Sexy Sangiovese

Sexy Sangiovese

Sexy Sangiovese

Story and Photos by Christopher J. Davies


Italy’s most abundant red grapes can be compared to snowflakes, as there are so many variations. Vineyard managers liken Sangiovese to a Chameleon because of its ability to adapt to different soil types and microclimates. Done right, Sangiovese can be a fruit-forward, racy wine with rustic dark fruits exuding old-world elegance.

Tuscany produces four main regional styles of Sangiovese:
Chianti • Chianti Classico • Brunello di Montalcino • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

In 2015, our editors attended the Anteprime Toscana tour. It was a week of wine tastings focusing on Tuscany's 2011 Sangiovese vintage. The Associazione Italiana Sommelier (Italian Sommelier Association's) team of Somms managed these professionally led tastings. Most days, we could select between 400-800 different Sangiovese wines from a list. We could only handle tasting thirty to forty wines per session in six-glass flights. So, we selected a mix of famous and unfamiliar brands. We tasted for 2.5 hours on a typical day and then had lunch. We repeated the drill in the afternoon and followed it with a pre-dinner rest. Then, onto an excellent wine-paired dinner in the evening.


It is safe to report we tasted between 450 and 500 different 2011 Sangioveses during our visit! More than 100 international and 70 Italian journalists and at least as many importers were in attendance.

We experienced fantastic camaraderie during the events. During the tasting session, we expanded our Sangiovese wine descriptors beyond the usual "tastes like cherries!"


In Montalcino, we had the pleasure of being seated alongside Jeff Porter, Advanced Sommelier, and Wine Director for Mario Batali's and Joseph Bastianich's B and B Hospitality Group, who taught us how to detect flavors of soy and balsamic in Brunello di Montalcino.

Ten of my favorite Sangio descriptors include:

  • Violets
  • Soy
  • Balsamic
  • Black Currant
  • Bay Leaf
  • Mocha
  • Plums
  • Earth
  • Herbs
  • Leather

Top Sangiovese-based Wines:

Brunello di Montalcino

Dark red hue. Medium-to-full-bodied, intense, concentrated wine from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes grown in Montalcino. Dry with high acidity and medium to high tannins. Improves with age 10 to 15 years. Since 1995, Brunello wines must age in oak barrels for at least two years, which is one year less than the previous rule. This new change results in wines with fewer tannins that are fruitier and easier to enjoy.
Riserva Brunello is usually aged in barrels for a longer time.
First Impressions: Big, dark, and intense!

Rosso di Montalcino is made from the same grapes but is lighter, less expensive, and meant to be drunk upon release.

Chianti and Chianti Classico

Cherry red color, dry, light to medium bodied, reasonably tannic with pleasant sour cherry flavor, mainly from (80% or more) Sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti area of Tuscany. Most wines are drunk young; wines labeled Riserva, and pricier wines are generally more concentrated and age-worthy.

Chianti Classico wines are made from grapes grown in the Chianti Classico (central inner-historic) area. Rules require a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, which can go up to 100%, and a maximum of 20% of other red grapes grown in the region. Canaiolo, Colorino, and "international" varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are some of the regional varieties that can be used.
First Impressions: Medium-bodied, light tannins, cherry-bomb

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Deep red color, medium to full-bodied, dry, and lean, with red cherry flavor, similar to Chianti but slightly fuller. Medium acidity and high tannins are typical. Vino Nobile is a Sangiovese-based blend, made primarily from a prugnolo clone (prugnolo translates to little prune). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was given DOCG status in 1980. The wines vary from thin and tart to spicy and bold. Maroon in color, a well-made Vino Nobile is chock-full of dark cherry, ripe, rich plum flavors with great tannins and acidity. While the wines are always aged in oak, winemakers use large neutral barrels for maturation, carefully avoiding over-oaked flavors. Vino Nobile wines offer a significant value-price advantage over Brunello di Montalcino wines. Rosso di Montepulciano is Vino Nobile's less expensive young sister.
First Impressions: Less tannic, elegant, and seductive


5 Best Food Pairings:
Sangiovese is a versatile, food-friendly wine.

  • Steak ­­– Tuscans love their steak, typically served at restaurants in a mammoth portion for two or more people.
  • Wild Boar - The Cinta Senese pigs from Siena are raised throughout Tuscany and are known for being the world's tastiest pork. Many area restaurants offer wild boar ragù, which is used in a variety of pastas. Ironically, wild boars have been known to destroy and eat their way through a hectare of grape vines in less than 24 hours.
  • Aged Cheese ­– Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Pecorino pair perfectly with Sangiovese.
  • Pizza – Red sauce and meat toppings pair exceptionally well with Sangiovese.
  • Game Birds – Quail, squab, and Cornish Game Hens are great with a rustic Sangiovese.

Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino

Consorzio Vino Chianti

Consorzio Chianti Classico

Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano


Comparing Regions – bigger is not always better!

Wineries    Region                                           Acres
964              Chianti Classico                          18,000
90               Vino Nobile di Montepulciano    3,000
208              Brunello d1 Montepulciano        5,200

Italian Wine Law

The first production regulations were drawn up in 1966. In 1980, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was granted the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and was the first wine to be released with this top designation.