Sangiovese  Grape Variety

Sangiovese is a red Italian wine grape variety whose name derives from the Latin sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove".[2] Though it is the grape of most of central Italy from Romagna down to Lazio, Campania and Sicily, outside Italy it is most famous as the main component of the blend Chianti, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano, although it can also be used to make varietal wines such as Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino or Sangiovese di Romagna, as well as modern "Super Tuscan" wines like Tignanello.[3]

Wine description Young Sangiovese has fresh fruity flavours of strawberry and a little spiciness, but it readily takes on oaky, even tarry, flavors when aged in barrels --high acidity and moderate alcohol 
Food pairing tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces with a Sangiovese-based Chianti; more aggressive oak treated wines pair well with grilled and smoked food
Origin Italy
Notable regions Tuscany
Notable wines
Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Sangiovese was already well known by the 16th century. Recent DNA profiling by Jose Vouillamoz of the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all Adige suggests that Sangiovese's ancestors are Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. The former is well known as an ancient variety in Tuscany, the latter is an almost-extinct relic from the Calabria, the toe of Italy.[4] At least fourteen Sangiovese clones exist, of which Brunello is one of the best regarded. An attempt to classify the clones into Sangiovese grosso (including Brunello) and Sangiovese piccolo families has gained little evidential support.[5]


The translation of Sangiovese's name sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove", led to theories that the grape's origins dated from Roman times.

Early theories on the origin of Sangiovese dated the grape to the time of Roman winemaking.[3] This was due, in part, to the literal translation of the grape's name as the "blood of Jove"-the Roman Jupiter. It was even postulated that the grape was first cultivated in Tuscany by the Etruscans. The first documented mention of Sangiovese was in the 1590 writings of Giovanvettorio Soderini (also known under the pen name of Ciriegiulo). Identifying the grape as "Sangiogheto" Soderini notes that in Tuscany the grape makes very good wine but if the winemaker is not careful, it risks turning into vinegar. While there is no conclusive proof that Sangiogheto is Sangiovese, most wine historians generally consider this to be the first historical mention of the grape. Regardless, it would not be until the 18th century that Sangiovese would gain wide spread attention throughout Tuscany, being with Malvasia and Trebbiano the most widely planted grapes in the region.[3]

In 1738, Cosimo Trinci described wines made from Sangiovese as excellent when blended with other varieties but hard and acidic when made as a wine by itself. In 1883, the Italian writer Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi echoed a similar description about the quality of Sangiovese being dependent on the grapes it was blended with. The winemaker and politician, Bettino Ricasoli formulated one of the early recipes for Chianti when he blended his Sangiovese with a sizable amount of Canaiolo. In the wines of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Sangiovese would experience a period of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1970s, Tuscan winemakers began a period of innovation by introducing modern oak treatments and blending the grape with non-Italian varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon in the creation of wines that were given the collective marketing sobriquet "Super Tuscans".[3]

Clones and parentage

Early ampelographical research into Sangiovese begun in 1906 with the work of G. Molon. Molon discovered that the Italian grape known as "Sangiovese" was actually several "varieties" of clones which he broadly classified as Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo. The Sangiovese Grosso family included the clones growing in the Brunello region as well as the clones known as Prugnolo Gentile and Sangiovese di Lamole that was grown in the Greve in Chianti region. The Sangiovese Grosso, according to Molon, produced the highest quality wine, while the varieties in the Sangiovese Piccolo family, which included the majority of clones, produced wine of a lesser degree of quality. In 2004, DNA profiling done by researchers at San Michele All'Adige revealed the grape to be the product of a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. While Ciliegiolo has a long history tied to the Tuscan region, Calabrese Montenuovo (which is not related to the grape commonly known as Calabrese, or Nero d'Avola) has its origins in southern Italy, where it probably originated in the Calabria region before moving its way up to Campania. This essentially means that the genetic heritage of Sangiovese is half Tuscan and half southern Italian.[3] More recently, a genetic study on "Sangiovese" confirmed the hypothesis of a South Italian origin for Sangiovese (Sicily and Calabria), but clearly demonstrated that "Ciliegiolo" is an offspring of "Sangiovese" (parent and grandparent pairs of "Ciliegiolo" identified). Furthermore, historical data supports these results since "Sangiovese" was cited 3 centuries earlier[6] than 'Ciliegiolo'.[7][8]

A study published in 2007 using DNA typing tentatively identified the varieties Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo as the parents of Sangiovese, but this was immediately disputed by another study published the same year which claimed Ciliegiolo was the offspring of Sangiovese rather than the other way around.[9] (In some cases, it is easier to establish a close relationship between grape varieties by DNA typing rather than to conclusively establish the exact nature of the relationship.)

Another Italian study published in 2008 using DNA typing showed a close genetic relationship between Sangiovese on the one hand and ten other Italian grape varieties on the other hand: Foglia Tonda, Frappato, Gaglioppo, Mantonicone, Morellino del Casentino, Morellino del Valdarno, Nerello Mascalese, Tuccanese di Turi, Susumaniello, and Vernaccia Nera del Valdarno. It is possible, and even likely, that Sangiovese is one of the parents of each of these grape varieties. However, since the parentage of Sangiovese is still disputed, the exact nature of the relationship in each case could not be conclusively established.[9] Since these grape varieties are spread over different parts of Italy (Apulia, Calabria, Sicily and Tuscany), this confirmed by genetic methods that Sangiovese is a key variety in the pedigree of red Italian grape varieties.


The high acidity and light body characteristics of the Sangiovese grape can present a problem for winemaking. The grape also lacks some of the color-creating phenolic compounds known as acylated anthocyanins.[10] Modern winemakers have devised many techniques trying to find ways to add body and texture to Sangiovese — ranging from using grapes that come from extremely low yielding vines, to adjusting the temperature and length of fermentation and employing extensive oak treatment. One historical technique is the blending of other grape varieties with Sangiovese, in order to complement its attractive qualities and fill in the gaps of some of its weaker points. The Sangiovese-based wines of Chianti have a long tradition of liberally employed blending partners—such as Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Mammolo, Colorino and even the white wine grapes like Trebbiano and Malvasia. Since the late 20th century, Bordeaux grapes, most notably Cabernet Sauvignon, have been a favored blending partner though in many Italian DOC/G there is often a restriction on the amount of other varietals that can be blended with Sangiovese: at Chianti the limit for Cabernet is 15%.[3]

Other techniques used to improve the quality of Sangiovese include extending the maceration period from 7-12 days to 3-4 weeks to give the must more time to leach vital phenols out of the grape skins. Transferring the wine during fermentation into new oak barrels for malolactic fermentation gives greater polymerization of the tannins and contributes to a softer, rounder mouthfeel. Additionally, Sangiovese has shown itself to be a "sponge" for soaking up sweet vanilla and other oak compounds from the barrel. For aging the wine, some modern producers will utilize new French oak barrels but there is a tradition of using large, used oak botti barrels that hold five to six hectoliters of wine. Some traditional producers still use the old chestnut barrels in their cellars.[10]

Wine regions

While Sangiovese plantings are found worldwide, the grape's homeland is central Italy. From there the grape was taken to North and South America by Italian immigrants. It first achieved some popularity in Argentina where in the Mendoza region it produced wines that had few similarities to its Tuscan counterparts. In California the grape found a sudden surge of popularity in the late 1980s with the "Cal-Ital" movement of winemakers seeking red wine alternatives to the standard French varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot noir.[3]

At the turn of the 21st century, Italy was still the leading source for Sangiovese, with over 63,000 hectares (155,000 ac) planted, primarily in the Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Sicily, Abruzzo and Marche regions. Argentina was next with 6,928 acres (2,804 ha), followed by Romania with 4,200 acres (1,700 ha), the Corsica region in France with 4,109 acres (1,663 ha), California with 3,387 acres (1,371 ha) and Australia with 1,087 acres (440 ha).[10]


In Italy, Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape variety. It is an officially recommended variety in 53 provinces and an authorized planting in an additional 13.[10] It accounts for approximately 10% of all vineyard plantings in Italy[12] with more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 ac) planted to one of the many clonal variation of the grape. Throughout Italy it is known under a variety of names including Brunello, Morellino, Nielluccio and Prugnolo Gentile. It is the main grape used in the popular red wines of Tuscany, where it is the solitary grape of Brunello di Montalcino and the primary component of the wines of Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and many "Super Tuscans". Outside of Tuscany, it is found throughout central Italy where it places an important role in the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines of Montefalco Sagrantino secco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva in Umbria, Conero in Marche and the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines of Lazio and Rosso Piceno in Marche. Significant Sangiovese plantings can also be found outside of central Italy in Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Valpolicella and as far south as Campania and Sicily.[3]

The intense fruit and deep color of Cabernet was shown to be well suited for blending with Sangiovese but banned in many Italian DOCs. In the 1970s, the rise of "Super Tuscans"-wines that eschew DOC regulation in favor of the lower classification of vino da tavola-increased the demand for more flexibility in the DOC laws. While the first DOC to be permitted to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese was approved for Carmignano in 1975, most of Tuscany's premier wine regions were not permitted to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese till the late 20th century.[3]


A glass of Brunello di Montalcino.

From the early to mid 20th century, the quality of Chianti was in low regard. DOC regulation that stipulate the relatively bland Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes needed to account for at least 10% of the finished blend, with consequent higher acidity and diluted flavors. Some wineries trucked in full bodied and jammy red wines from Sicily and Puglia to add color and alcohol to the blend—an illegal practice that did little to improve the quality of Chianti. From the 1970s through the 1980s, a revolution of sorts spread through Tuscany as the quality of the Sangiovese grape was rediscovered. Winemakers became more ambitious and willing to step outside DOC regulations to make 100% varietal Sangiovese or a "Super Tuscan" blend with Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet and Merlot.[10]

Today there is a broad range of style of Chianti reflecting the Sangiovese influence and winemaker's touch. Traditional Sangiovese emphasize herbal and bitter cherry notes, while more modern, Bordeaux-influenced wines have more plum and mulberry fruit with vanilla oak and spice. Stylistic and terroir based differences also emerge among the various sub-zones of the Chianti region. The ideal vineyard locations are found on south and southwest-facing slopes at altitudes between 490-1800 ft (150-550m). In general, Sangiovese has a more difficult time fully ripening in the Chianti region than it does in the Montalcino and Maremma regions to the south. This is due to cooler nighttime temperatures and high propensity for rainfall in September and October that can affect harvest time.[10]

In the mid 19th century, a local farmer named Clemente Santi isolated certain plantings of Sangiovese vines in order to produce a 100% varietal wine that could be aged for a considerable period of time.[13] In 1888, his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi-a veteran soldier who fought under Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Risorgimento-released the first "modern version" of Brunello di Montalcino, which was aged for over a decade in large wood barrels. By the mid 20th century, this 100% varietal Sangiovese was eagerly being sought out by critics and wine drinkers alike.[14] The Montalcino region seems to have ideal conditions for ripening Sangiovese with the potential for full ripeness achievable even on north-facing slopes. These slopes tend to produce lighter and more elegant wines that then those made from vineyards on south and southwest facing slopes.[10]

In the late 20th and early 21st century, the Maremma region located in the southwest corner of Tuscany has seen vast expansion and a surge of investment from outside the region. The area is reliably warm with a shorter growing season. Sangiovese grown in the Maremma is capable of developing broad character but does have the potential of developing too much alcohol and not enough aroma compounds.[10]

Outside of Tuscany

Sangiovese can be made in a variety of styles, including the dessert wine Vin Santo.

Sangiovese is considered the "workhorse" grape of central Italy, producing everything from everyday drinking to premium wines in a variety of styles-from red still wines, to rosato to sweet passito, semi-sparkling frizzante and the dessert wine Vin Santo. In northern Italy, the grape is a minor variety with it having difficulties ripening north of Emilia-Romagna. In the south, it is mainly used as a blending partner with the region's local grapes such as Primitivo, Montepulciano and Nero d'Avola.[10]

In the Romagna region of Emilia-Romagna, the same grape is called Sangiovese di Romagna and is widely planted in all the Romagna region south and west of Bologna. Like its neighbouring Tuscan brother, Sangiovese di Romagna has shown itself to spring off a variety of clones that can produce a wide range of quality from very poor to very fine. Viticulturalists have worked with Romagna vines to produce new clonal varieties of high quality (most notably the clones R24 & T19.

Sangiovese di Romagna is very apt at adapting to different soil types producing richer, more full bodied and tannic wines in the central provinces of Forli and Ravenna and lighter, fruitier wines in the western and eastern extremes of the regions near the border with Bologna and Marche. The grape seems to produce the highest quality wine in the sandstone and clay rich hills south of the Via Emilia near the Apennines which is covered by much of the Sangiovese di Romagna DOC zone. The higher summer time temperatures of this area gives more opportunity for Sangiovese to sufficiently ripen.[3] The Sangiovese di Romagna DOC zone includes over 17,500 acres (6,900 ha) of Sangiovese that produces on average 3.4 million U.S. gallons (130,000 hl of wine a year.[3]


Italian immigrants brought Sangiovese to California in the late 19th century,[5] possibly at the Segheshio Family's "Chianti Station," near Geyserville. But it was never considered very important until the success of the Super Tuscans in the 1980s spurred new interest in the grape. In 1991, there were nearly 200 acres (80 ha) planted with Sangiovese. By 2003, that number rose to nearly 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) with plantings across the state, most notably in Napa Valley, Sonoma county, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and the Sierra Foothills.[3]

Early results in the late 20th century, were not very promising for California wine makers. Poor site and clonal selection had the grape planted in vineyards that gave it too much exposure to the Sun, producing wines that had little in common with the wines of Tuscany. The Antinori family, which owns Atlas Peak Vineyards located in the AVA of the same name in the foothills of Napa Valley found that the greater intensity of sunlight in California may have been one possible factor for the poorer quality.[10] Today the style of these Californian Sangiovese tend to be more fruit-driven than their Tuscan counterparts with some floral notes. Recent years have focused on improving vineyard site and clonal selection as well as giving the vines time to age and develop in quality.[3]

In Washington State, winemakers are seeking out locations that can highlight the varietal character of Sangiovese. These young plantings in areas such as Walla Walla and Yakima Valley have so far produced wines with a spicy and tart cherry flavors, anise, red currants, and tobacco leaf notes.[15] Other areas in the United States with sizable plantings of Sangiovese include the Rogue Valley in Oregon, the Monticello in Virginia and Texas Hill Country in Texas. In Canada, there are some plantings of Sangiovese on the Niagara Peninsula.[16]


Sangiovese is becoming increasingly popular as a red wine grape in Australia, having been introduced by the CSIRO in the late 1960s.[17]This is part of a growing trend in Australia to use a wider range of grape varieties for winemaking. As in California, Australian winemakers have begun seeking out the best vineyard location for the grape and being more selective in which clones are planted. Some regions that have shown promise for the grape include the Karridale and Margaret River areas of Western Australia; Langhorne Creek, Strathalbyn and Port Lincoln in South Australia; Canberra and Young in New South Wales; Stanthorpe in Queensland and the western edge of the Great Dividing Range in Victoria.[10]

Some wineries also use Sangiovese to make rose wines. 2006 was the first year that an Australian wine maker made a dessert style Sangiovese. Called the "Dolce Nero" (sweet black - not to be confused with the synonym for Dolcetto or Douce Noir) this new style is made by Hamiltons Bluff wines in Canowindra NSW.

South and Central America

Italian immigrants introduced the Sangiovese vine to Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th century. Early site and clonal selection was less than ideal and, like California and Australia, recent endeavors have focused on finding the best clones to use and the right vineyard locations. The grape is not widely planted in Argentina and the focus is mostly on the export market. Across the Andes range, Chilean winemakers have been experimenting with plantings. The growing Mexican wine industry has also recently begun planting the vine.[10]

South Africa

A small amount of Sangiovese is grown in South Africa. About 10 reputable wineries make Sangiovese [18]


Along with some "Super Tuscans", the 100% varietal Sangiovese wine Brunello di Montalcino has long term aging potential. This Brunello is from the 1961 vintage.

Wines made from Sangiovese tend to exhibit the grape's naturally high acidity as well as moderate to high tannin content and light color. Blending can have a pronounced effect on enhancing or tempering the wine's quality. The dominant nature of Cabernet can sometimes have a disproportionate influence on the wine, even overwhelming Sangiovese character with black cherry, black currant, mulberry and plum fruit. Even percentages as low as 4 to 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon can overwhelm the Sangiovese if the fruit quality is not high.[1] As the wine ages, some of these Cabernet dominant flavors can soften and reveal more Sangiovese character. Different regions will impart varietal character on the wine with Tuscan Sangiovese having a distinctive bitter-sweet component of cherry, violets and tea. In their youth, Tuscan Sangiovese can have tomato-savoriness to it that enhances its herbal component. Californian examples tend to have more bright, red fruit flavors with some Zinfandel-like spice or darker fruits depending on the proportion of Cabernet blended in. Argentine examples showing a hybrid between the Tuscan and California Sangiovese with juicy red fruit wines that end on a bitter cherry note.[10]

Sangiovese based wines have the potential to age but the vast majority of Sangiovese wines are intended to be consumed relatively early in its life. The wines with the longest aging potential are the Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino wines that can age for upwards of 20 years in ideal vintages. These premium examples may need 5 to 10 years to develop before they drink well. The potentially lighter Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano and Rosso di Montalcino tend to open earlier (around 5 years of age) but have a shorter life span of 8 to 10 years. The aging potential of Chianti is highly variable, depending on the producer, vintage and sub-zone of the Chianti region it is produced in. Basic Chianti is meant to be consumed within 3 to 4 years after vintage while top examples of Chianti Classico Riserva can last for upwards of 15 years. New World Sangiovese has so far, shown a relatively short window of drinkability with most examples best consume with 3 to 4 years after harvest with some basic examples of Argentine Sangiovese having the potential to only improve for a year after bottling.[10]

With food

Sangiovese's high acidity and moderate alcohol makes it a very food-friendly wine when it comes to food and wine pairings. One of the classic pairings in Italian cuisine is tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces with a Sangiovese-based Chianti. Varietal Sangiovese or those with a smaller proportion of the powerful, full-bodied Cabernet blended in, can accentuate the flavors of relatively bland dishes like meatloaf and roast chicken. Herb seasoning such as basil, thyme and sage play off the herbal notes of the grapes. Sangiovese that has been subject to more aggressive oak treatment pairs well with grilled and smoked food. If Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah plays a dominant role, the food pairing option should treat the Sangiovese blend as one of those fuller-bodied reds and pair with heavier dishes such as steak and thick soups like ribollita and pureed bean soup.[1]


  1. E. Goldstein "Perfect Pairings" pg 176-180 University of California Press 2006 
  2. Robinson, J (1986). Vines, Grapes & Wines. Mitchell Beazley. pp. 150-152. 
  3. Robinson, J (ed) (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 606–607. 
  4. Robinson, J. "Italian grape mysteries unraveled".
  5. "Sangiovese". Wine Pros.
  6. Soderini, G. 1590. Coltivazione toscana delle viti e d’alcuni alberi. Giunti, Firenze, Italy. 
  7. Racah, V. 1932. Pagine di viticoltura vissuta. Giunti, Firenze, Italy. 
  8. ISSN: 0003-1062 
  9. ˜Sangiovese and Garganega’ are two key varieties of the Italian grapevine assortment evolution, M. Crespan, A. Cal , S. Giannetto, A. Sparacio, P. Storchi and A. Costacurta, Vitis 47 (2), 97-104 (2008) 
  10. Oz Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 209-216 Harcourt Books 2001 
  11. Maul, E.; Eibach, R. (1999-06-00). "Vitis International Variety Catalogue". Information and Coordination Centre for Biological Diversity (IBV) of the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE), Deichmanns Aue 29, 53179 Bonn, Germany.
  12. "Italian Wine Journeys:Chianti".
  13. M. Ewing-Mulligan & E. McCarthy Italian Wines for Dummies pg 159-161 Hungry Minds 2001 
  14. H. Johnson Vintage: The Story of Wine pg 423 Simon and Schuster 1989 
  15. P. Gregutt "Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide" pg 74 University of California Press 2007 
  16. Appellation America "Sangiovese" Accessed: January 4th, 2009 
  17. State Library of South Australia
  18. van Zyl, P, ed (2009). Platter's South African Wines 2009. Newsome McDowall. p. 26.



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