support if it didn’t offer such amazing flavors and aromas, not to mention a gorgeous color to gaze at in your glass.
The Sangiovese grape has enchanting savory aromas and flavors. Many find that Sangiovese wines will offer aromas of licorice, fresh herbs, cherry, and even sometimes tomato. Sangiovese also makes a high acid wine, making wines made with grape zesty and thirst-quenching.
Of course, a wine’s flavor can vary on the winemaking style. It does best when aged in neutral oak barrels, showcasing the grape’s inherent finesse. Yet, some winemakers do dabble in new oak with Sangiovese. It all depends on style and palette.
Every grape, no matter its origin, finds a new home somewhere around the globe. This stands 100 percent true for Sangiovese. While it is still mostly grown in Italy, the Sangiovese grape can be found in all corners of the world. We’re talking Australia to California, people!
People aren’t growing Sangiovese just anywhere. There are places around the world that have nearly identical microclimates and geography to Sangiovese’s home in Tuscany. These aspects are a necessity to showcase the nobility and quality of Sangiovese.
California is a perfect example. Sangiovese’s character tends to be more suitable to grow Northern California than certain French varietals. That’s because Sangiovese requires less water and is more heat resistant. It also comes with beautiful large leaves that help protect it from the often crippling California sun!
Are you a Sangiovese lover? Or are curious to learn more about one of Italy’s noble grapes? We’d love to hear all your thoughts on Sangiovese.