Sangiovese grapes produce superb wines. They also can make shrill swill that gave wicker baskets a bad name.
Italy’s most planted grape, Sangiovese means “blood of Jove” and is the main component of Chianti. Sangiovese is to Chianti as Carbernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both are a base wine blended with other varietals to add complexity and structure; both make superb wines by themselves.
Sangiovese winemakers walk an oenological tightrope. Done right, Sangiovese wines take your breath away. Slip and plonk you go—as anyone who drank cheap, wicker-basket Chiantis in the 1960s and 1970s can attest.
Although Tuscany’s Chianti mountain region is Sangiovese’s home field, even there vines have problems. Sangiovese tends to overproduction and must be pruned to produce quality. It also is very reflective of terroir (place where vines grow)—different parts of one vineyard can produce different tastes.
The Italian government rates wines with a paper label on the bottle’s neck that can help. Look for these acronyms:
DOC—wines from a specific area made to specific rules, usually good quality.
DOCG—similar to DOC, with more stringent rules, including taste testing; a strong indicator of quality.
Experiment with Sangiovese by starting with Chianti and other wines from Tuscany—including Super Tuscans (Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Merlot). Sangiovese has not done well in California but has succeeded in Argentina and Australia. Give Sangiovese a taste. By Jove, you may love it.
• Gabbiano Chianti Classico and Riserva. Classico is easy-drinking, value wine; Riserva aged at least two years longer for more character. DOCG. $14 and $20
• McPherson Sangiovese. Cherry and strawberry, mellow and easy to drink from Lubbock, Texas. Really. $16
• Banfi Brunello Montalcino. Blackberry, chewy, big rich full body. DOCG. $66