(Text written in preparation for the interview with Wine Tripping TV, link below)
History and biodiversity of Sangiovese
Sangiovese, also called Sangioveto, is a red grape whose origins date from the time of the Etruscans, who since three thousand years ago grown it in the area between Siena and Florence, the Chianti region.
The importance of this variety for Tuscan wines leads us to say that “Sangiovese is Tuscany,” which is an undeniable, at least in terms of wine.
Some believe that its present name derives from the Latin “Sanguis Jovis” or from Mount Giove, in Romagna, or maybe it comes from the village of San Giovanni Valdarno.
In any case, recent genetic studies now tend to indicate that the Sangiovese would comes from a crossing between the Ciliegiolo and a variety from Southern Italy, the Calabrese di Montenuovo, recently discovered in Campania (Calabrese not because it came from Calabria, but because it was discovered from Mr. Strigara, originally from Calabria). The hybridization is sure, the time it happend is absolutely not.
We haven’t written information on this variety dating before the sixteenth century, when the Soderini, in his treatise “The cultivation of the vine”, praising his “regular production”.
Anyway, the antiquity of Sangiovese is demonstrated by the its great amount of clonal varieties. Somebody talk about 35, more of 76 clones, but personally I counted 87 varieties, on a catalog of the clones published in 2009.
To understand how large this number is, we can compare it with Cabernet Sauvignon, on the same catalog: it is reported about 11 clonal varieties…
This means that over the centuries variations of Sangiovese adapted to very different territories, in such different ways that some clones that have good success in a region of Tuscany, do not produce good fruit in another, though not too far away. Such diversification required many centuries, obviously.
Considering its great variety, talk of Sangiovese in general is not particularly correct. Was tried to bring order on this matter introducing the distinction between small and large Sangiovese (piccolo e grosso), besides from Tuscan Sangiovese and Sangiovese Romagna.
The Sangiovese Grosso is widely used in almost all the most famous Tuscan red wines such as Chianti DOCG, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (variety “Brunello”), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (variety Prugnolo Gentile) and Morellino di Scansano DOCG (Morellino variety). In Romagna Sangiovese is used, in its local varieties, to make Sangiovese di Romagna DOC.
The modern trend, however, is directed to select clones with a smaller berry, to increase the concentration of polyphenols and tannins in the skin and decrease the percentage of pulp.
Farmers always speak about how difficult is to cultivate Sangiovese. It’s not only one of the usual complaints of the farmers, but a real difficulty, linked to the delicate and complex nature of this grape.
The first thing to consider is the maturation time: Sangiovese isa “third epoch” grape, that means a very long maturation towards autumn. This late maturation clearly involves some risks: it meets the first cold of autumn and the decrease of the amount of sun.
In difficult years, those with big humidity and rainy, this leads to a higher acidity and a worst phenolic maturation.
Another factor of complexity is its susceptibility to diseases, especially powdery mildew (oidium) and botrytis, also caused of the lateness of maturity.
On the other hand its great vigor and its adaptation to virtually any type of farming, make it a very versatile grape, able to adapt to very different kind of soils.
Vinification of Sangiovese
The high acidity and the lack of some phenolic complex can cause difficulties in the vinification of Sangiovese. It can often be a grape with very aggressive and rude tannins, especially in difficult vintages, at the point to discourage to vinify it alone.
Because of these characteristics the ancient tradition of the Tuscan wines is to support the extraordinary characteristics of Sangiovese adding other grapes making a blend with Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino, white grapes like Trebbiano and Malvasia, grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Another useful technique to maximize the extraction of substances from the skin is a long maceration (7 to 28 days).
Because of the tannins and freshness (acidity) of the Sangiovese, wines made with it are often good for long aging.
The taste qualities of Sangiovese
The smell of Sangiovese is fruity, with acidity from moderate to high and generally with a medium body, from elegant to strong and sometimes with an ending that may tend to slightly bitter. The most common in the Sangiovese varietal aromas are:
fruit: black cherry, currant, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, orange peel, plum;
spices: cinnamon, cloves and thyme.
The places and the wines of Sangiovese
Even if you can find Sangiovese vines almost everywhere in the world, today, as we said, Sangiovese means Tuscany, and vice versa. With Sangiovese we produce both wines of high profile and great taste and wines ready to drink. There are also cases of white wines and rosé wines made with this remarkable grape.
In the rest of Italy, Sangiovese is a more or less everywhere, it is in fact the most popular red grape in the country. Around Italy it’s generally used in blends with other grapes such as those mentioned above and others such as Primitivo, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola, but some of his best results are obtained in purity (Brunello).
In the U.S., Sangiovese was introduced by Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century, but its importance in America began to grow only with the advent of Supertuscans. The results seem not very good at the moment, partly because of excessive sunlight to certain areas (eg California).
Sangiovese in Australia is slowly spreading since the ’60s, and the selection of suitable clones is still going on. So in South Africa and South America.