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Robert Fairall
 
19 March 2018 | di Lusso | Robert Fairall

Sangiovese......A grape with an 'interesting' history

Sangiovese is almost certainly the most popular Italian red variety in Australia - and in our di Lusso Estate portfolio. But it's not without a skeleton or two in the closet, and an interesting history. Read on!

Sangiovese is almost certainly the most popular Italian red variety in Australia - and in our di Lusso Estate portfolio. But it's not without a skeleton or two in the closet, and an interesting history. Read on!Navigating your way around the Sangiovese-Brunello-Montepulciano-Supertuscan Thing!

Working in the cellar door on any given Saturday, I’ll meet visitors who’ve been to Tuscany, or who worship Brunello, or who don’t know where Chianti fits into the landscape, or who think they know what a SuperTuscan is, or who think that Sangiovese is the grape from which the wine style Montepulciano Abbruzzo is made…and so on. Here how Italy’s most-grown grape hangs together – in the vineyard and in the bottle Sangiovese …the most important thing to remember about the grape variety Sangiovese has really only recently been definitively identified. (Previously, ‘Sangiovese’ was so commonly blended in both the vineyard and winery with other varieties – mostly with poor results- that its charm was not evident).

What has got the variety into ‘trouble’ at several levels is the fact that biologically the variety’s viticultural characteristics can vary enormously due to its sensitivity to location as to appear to be different varieties rather than just variants due to location (very similar to Pinot Noir in this respect). Over the past thirty years or so, many of the best producers have deliberately grown a range of different selections in their vineyards and this attention to detail has resulted in a massive improvement in overall quality. Brunello di Montalcino Nobody has done this more effectively than the good folk of this cute mountain village.

Although 100% Sangiovese, by a combination of careful clone and site selection, then longer maceration (fruit soaking to deepen the colour and extract tannins), the legal addition of 6% of concentrated must, and longer aging in both small oak barrels and in bottle before release, the region’s best wines taste quite different – deeper, richer, more opulent- than most of their fellow Tuscan styles. (One either believes in conspiracies or one doesn’t! For a number of years in the early part of this century the colour , concentration and fruitier flavours of Brunello were raising eyebrows. And true enough, in a scandal they called Brunello-gate, almost the whole Montalcino wine community; and in particular massive brands like Antinori and Frescobaldi, were found to be guilty of blending large amounts of ‘southern fruit’ with richer, darker characteristics that was illegal).

Overrated in my opinion; the sooner it becomes a wine more like the Chianti Classico Riserva, the better (see below!) Chianti and Chianti Classico Chianti is a region in central Tuscany. Nestled within it, between Florence and Siena, is the famous wine area known as Chianti Classico (declared by the Grand Duke of Tuscany as Italy's first legally protected wine region 301 years ago). Look for the Gallo Nero symbol, a black rooster inside a purple ring, on every bottle of Chianti Classico. These wines need only 80% Sangiovese to classify – although as the quality of the Sangiovese clones improve there is a growing number of 90 to 100% Classico wines.

There are three quality levels of Classico, depending on vineyard characteristics, age in barrel and time in bottle before release. SuperTuscan Wines In the 1970’s, the Italian government decided to do something serious to improve the quality of the country’s wines – and Tuscany’s in particular. So it undertook a massive audit of practically every vineyard in the country, discovering in the process that practically every vineyard contained an ‘assortment’ of varieties that did nothing to improve the quality of the wine. For example, most Tuscan vineyards contained a white variety Trebbiano and Canaiolo, a very mediocre red.

To bring a semblance of order to the industry, the authorities established an appellation system along the lines of that established in France, and urged all producers to work towards compliance. In parts of Tuscany, however, several leading winemakers had been experimenting with French varieties – in particular the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, and Merlot, and they were very loathe to comply with the new ruling. Over a decade or so, they migrated many of their vineyards to an area around the village of Bolgheri,in western Tuscany where they produced wines that were smart enough to attract the attention of Robert Parker, at that time the leading wine advocate in the world.

Parker (who was renowned for goading the established wine order) is said to have exclaimed – after presumably awarding a whole bunch oh high ninety scores above those awarded to Bordeaux competitors that “These wines are not just Tuscan – they are SuperTuscan”. After that the marketing departments of the region over, the prices reputedly doubled, and a new wine ‘renegade style’ was born. An appellation not recognised by the authorities – to this day they carry an IGT (meaning, in a sense, Not Elsewhere Included), but created a new Italian wine style, one that is very sought!

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