Sangiovese is one of the most popular and most planted grapes in Italy. The grapes make wines that offer fresh, cherry flavors and an earthy quality, often aromatic like cedar. Yet sangiovese (san-joh-VAY-zeh) isn't over the top. As the many sangiovese blends out there prove, the grape plays well with others.
It is an ancient grape, believed to have been developed from grapes in Tuscany, a region in central Italy, and grapes from southern Italy. The name translates as "blood of Jove," Jove being another name for Jupiter, king of the Roman gods. But the grape is believed to predate both the Romans and the Etruscans.
As one might imagine, a grape with such ancient lineage has several clonal variations and goes by many names. Sangiovese (and its clones) can be known as brunello, prugnolo, morellino, nielluccio, sanvicetro and sangioveto. Sangiovese is the major player in a number of Tuscan blends, yet it can also be a solo player.
The plethora of names and roles this grape assumes can be confusing. But sorting it all out is worth it. Sangiovese makes for a quality, food-friendly wine.
Here are some of the terms you might encounter while searching out sangiovese:
Brunello di Montalcino -- Brunello means "little brown one," a reference to the dark color of this sangiovese clone. To be labeled as such, wines must be made only from brunello and aged at least four years. A "riserva" is aged five years. The region is classified as DOCG or denominazione di origine controllata e garantita, Italy's highest quality level. The region is located outside the town of Montalcino.
Chianti Classico Riserva -- A specific region within the larger Chianti appellation. Wines with this label are classified as DOCG. The word "riserva" means the Chianti was aged for at least two years and three months before being released. Wines must be at least 80 percent sangiovese.
Morellino di Scansano -- A DOCG area in southern Tuscany around the town of Scansano. Wines must be at least 85 percent sangiovese. They can be 100 percent.
Toscana -- Tuscany in Italian. It's a term of necessity describing wines that didn't fit neatly into Italy's wine classification rules until the 1990s. Like many other European wine countries, Italy specifies which grapes can be grown in a specific region and how the resulting wine should be made. Winemakers obey if they want a quality certification. However, the Italians found wines made outside of the rules, such as Super Tuscans, might be just as good as or better than the recognized wines. Yet these wines could only be called vino de tavola, or basic table wine. So the Italians created a new classification level, indicazione geografica tipica, IGT. These Toscana wines (sometimes labeled "rosso di Toscana" or "Toscana rosso)" are recognized as being representative of their region.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano -- A DOCG wine region located near the town of Montepulciano in eastern Tuscany. It's located within a subregion of Chianti known as Colli Senesi. Wines must be made with at least 70 percent sangiovese grapes.
Sources: "The New Wine Lover's Companion," "The Oxford Companion to Wine," "The World Atlas of Wine," "Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy."