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Sangiovese: The great wine of Italy springs roots

Wayne Wine Sept 2013
In the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting, Casanova di Neri 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova was selected as the top choice, followed closely by another 2001 Brunello. Photo by Wayne Crawford


Wayne on Wine

By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Warm spice, cherry and red berry with hints of clove and mint aromas accentuate the delightful red sangiovese wine.

With origins in Italy, it increasingly is well-crafted there and in Washington state, Georgia, Australia, Argentina and South Africa. It is the number-one produced grape in Italy.

This medium- to full-bodied wine is best known for the substantial role it plays in Tuscan wine, where it is the primary blended grape in Chianti and, in its purist form, in the spectacular Brunello di Montalcino wines, aged three or four years prior to release. Sangiovese is also the centerpiece for Rosso di Montalcino, a less-aged version of Brunello that, since 1984, allows Brunello winemakers a means of selling some Brunello aged only a year. Blended with cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese also has found acclaim as a Super-Tuscan wine with Tignanello.

The grape is grown in a variety of clones thriving in hot, dry climates on a limestone or clay base, at altitudes above 1,500 feet. It is high in acidity and tannins and, in well-crafted Brunello, has the ability to age for 20 years or more.

Sangiovese is my favorite red wine and pairs exceptionally well with a host of culinary delights: pasta dishes with fresh tomato-based sauces; roast meats; grilled steaks; pizza; porcini mushrooms; veal chops; calves’ livers; stuffed bell peppers; and braised or stewed chicken. The better crafted and aged the sangiovese the greater the matching potential with foods. I particularly recommend Brunello with Parmigiano-Reggiano— the king of Italian cheeses—asiago and aged Gouda.

Besides its food-pairing strength, it can be remarkably well-priced, with great Brunello that will age splendidly in the $40 to $60 range and Chianti in the $15 to $30 range.

Big Canoe Wine Group
In the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting, Casanova di Neri 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova was selected as the top choice, followed closely by another 2001 Brunello.

I bought this wine in 2006, just before it was selected as Wine Spectator’s wine of the year and paid about $45. In Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines for 2012, a Ciacci Picoolomini d’Aragona 2007 Brunello placed ninth, and its price is listed as $60; another top-100 Brunello is $48.

The best vintage years for Brunello to both drink and hold for cellaring are 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2004. More recently, the 2006 and 2007 wines have performed well but would benefit from aging.

Today’s Chianti is not your 1970s’ straw-covered fiasco—red, wet and alcoholic. Italians recognized the need to increase wine standards and Chianti has been a major benefactor. Chianti vintages drinking well include 2003, 2006, 2007 and some of the 2010. Vintage charts can be downloaded from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, winemag.com/PDFs/Vintage_Chart_2013.pdf.

Almost all subscription wine sites have vintage charts. Wine-growing depends a great deal on Mother Nature, and each year provides a different wine quality, so follow the vintage years when the option is available.

While Italy is the birthplace of great sangiovese, the U.S. should not be overlooked. Two of the four best wines in the wine group’s blind-tasting were produced with California and Washington state grapes.

Eastern Washington state, in many respects, matches Tuscan growing conditions, so it is not surprising several leading wineries bottle pure sangiovese or in a blend, including Andrew Will, Leonetti, Long Shadows Saggi and Walla Walla Vintners.

The Oregon winery that consistently masters sangiovese is Cana’s Feast Winery, with grapes from Ciel du Cheval vineyard in the Red Mountain region of Washington state. Cana’s Feast made the wine group’s top four wines.

‘Wines drinking well now’
Castello do Monsanto 2009, $25; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Poggio Stella Riserva 2006, $20; Podere Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Argenina 2008, $16; Renzo Masi Chianti Riserva 2009, $16; Fattoria Le Fonti Chianti Classico 2010, $21; Capraia Chianti Classico 2010, $19; and Helix Columbia Valley Sangiovese 2007, $29. Great food-pairing information for this last wine can be found at reiningerwinery.com/2012/03/2006-heli-sangiovese/. Also, note Reininger Winery makes Helix; also consider local producer Frogtown Cellars Sangiovese 2010, $20.

Cana's Feast Winery 2006 Sangiovese Bricco Riserva, $36: It has an Old World taste with a nice blend of fruit and smooth tannins and a finish that is very satisfying. The 2009 Sangiovese Grosso is now available. Highly Recommended.

Shafer 2003 Last Chance "Firebreak," Napa Valley, $35: This is an extraordinarily rich and complex wine, softened by aging and offering a fragrant scent of strawberries, kirsch, leather, earth, herbs and spices. The taste of red berries lingers on the palate. It is lush and smooth, a finely made wine. Regrettably, this was the last bottle in the wine group: Shafer has removed these grapes from its vineyard, but it was still a remarkable wine two years after its projected age limit. Doug Shafer told me a few years ago he replaced these grapes with syrah grapes for the vineyard’s “Relentless,” which just won Wine Spectator’s wine of the year. Sadly, California sangiovese has peaked in acreage, with only Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley producing reasonable grapes.

Il Poggione 2001 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, $65: This historic property located in Sant’Angelo in Colle traces its roots to the late 1800s. Made today by Fabrizio Bindocci, the wine opens with a tobacco-cherry flavor, initially showing a wilder side of sangiovese. The wine is full-bodied and structured on the palate, where it offers plenty of fruit, considerable length and big, potent tannins. Look for later releases. Highly Recommended.

Next month the focus is on Australian red wines … think shiraz, grenache, cabernet sauvignon and some remarkable red blends.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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