Sangiovese, the most widely planted grape in Italy, is at once famous and infamous. We know and love the Tuscan varietal from full-bodied red wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as for being the catalyst of the Super-Tuscan style. However, Sangiovese has not always been admired. Throughout its storied past, the grape has paved the way for Italian wines while simultaneously been at the heart of several viticultural controversies.
The first records of Sangiovese can be traced back to the age of Etruscan winemaking, when the grape was named for “the blood of Jove.” This was no trivial nomenclature. Jove, called Jupiter and Zeus in Roman and Greek mythology respectively, was king of all the gods. When we experience the deep flavor, high acidity, and tannins in a wine made with 100% Sangiovese, we totally get it.
Over the next thousand years, the dark-berried vine was cultivated primarily in its native Tuscan hills; what a difference a century has made!
Sangiovese has always been the primary grape for Chianti, a full-bodied red wine produced in the heart of Toscana since the 13th century. By the early 1900s, the rest of the world caught on, and Chianti wines was in high demand on a global level. There was an enormous swell of production in the late 1960s. Poorly produced and overly acidic, these wines gave Chianti a bad reputation for many years.
In the 1980s, the consortium for Chianti reclaimed the name with the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG, increased regulation within the appellation, and elimination of superfluous blending varietals. The focus returned to Sangiovese, with at least 80% of the varietal required for a wine to be labeled Chianti. Today, Chianti is a beacon for quality wine produced on a larger scale.
BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG may only be made with Sangiovese. From a critical standpoint, Brunello di Montalcino is arguably the most important appellation in Toscana. In wine circles, it is often mentioned in the same breath as Barolo, Barbaresco, and the big names outside of Italy.
Offering aromas of truffles and tobacco, flavors of cherries and chocolate, Brunello is among Italy’s most seductive wines. It also has one of the widest spectrums of style. Modernist, traditionalist, and combinations of the two exist. The wine can be ripe and full with depth and intensity or lighter with elegant structure and balance.
Super Tuscans are a relatively recent development in the world of wine. While the reputations and price points may associate them with more historic wines, they were “born” only in the last half a century.
In the late 1960s, several daring winemakers in Tuscany decided to incorporate modern techniques into their traditional winemaking. Following a drive to produce a more approachable wine, they planted international varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; blended them with Sangiovese (considered sacrilege by older winemakers); and aged the must in new small French oak barrels.
Even today, the idea of blending non-indigenous grapes with the revered Sangiovese remains controversial in certain Tuscan circles. However, Super Tuscans have stood the test of time and continue to be enjoyed by wine lovers across the globe.
Discover more flavors of Toscana at Eataly! For the next month, we are celebrating Tuscan artists and artisans across our stores and online. Get the details!