Leave it to the Italians to grow a grape whose name translates as “the blood of Jove.” They love their food, wine, and colorful language, I suppose.
We’re in the home stretch of my overview of what I see as the most important grape varieties to know. That means we’re finally leaving France behind; the last two I want to talk about come from elsewhere in the world. This week’s grape: Sangiovese.
Sangiovese is the predominant red grape varietal of central Italy and of its most famous winemaking region, Tuscany. How common is it? Grab the closest bottle of Italian red wine. I’m willing to bet its got Sangiovese in it. It’s often blended, as in Chianti, but it is also bottled by itself, as in Brunello di Montalcino. There are other Italian red grape varietals — including the highly drinkable Barbera and the fickle and often-expensive Nebbiolo — but if you can only learn about one, Sangiovese will open plenty of doors for you.
The flavors and aromas of Sangiovese are often unremarkable; the key thing to know about it is that it is one of the higher-acid red grapes. Remember when we talked about how the acidity of wine impacts pairing with food? That you want to drink a wine that’s more acidic than the food you’re pairing it with? That’s why you don’t see a lot people drinking Cabernet Sauvignon with pizza. Sangiovese-based wines pair wonderfully with tomato-based dishes, which isn’t surprising, considering where the grape comes from.
Understanding Sangiovese can also be a key to saving yourself some money when you’re looking at a wine list. Italian varietals are often a little cheaper than their French counterparts, particularly in restaurants. Some of the bigger names still have a substantial markup, but often the best values on restaurants’ wine lists are Sangioveses.
Our cellar skews more French- than Italian-influenced, but we still have a few bottles of Sangiovese and Sangiovese-based blends hanging around, including the Ethan “Hallauer Vineyard” Sangiovese (Santa Ynez Valley), Foxen 7200 Volpino (a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley), and Vignamaggio “Terre di Prenzano” Chianti Classico (Chianti, Italy).