You've heard of Chianti right? Do you know what varietal it is? It's Sangiovese, so let's get to it.
Varietal Overview: Sangiovese
History and Cultivation
Now this grape is truly a “gift from the gods”, at least according to the ancient Romans. The name Sangiovese comes from the Latin term Sanguis Jovis, which literally translates to “blood of Jove”, referencing to the ancient Roman god Jupiter. As the story goes, the name Sangiovese was coined by ancient Roman monks of Santarcangelo di Romagna commune. With a name like that, it is no doubt that this grape varietal dates way way back to the time of ancient Roman winemaking.
Nowadays, this grape is still synonymous with Italian winemaking, and is the most highly cultivated red grape varietal by acre in Tuscany, but is also grown in various regions throughout central Italy and in isolated areas in the northernmost and southernmost parts. Sangiovese grapes are grown elsewhere in the world as well, including France, Argentina, the United States, and Australia. Although most grapes tend to express terroir differences in the wine in which they produce, Sangiovese is one of the most variable when it comes to terroir expression and variations in vintages (often based on yearly weather patterns and method of cultivation). In Italy, it is both the blessing and curse of the wine industry, as it has the potential to produce grapes that go into some of the finest wines, but also can produce some train wrecks if not grown by a skillful vintner. This isn’t to say that this grape is picky when it comes to soil, as it has the ability to grow in a fair variety of soil types. It does, however, do best in soils that have a high level of limestone or clay. The grapes tend to be early to bud and slow to ripen, and do best when temperatures during the ripening period are moderate to warm, but not hot.
The real problem that winemakers often face with Sangiovese wine as a varietal is a variable quality in flavor and overall body. Some Sangiovese wines can be too acidic, lack color, and lack flavor. Often times, this poor quality can be a consequence of a grape varietal which has an extremely high yield, often to a fault! Too many grapes can lead to too little flavor. To compensate, Sangiovese is often used in red blends, such as the famed Italian Chianti. All Chianti wines will contain Sangiovese, but also contain Syrah, Cabernet or Merlot for a smoother, silkier finish.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Throughout its native land of Italy, Sangiovese is used in a variety of red “Super Tuscans”, some of the most notable red wines of Tuscany. Traditionally, Sangiovese produced in the Old World (Italy) emphasizes savory and earthy herbal flavors combined with leather, slight bitter cherry notes, and a subtle hint of tomato, and adds an interesting dimension to many Old World red blends. Typically dry, Old World Sangiovese is noticeably tannic with naturally high acidity. The savory nature of Italian Sangiovese makes it the perfect pairing with rare steak that is substantially marbled (since the tannic nature of the wine will cut through the fat nicely), as well as dishes with Italian sausage (which makes sense, since it’s an Italian wine), or potato gnocchi with a rich, earthy cream sauce or sage butter.
In the New World, winemakers tend to aim to extract more of the red, plush fruit flavors that Sangiovese grapes can have while balancing out the acidity. Fruit flavors tend to involve cherry, plum, and black currant. As opposed to Italian Sangiovese, New World wine are typically earlier drinking and are best consumed within 3 to 4 years of bottling.
Try this Recipe with a Rustic Tuscan Sangiovese!
Italian Sausage Lasagna
1 pound Italian sausage (bulk, remove the casings)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 (14.5 ounces) can tomatoes
2 teaspoons basil (dried)
1 teaspoon oregano (dried)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt (divided)
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
10 ounces lasagna noodles (10 to 12 lasagna noodles)
3 cups ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
4 tablespoons parsley (fresh chopped)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pepper
16 ounces mozzarella cheese (shredded or thinly sliced)
Gather the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a skillet, brown the sausage slowly; drain off excess fat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, adding a little water if it gets too thick. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook according to the package directions. In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley, eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper. In the bottom of a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan or lasagna pan, place one layer of the noodles. Cover the noodle layer with a layer of mozzarella cheese and then spoon half of the ricotta mixture over the mozzarella. Spoon half of the meat sauce over the ricotta cheese layer. Repeat the layers (starting with the noodles), ending with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to set a few minutes before serving.