Sangiovese (or Nielluccio in Corsica), a dark-berried vine, is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy. Virtually synonymous with the red wines of Tuscany, and all the romanticism that goes with the territory, Sangiovese is the core constituent in some of the great names in Italian wine. Italy's love affair with Sangiovese – and indeed the world's – is generations old, though recent grapevine research suggests the variety is not as ancient as once thought.
At the dawn of the 21st Century, Sangiovese equated to roughly one in every 10 vines on the Italian peninsula. The quality of Sangiovese wine can be notoriously variable. But, in the 1980s, drastically improved winemaking techniques saw a significant shift toward more quality-oriented releases. Sangiovese has numerous clones and is consequently known by many synonyms in its native Italy.
Good-quality Sangiovese is prized for its high acid, firm tannins and balanced nature. Savory flavors of dark cherries and black stonefruit are characteristic, and may be backed by secondary notes of tomato leaf and dried herbs. The use of oak has become more popular and this coaxes richer flavors from the grapes, tending toward plum and wild raspberry.
In Tuscany, Sangiovese is the sole grape variety permitted in the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and provides the backbone to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the popular wines of Chianti. One of Sangiovese's more modern incarnations is in the so-called "Super Tuscans", which are made under the Toscana IGT category. These wines allow winemakers more freedom to blend indigenous Italian grapes (principally Sangiovese) with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot (see Cabernet – Merlot – Sangiovese for more information).
Outside Tuscany, Sangiovese is widely planted in Lazio, Umbria, Marche and of course Corsica. In Corsica, the variety is known as Nielluccio and has a distinctive maquis characteristic, which distinguishes it somewhat from other Sangiovese. (Maquis is the shrubland that covers the island and includes shrubs such as sage, juniper, heath trees, oak and myrtle.) Worldwide, it has traveled to California and Australia, where its high acidity is an asset in the hot climate.
All clones of Sangiovese are relatively slow ripening, which results in an extended growing season and richer, stronger and longer-lived wines than those made from early-ripening varieties. When the vines are encouraged to produce higher yields, the wine's naturally high acidity is accentuated and its characteristic color noticeably diluted. Further difficulties are experienced because of the grape's thin skin, which makes it susceptible to rot in damp conditions.
Synonyms include: Nielluccio, Sangioveto, Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Brunello, Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino.
Food matches for Sangiovese (Nielluccio) include:
- Pappardelle pasta with a rabbit and porcini mushroom ragù
- Fried chicken livers
- Slow-roasted pork with white bean mash