Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Real Sangiovese that’s Not from Tuscany

In the wake of all the attention paid to the Montalcino scandals of late – Dr. Parzen wrote a good piece on the matter just the other day – it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of wineries out there still making honest wine from good vineyard sites using the traditional, local clone(s) of Sangiovese. Most of it, not surprisingly (at least not to me), comes from relatively modest, hands-on estates, from people who Alice Feiring might refer to as “emotionally connected vignerons,” from wine growers with a true passion for their land.

In the wake of all the attention paid to Tuscany here in the States, it’s also easy to forget that not all Italian Sangiovese comes from Tuscany. Sangiovese, by most accounts, is the most widely planted red grape variety in all of Italy. It’s particularly focused in central Italy. But I’ve tasted examples from as far removed as Lake Garda in the Veneto and enjoyed, just yesterday at the Boutique Wine Collection tasting here in Philly (more on that in the days to come), a simple but eminently quaffable example from Sicily. One of my current favorites when it comes to everyday examples of Sangiovese – of real, expressive Sangiovese – comes from Umbria. It just happens to come from a larger estate, one that might not fit Alice’s description to a tee but one, nonetheless, which has chosen to play not just by the traditional rules but also according to their natural passions for their land.

Montefalco Rosso, Antonelli San Marco 2004
$17. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Laird & Company, Scobeyville, NJ.
Antonelli’s Montefalco Rosso is typically a blend of 65% Sangiovese with 15% Sagrantino and 10% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Though Sagrantino must be considered the signature grape of Montefalco, this wine gives proof to the existence of characterful Sangiovese in the region, as Sangiovese certainly dominates the wines profile. Decry it for the inclusion of Cabernet and Merlot if you must, but they’re actually fairly traditional here as opposed to in, say, Montalcino.

In spite of their inclusion, the wine shows a transparent, ruby hue in the glass. Aromas are high-toned, of wild cherries, dried Mediterranean herbs and an attractively subtle touch of freshly tanned cowhide. In the mouth, acidity plays the leading role, focusing a beam of clean, silky red fruit across the middle of the palate. Tannins are fairly gentle and supple. There’s enough innate structure here to stand up to roasted meat dishes but enough versatility to work with a wider range of foods, from hearty pastas to simple, country fare, to sheep’s milk cheeses. On day two, things broadened out a bit with respect to acidity, giving the wine a softer, riper yet no less nuanced feel.

If you’re looking for a Tuscan powerhouse, this ain’t it. Then again, most real Tuscan Sangiovese, most honest Tuscan Sangiovese, isn’t about power. If you’re looking for a lovely example of what Sangiovese can do in Umbria, and what it can do without breaking the $20 threshold, this would be a good place to start.


Joe said...

I'm trying to picture Sicilian sangiovese, but I'm not liking the image. Umbria, on the other hand, is a terrific place to go hunting for wine. Size and passion are not mutually exclusive. Nice suggestion, will look for this.

David McDuff said...

In general, if presented with the idea of Sicilian Sangiovese, I'd have expected it to be a souped up, atypical Sangio-monster. But what I tasted was just a bright, simple, unpretentious quaffer. Not great Sangiovese, just an easy, house/carafe style wine. As to the rest, you're quite right. Do try the Antonelli if you can track it down in PQ.

Do Bianchi said...

David, thanks for the shoutout. I'm glad that the Montalcino post has been useful. Last time I checked, Sangiovese weighed in at 11% of total production in Italy, making it the most cultivated grape on the peninsula and the islands. It is grown throughout Italy and I agree with you 100%: it's important to remember that Sangiovese is above all a fantastic food wine that sometimes finds its greatest expression in lower price point wines, like this Antonelli or Sangiovese di Romagna, for example. We've (or at least I've) been so obsessed with Brunello these days, it's good to come back to the greatness of Sangiovese in its more humble expressions. Thanks for the great post and "for keeping it real." J

David McDuff said...

You're welcome -- for the shoutout and for "keeping it real." Thank you for the hard data and for your thoughtful comment.

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