Sangiovese is a red grape variety, the most planted in its native Italy and one of the world’s ten most planted overall. ‘Sangiovese is at the core of some of Italy’s (and the world’s) greatest wines, although truly outstanding wines aren’t always easy to come by given the pinot noir-like degree of difficulty the variety poses to vine growers and winemakers everywhere,’ (Dr Ian D’Agata: Vinous, Sept 2014). Sangiovese’s USP is its ability to transmit a sense of the place in which it is grown and thus its potential for ‘terroir-driven’ wines. Its Achilles heel is being difficult to grow well, especially as regards its often irregular and late ripening.
Etymology: There are various theories on the derivation of the name Sangiovese, the most popular being ‘sanguis Jovis’ or blood of jove—but as yet no definitive conclusion. See D’Agata (2016, p.428).
Origins: Sangiovese is usually automatically associated with Tuscany and having origins there. This is likely due to the fact that in 1590 Sangiovese was first mentioned, as Sangiogheto, by G. Soderini in ‘Coltivazione toscana delle viti e d’alcuni alberi’, or ‘Cultivation of vines and some fruit trees in Tuscany’. However, studies of Sangiovese’s genetic origins suggest at least one of its parents may have originated in Calabria. Old Sangiovese vines are still found growing in marginal areas of Calabria today, suggesting its ancient cultivation there (Andrea Lonardi, 14th Feb 2019). A 2004 study by Prof. Attilio Scienza demonstrated that Sangiovese comes from a cross between the Tuscan Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo (Andrea Lonardi, 14th Feb 2019).
Early history: 1600s As Sangioeto, Sangiovese was depicted by Bartolomeo del Bimbo (‘Il Bimbi’), artist of the Medici court in the late 17th-century. A deed dating back to 1672 found in the State Archives of Faenza (see the Colli di Faenza DOC in Emilia-Romagna) is the first document known today in which the name Sangiovese is found. The female owner of the Fontanella estate leased a vineyard to the parish priest of Pagnano: “three rows of Sangiovese placed near the house”. | 1726 Trinci sang San Zoveto’s praises: ‘wonderful quality, huge quantities every year’.
1773: Villifranchi praised San Gioveto’s dependability in ‘Oenologia Toscana’ and according to Dr Ian D’Agata (2016, p.427) ‘was probably the first to begin differentiating between different Sangiovese types, mentioning a San Gioveto Forte (for Villifranchi, synonymous with Inganna Cane, another variety) and a San Gioveto Romano cultivated in Le Marche, in particular in the Faentino region. Villifranchi also mentions that the Sangiovese-based Carmignano (from Tuscany) was made by also including air-dried Canaiolo nero, Aleatico and Moscadello grapes. Also in 1773 Ghini de’ Minimi mentions Sangiovese wine from Romagna.
1800s: The 19th-century saw Sangiovese begin to spread across central and southern Italy, reaching the Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, and Foggia province in northern Puglia (D’Agata: 2016, p.427). At the beginning of the 19th-century the cultivation of Sangioveto appears to have been confined to Tuscany and Romagna (Forlì and Ravenna provinces). Sangiovese does not appear to have been grown all over Tuscany at that time (unlike today), nor is there mention of its presence in southern Italy, even though recent genetic data suggests the variety may be native to there (D’Agata 2016, p.427). It was most common in the province of Florence, and it was grown in Siena province as Prugnolo, Brunello and Morellino. In Casentino, an area in Arezzo province, it was called Nerino or Sanvicetro but the latter is now known to be a distinct cultivar to Sangiovese (D’Agata (2016, p.4.28). Around Arezzo Sangiovese was known as Calabrese, a synonym for Sicily’s Nero d’Avola.
1875: The Ampelography Commission of Siena (1875-76) listed Sangioveto as one of the most widely planted varieties in the Chianti region, and listed ‘Prugnolo’ and ‘Brunello’ in both Montepulciano and Montalcino respectively.
1877: Di Rovasenda differentiates a ‘Sangioveto’ in Tuscany and a ‘Sangiovese’ in Romagna, the former supposedly superior to the latter, hence some contemporary producers might prefer keeping these distinct names for each region (Badia a Coltibuono labels its top Chianti Classico as ‘Sangioveto’ for example).
1906: Molon’s identification of two types of Sangiovese, namely Sangioveto Grosso (also called Sangioveto Dolce) and the Sangiovese Piccolo (aka Sangioveto Forte) or Sanforte is a mistake, says D’Agata (op. cit) because Sanforte is a genetically distinct variety.
1964: Breviglieri and Casini (following on from Molon (1906) regarded Sangiovese Grosso as synonymous with Sangiovese Dolce and Sangiovese Gentile, whilst Sangiovese Piccolo was the same as both Sangiovese Forte and Sangiovese Montanino (Ian D’Agata, 2016, p.427).
Sangiovese family: Sangiovese’s proliferation has led to numerous names in different zones. Thomases and Vouillamoz (2006, p.606-7) say ‘Conventional ampelographical descriptions of Sangiovese, based on the pioneering work of G. Molon in 1906, divide the variety into two families: the Sangiovese Grosso, to which Brunello, Prugnolo Gentile, and the Sangiovese di Lamole (of Greve in Chianti) belong, and the Sangiovese Piccolo of other zones of Toscana, with the implicit identification of a superior quality in the former. Current thinking is that this classification is too simplistic, that there is a large number of clones populating the region’s vineyards, and that no specific qualitative judgements can be based on the size of either the berries or the bunches.’ This Morellino in Scansano on the Tuscan coast, Brunello in Montalcino, Prugnolo Gentile in Montepulciano, and Sangiovese di Lamole and Sangioveto in parts of Chianti Classico are all are considered to be Sangiovese at present. Despite this, both Prugnolo Gentile and Brunello are incorrectly given separate entries in the National Registry.
Morphology: Sangiovese is very sensitive to site, and natural selection has seen it adapt well over time to the conditions in Montalcino for example. Its very intense link with nature makes it very changeable, like a chameleon. Sangiovese buds early making it susceptible to springtime frosts. It ripens slowly and late making it prone to colder autumn temperatures. Rain or damp conditions after veraison can induce rot, Sangiovese having thin grapeskins. Incomplete ripening due to a poor season or excess yields lead to acidic wines with tough tannins and a lack of colour. Winemaker Gerd Stepp told me it is hard to fix colour when making Sangiovese due to its polyphenols which can have excess tannin and insufficient colouring matter. Working to get more colour from the skins risks also extracting green notes from the pips, especially if these are unripe.
Disease susceptibility: Sangiovese is susceptible to powdery mildew (oidium) and Botrytis cinerea (grey rot). It is moderately susceptible to peronospera (downy mildew). Older vines appear increasingly susceptible to esca.
Characteristics: The leaf is medium-sized pentagonal, light green, shiny and hairless. The cluster is long, conical-pyramidal, with one or two wings, tending to be compact. The grape is medium, ovoid, with a consistent skin, black-violet in color, very pruinose.
Sangiovese’s lack of colour: The reasons for Sangiovese’s lack of colour are two-fold:
- i) Sangiovese is rich in cyanin, one of the two anthocyanins (the other is peonin) which ‘tend to have lighter hues and less stable color,’ says Ian D’Agata (2014, p9).
- ii) Sangiovese is virtually devoid of acylated anthocyanins (anthocyanin molecules bound to a sugar molecule), those anthocyanin conjugated forms typical of, for example, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and many other varieties (Ian D’Agata 2014, p.432). Analyzing anthocyanin ratios, which are genetically determined and therefore not affected by winemaking is one way of determining if a 100% Sangiovese wine (eg. Brunello di Montalcino) really is just that. Even just finding high levels of acylated anthocyanin in a Sangiovese indicates the wine is not a 100% Sangiovese (Ian D’Agata (2014, p.432).
Yields: Sangiovese tends to produce naturally high yields. Bunches vary from 180-400 grammes and individual berries range from 0.8 to 3.2g per each. Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena told me at the Decanter Tuscan Masterclass on 10th May 2014 that for high quality Sangiovese ‘the key issue is yield management. Excess yields produce light-coloured wines which age and oxidise prematurely and turn brown.’
Conclusion?: ‘Completely oxymoronic grape variety; perishes in direct sunlight, yet late ripening,’ John Atkinson MW once told me.
Clones: Clonal research on Sangiovese began relatively late, toward the end of the 20th-century. Prior to 1960 ‘nothing had happened,’ according to Dr Ian D’Agata (2014, p.431). Most of the work had been done by private estates such as Banfi (Janus series), Biondi-Santi and Col d’Orcia all in Montalcino, and Isole e Olena in Chianti Classico. Over 100 Sangiovese clones exist, the highest number for any grape in Italy’s national registry. The main goals seem to have been to create looser bunches to reduce the risk of rot, less productive vines for more concentrated grapes and deeper-coloured wines (and less labour spent on bunch-thinning), and earlier ripening for what is a late-ripening variety. See Lorenzo Regoli for research into Sangiovese clones in Tuscany.
Examples: BBS 11 In September 1970, Franco Biondi Santi began a clonal selection of his old Greppo vines, from the mass selection begun by his grandfather Ferruccio in the mid-1800s, in collaboration with professors Casini, Bandinelli of the Arboreal Cultivation Institute of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Florence. After five harvests, several Sangiovese clones were selected but the one that became official on the Register of “Recommended Vines” of the European Union is is the BBS/11 (Brunello Biondi Santi, vine n ° 11). | CH20. | CH21. | CCL The CCL series of clones (CCL 2000/1, CCL 2000/3, CCL 2000/5, and CCL 2000/7 were developed under the Chianti Classico 2000 project launched by the Chianti Classico Consorzio in 1988. | CV10. | F9 A548. | Fedit 20 CH. | G76. | Janus 50 One of a number of clones developed by the Banfi winery in Montalcino with Attilio Scienza. | M1. | MOR78. | R-10 Rauscedo clone, also known as Grosso Lamole. Some say it is (over-) productive. However, Dr Ian D’Agata (2014, p.431) says it is ‘a very good clonal choice, its wines characterised by lovely bright ruby-red hues and floral, earthy aromas, with plenty of spices red-berried nuances.’ See Chianti Classico. | R-24 A highly regarded clone from Romagna, also known as Medio Predappio. The wines are rich in colour, structured and for mid- to longer term ageing. | Salicutti This was developed by Francesco Leanza when he owned the Salicutti winery in Montalcino. | Selezione De Marchi A very highly regarded clone developed by Paolo De Marchi of Isole e Olena in Chianti Classico with the Guillaume nursery in France. | SG-CDO-4 and SG-CDO-5 were selected from bud wood originating the Col d’Orcia winery’s Poggio al Vento vineyard in Montalcino. They were released in 2003 after 20 or so years of research. | SG-CDO-8, a third clone was certified in 2011. | T-19 A clone from Romagna with the T standing for Tebano. It is virus-affected, and so officially it is not allowed to be planted. Gives deeper, richer, more complex wines compared to R-24 (er, Dr Ian D’Agata (2014, p.431). | VCR5.
Where grown in Italy: Toscana, Emilia-Romagna, and Puglia account for over 80% of Italy’s Sangiovese plantings. Sangiovese is found every other Italian region except in Italy’s colder, northernmost Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige.
Emilia-Romagna: Romagna DOC.
Le Marche: Rosso Piceno DOC.
Tuscany: This is the grape’s stronghold in Italy. ‘Sangiovese ‘basically grows everywhere in [Tuscany] and only in parts of the northern Tuscan coast does it seem less at home,’ (Ian D’Agata, Vinous, Sept 2014). See: Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. | Carmignano DOCG. | Chianti DOCG. | Chianti Classico DOCG. | Chianti Rufina DOCG. | Morellino di Scansano DOCG. | Rosso di Montalcino DOC. | Rosso di Montepulciano DOC. | Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG.
Wine style: Flavours ‘Sangiovese-based wines will change over time, from redcurrant, violet, black tea and liquorice-rich…to tobacco, old leather and underbrush notes,’ says Dr Ian D’Agata (2016). Martino Manetti of Montevertine in Chianti Classico (who labels his 100% Sangiovese Le Pergole Torte as an IGT Toscana) says Sangiovese’s innate flavour characteristics include violets and wild cherry (Kerin O’Keefe, 2009 23). Structure | Sizeable, but not always sensual, structure,’ Daniel Thomases and José Vouillamoz (2006, p.606-7)
Ageing Sangiovese: ‘Chianti Classico has a clear track record in ageing well, and this is true even of older vintages in which white grapes had been used, debunking the theory that the inclusion of white grapes precludes ageability,’ (D’Agata 2016, p.96-97).
Sangiovese-Bordeaux-style blends: ‘Throughout modern Toscana, Sangiovese is now often blended with a certain proportion of the Bordeaux grape Cabernet Sauvignon, whether for Chianti (in which case the interloper should not exceed 15 per cent of the total) or a highly priced Vino da Tavola. This highly successful blend, in which the intense fruit and colour of Cabernet marries well with the characterful native variety, was first sanctioned by the DOC authorities in Carmignano,’ say Daniel Thomases and José Vouillamoz (2006, p.606-7).
Synonyms: Brunello (Montalcino, Tuscany). | Morellino (Maremma, Scansano, Tuscany). | Nielluccio (Corsica). | Sangiovese grosso (Montalcino, Tuscany). | Sangiovese medio (Montalcino, Tuscany). | Sangiovese Romagnolo (Romagna). | Sangioveto (Chianti Classico, Tuscany). | Prugnolo gentile (Montepulciano, Tuscany). | Toustain (Algeria).
Biotypes: Given the variety’s long history and wide diffusion, there are many bio-types and clones (for more information, see Dr Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy (pp. 430-432), which in turn has led to much confusionConfining the discussion of Sangiovese biotypes to only Grosso and Piccolo is overly simplistic. In the area of Scansano alone, there are thought to be more than 30 distinct biotypes, however, little research has been conducted on the variety in this coastal area. The unofficial classification of biotypes of Sangiovese is now considered outdated and inaccurate eg. Sangiovese Grosso (most Tuscan and Romagna biotypes e.g. Brunello) and Sangiovese Piccolo (e.g. Sanvicetro, Morellino).
Other names: Sangiogheto. | Sangiovese di Lamole. | Sangiovese Dolce. | Sangiovese Gentile. | Sangioveto. | Sangioveto Montenino. | Sanzoveto. | Uvetta.
Specific styles: Sangiovese ia almost always vinified dry and still. Styles vary greatly because Sangiovese is so widely planted and is sensitive to its varied microclimates, and because it is made into a 100% varietal wine as well as blended. Native grapes such as Malvasia Nera, Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo make good blending partners contributing freshness and perfume (especially Mammolo). It is not uncommon, however to find international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah added in; these varieties contribute certain uncharacteristic elements, including color and richness and can be used to soften Sangiovese’s often searing acidity. The cool conditions in Chianti Classico produce leaner wines, warmer weather in the more southerly Montalcino yields riper wines, and the even warmer coastal Maremma temperatures result in richer, sometimes overripe styles.
Ranging from brilliant ruby to garnet, true Sangiovese wines should never be jet black in color because of the variety’s anthocyanin composition. Overall, San- giovese shows aromas of red and black cherry, licorice, black tea and nuances of violet. With age, leather, undergrowth and even tobacco start to emerge. Re- gardless, Sangiovese always has high acidity and pronounced chalky tannins. Depending upon site, producer, and ageing regime, they can be medium- to medium-plus-bodied with moderate-plus alcohol.
Sangiovese vinified as a white wine: See La Selva (Maremma, Tuscany).
Andrea Lonardi, ‘The Soul of Sangiovese Soils’, presentation at Tenuta Trerose 14th Feb 2019.
Bill Nesto MW & Frances Di Savino, Chianti Classico, the Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine, (University of California Press, 2016).
Daniel Thomases and Dr José Vouillamoz, The Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW (Oxford University Press, 2006).
Ian D’Agata (Dr), Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014), p.426-435.
Ian D’Agata (Dr), Tuscany Part 1: Chianti, Vino Nobile and Supertuscans (Sep 2014) | Vinous
Ian D’Agata (Dr), ‘Is the time right?,’ Decanter Italy supplement 2016, p96-97.
Kerin O’Keefe, ‘Rebels without a cause-the demise of Super-Tuscans’, World of Fine Wine 23 2009 p94-9.
Kerin O’Keefe, Brunello di Montalcino, University of California Press, 2012 p.8.
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo—The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003), p.41.
Walter Speller, ‘Chianti Rufina and its secret crus’, www.jancisrobinson.com 09 Dec 2010.
Walter Speller, ‘On the trail of Sangiovese di Romagna’ www.jancisrobinson.com 08 Sep 2010.