Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos courtesy of the producers

Chianti 2012 Tuscan Countryside

Sangiovese.

It is one of the most widely planted Italian grapes, with vines also  planted in other parts of the world; Sangiovese is the beloved red wine  grape of central Italy and specifically Tuscany. Sangiovese derives its  name from the Latin “Sanguis Jovis” i.e. the blood of Jupiter.  Sangiovese is a versatile grape that spans the entire length of the  quality spectrum from easy-drinking Chiantis to the very high-end  Brunello di Montalcino.

Sangiovese is successful because it can adapt very well to the terroir where it is planted. This adaptability allows the Sangiovese grapes to produce such different tasting Italian wines as Chianti and Chianti Classico,  Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Montefalco Rosso etc. But it is not only in Italy that Sangiovese produces brilliant wines. I’ve  drunk very pleasant Sangiovese-based wines from as diverse areas as  Arizona, California and Rio Grande do Sul’s, Vale dos Vinhedos in  Brazil.

Sangiovese Grapes on the Vine 2

The best known Sangiovese wines are Chianti/Chianti Classico and Brunello.  These are produced in quantities, in vineyards located in Central Tuscany, between Florence and Sienna that have been planted since the  time of the Etruscans. Not as well known, but just as delectable, are the Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco wines from vineyards that are planted on the Tyrrhenian coast of Tuscany, the area known as Maremma and/or Toscana Maritima.

When it comes to Brunello, there are 2 schools of thought as to how the end  product should be perceived. “Old school” means wines that need very  long aging to develop the delicate aromas typical of the variety: black fruit, wild berries, violets and  eucalyptus backed by high tannins and acidity. “New school” means black  cherry and plum fruit with toasted vanilla notes from aging in smaller  barrels and barriques that yield a softer, consumer-friendly and  ready-to-drink wine. Both styles exhibit freshness, balance and power,  with affinity to good food, especially succulent grilled steaks.

The 6 best Sangiovese wines that I recently had came from Montalcino, the  Chianti Classico area, Scansano and, surprisingly, Arizona in the United States.

Col d'Orcia Brunello-2013-no-logo

Banfi-brunello-di-montalcino-2012

The 2013 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino and Castello Banfi’s Brunello  2012 were very interesting, though they were not the very best Brunellos of the last decade. Both are rated at 91/100 points. The Col d’Orcia  Brunello is an organic wine, notable for its bouquet, fresh and intense, with aromas of ripe fruit infused with spice. Aged for 4 years, 3 of which are in Slavonian and Allier oak casks, followed by  at least 12 months in bottle, with aging at controlled temperature. The  Castello Banfi Brunello is notable for meticulous grape selection that  is followed by vinification with skin contact for 10-12 days. Released  in the 5th year after harvest, the wine is aged for a minimum of 4  years, including 2 years in smaller oak barrels of various sizes, mainly French oak barriques and Slavonian oak casks. As good Brunellos, both  are priced in the $60 to $85 per bottle price range. They are very age  worthy and will give to the knowledgeable buyer that decides to cellar  them for a few years plenty of pleasure. 

Sangiovese Chianti Classico Castello di Albola Cellar

A few years ago, I visited Castello di Albola. Castello di Albola is an  elegant wine producer in the Chianti Classico appellation; its wines are imported by Zonin USA from the winery in Radda. This is the result of a traditional red wine vinification process that includes three weeks of  grape maceration with their skins and seeds. Once maceration and  malolactic fermentation have been completed, the wine is matured in  Allier oak barrels for 14 months, followed by long aging in bottle. I  consider it a classic medium to full-bodied dry red wine with polished  tannins, ripe acidity and a long finish. What impresses is the great  nose redolent of black fruit and new leather; some cigar box and cedar  hints that are evident in the long finish. It is priced at around $70  per bottle and I would rate it at 94/100 points.

Sangiovese Amiraglia Winery

Another very notable Sangiovese-based wine I recently had was Tenuta dell’ Ammiraglia’s Morellino di Scansano Riserva Pietra Regia. I visited the  winery in 2015 and I have been cellaring the bottle they gave me since  then; I opened it a month or so ago. Produced by the Frescobaldi family  in one of the most modern wineries of the Maremma, the Riserva Pietra  Regia was actually a blend of mostly Sangiovese (90%), with some  Ciliegiolo and a touch of Syrah. On the nose there were ripe plums, red  currants and blackberries with notable violet notes that give way to a  spiced balsamic finish. In the mouth, the wine was elegantly structured  with dense tannins accompanied by marked acidity that made the wine cut  through the fat of the Tuscan-style Bistecca Fiorentina I paired it  with. The wine’s finish was rich in toasty notes with a sweet and  persistent aftertaste. Unfortunately, this wine is not available in the  US yet, I rate it at 93/100 points.

antinori-tignanello_2014

Yet another distinctive wine I was privileged to recently drink was the  2014 Antinori Tignanello. A beautifully balanced blend of 80%  Sangiovese, with 5% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; it is  produced exclusively from a vineyard of the same name located at the  heart of the Chianti Classico region, though because it does not conform to the strict DOCG regulations, it does not sport the Chianti Classico  designation. I was invited to a cocktail party for Baglietto Yachts, the famous Italian super-yacht shipyard that was showcasing their recent  tailor-made builds; the event took place at CORE Club in Manhattan and  Tignanello was one of two wines offered with the walk-around appetizers. A silky palate with a rather intense mineral core, it is a supple wine  with fine tannins. Priced in the US in the $90 to $110 range, it is so  distinctive that one should recognize it on first sip. I would rate it at 95/100 points and it’s a  long lived wine that promises delights for years to come.

javelina Leap Sangiovese

Finally, a genuine surprise during a recent trip to Arizona. On the return trip  from Sedona to Phoenix, we stopped at a tasting room on Page Springs  Road, Cornville that belongs to the Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery. There were a few California-styled wines to  taste, mostly Cabernets and Zinfandels, but I was surprised to see a  bottle labeled Sangiovese among the red wines; an Arizonian Sangiovese!  The sample turned out to be a nice every-day drinking wine, with  cherries and plums on the nose and palate and pepper on a rather short  finish, notable for mild tannins. Definitely not a Brunello or a Chianti Classico but was very reminiscent of an everyday Chianti; and very  pleasant indeed with the right food. The bottle was listed at about $30, which is a bit high for a local wine. I would rate it at 88/100 points, the same rating I would give to a straw covered fiasco of Chianti.

To your health!

 

 

 

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