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Sangiovese

Sangiovese is Italy’s most important grape, by both volume and reputation, and it has travelled the world, establishing serious outposts across the New World. In Australia, sangiovese didn’t really start making inroads until the late 1980s, but with improved genetic material, it is now making quite an impression.

Also known as

In Italy, regional pockets of sangiovese are often regarded to be of distinct genetic material (or clones). Brunello, morellino, prugnolo gentile and sangiovese grosso are the most famous of these, but the full appellation name is always listed on the label: Brunello di Montalcino, Morrelino di Scansano etc. In Australia, sangiovese is the only name generally used, though the brothers Koerner use both sangiovese and the Corsican synonym nielluccio.

What sangiovese tastes like

The key flavour component mentioned when people talk about sangiovese is cherry, generally red, but sometimes black, with that primary profile generally accented with savoury notes of dried berries, hardy herbs, dried earth, leather and cedary notes. Lighter and fresher examples tend to focus on those bright fruits, but savouriness and structure often characterise the more serious wines, with grippy tannins and high acid also features.

Vineyard & winemaking

Ripening relatively late, sangiovese can produce lean and green fruit in more marginal climates, but it is also in many of Tuscany’s cooler vineyards that it produces the best expressions. In warmer zones, it can become broad and lose definition, or just be a little simple. It also has a natural tendency to produce high yields, so quality-minded producers will always seek to limit vigour. There are many different styles of sangiovese made, with large old oak traditionally used. Some makers aim for more concentration in the fruit and use smaller barrels, though new oak can be a little jarring, with the vanillin notes not sitting well with the savoury profile. Sangiovese is often blended with small amounts of local grapes for Chianti, such as canaiolo and colorino, as well as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, though the latter two are now falling out of favour.

Where is sangiovese grown?

Sangiovese is Italy’s most plated grape, with 12,000 more hectares planted than the next most, pinot grigio. Sangiovese is the most prevalent variety in four of Italy’s 20 regions, and it is a significant player in nine others. It is the majority component of 100 DOC/DOCGs and nearly as many IGPs, while contributing in a lesser way to countless more. Perhaps most importantly, sangiovese is also responsible for some of Italy’s greatest and most famous wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano – all of which happen to be in Tuscany. Sangiovese was also the backbone of the Super Tuscan wines that shook up the establishment in the 1980s and 90s, marking a new era for Italian wine internationally.

Sangiovese around the world

In Corsica, nielluccio is the island’s most planted grape, and it is generally accepted as being identical to sangiovese, though some still regard it as a separate variety. In Argentina, Italian immigrants planted the grape from the end of the 19th century, and there are almost 2,500 hectares now planted there. Italian immigrants similarly planted the grape in the US, mainly in California, where it was rarely presented as a serious wine grape. In 2000, a project to identify the best clones of sangiovese in Italy weeded out much of the lesser vine material, with growers in the New World reaping the benefits, too. What was a grape seen as best suited to simple jug wine is now being taken more seriously in the US and elsewhere.

Sangiovese in Australia

Perhaps surprisingly, sangiovese didn’t hitch a ride with the wave of Italian immigration after WWII, but no native grapes really did, with those immigrants adapting to what they found here. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Penfolds and Montrose planted the variety, with the latter making Australia’s first varietal wine from Mudgee fruit under the watchful eye of great Italian consultant oenologist Carlo Corino. But it wasn’t until Mark Lloyd of McLaren Vale’s Coriole planted it in 1985 that the variety seriously captured the public’s imagination, with Coriole still one of the leading players. The clone that started it all, though, wasn’t a great one, so many early examples were on the lighter, more dilute side of things. That’s changed a bit now, not least through the work of Australian viticulture guru Mark Walpole and Dr Alberto Antonini (another famous roving Italian oenologist) when they set up the Greenstone vineyard in Heathcote with a selection of new vine material. Today, the Australian vineyard land under vine is now a credible 450 hectares, which is spread nationwide and across regions both hot and relatively cool, like the Adelaide Hills, Orange and the Granite Belt.

Photo of sangiovese grapes seen here, courtesy of Chalmers vineyard.

Some of the best Australian sangiovese

Some of the icons

Castagna
Crittenden Estate
Fairbank
Galli Estate
Greenstone
Pikes
Pizzini
Vinea Marson

Some of the new wave

Billy Button
Coulter
Fikkers
Frederick Stevenson
Fighting Gully Road
Foster e Rocco
Koerner
Lark Hill
Latta
Mallaluka
Payten & Jones
Ravensworth