Exploring the Global Footprint of Italy’s Star Grape

Illustration of vineyard hills, with Sangiovese spelled out
Illustration by Joåo Neves

The grape of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese currently accounts for about 10% of Italy’s total grapes. First documented in 1590, it’s seen its share of highs and lows, from being the backbone of the most sought-after wines of Tuscany, to a long stretch as an unnamed grape in cheap table wines throughout central Italy.

More recently, Sangiovese has seduced growers in places like Australia, Argentina and Canada. It’s created a footprint in the U.S., too, mainly along the West Coast, but also in Texas. It’s searched a bit for its personality and place in the New World, winemaking styles that emphasize zippy, fresh character may finally settle it.

A Beginner's Guide to Chianti and Chianti Classico

California

In Sonoma, the Seghesio family still has some century-old vines. Newer plantings go into fresh incarnations like Peter Stolpman’s Love You Bunches carbonic Sangiovese, or Ryme Cellars’ Sangiovese-Friulano carbonic coferment. Jennifer Reichardt of Raft Wines sources Sangiovese from Nessere Vineyards in Butte County, which struck her for its “beautiful cherry flavor, [with] lots of pop and zest.”

Pacific Northwest

In Oregon, Sangiovese can be found in Umpqua Valley and Columbia River Gorge, while in Washington State, it has made a home in Walla Walla Valley. Graham Markel of Buona Notte Wines procures grapes from Oregon’s Gorge, just east of The Dalles, for his fruit-driven, largely whole-cluster Cento per Cento cuvée. He says it’s a “wild spot” where “ripe clusters drip into flowering sage brush.” In Washington, Leonetti Cellar makes a serious bottling aged partly in classic botti.

Australia

Sangiovese makes small, respectable appearances from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale to Victoria’s King Valley. Famous producers like Penfolds, Chapel Hill, Hewitson and Brokenwood Wines have bottlings, while Coriole Vineyards and the Pizzini family have showcased the variety for decades. Light, bright and juicy examples from cooler areas like Heathcote or the Yarra Valley have brought renewed attention to the grape.

Corsica

Is Sangiovese by any other name still Sangiovese? Corsican wine producers who make it under the local name Nielluccio might have something to say. The grape takes on distinctive bright and floral notes on the island. Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Domaine Antoine Arena, Clos Canarelli and Domaine d’Alzipratu use it in everything from bright and savory rosés to deep, ageworthy reds.

Published on December 9, 2019
Topics: Wine Basics


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