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The Sangiovese grape — with its roots embedded deep in the rich soils of Italy — is responsible for some of the country’s most cherished and acclaimed wines. It is predominantly cultivated in Tuscany, Umbria, and Campania, along with their numerous DOCs and DOCGs, making these regions the world’s leading producers of Sangiovese wines. In Tuscany, the Sangiovese grape thrives, outshining all other cultivars.
The story of Sangiovese begins with the Etruscans, who tamed the wild vitis vinifera vines native to Tuscany. The Sangiovese grape presents a unique challenge to growers due to its need for a long growing season and its temperamental nature. It is quick to bud but slow to ripen, demanding just the right amount of warmth to fully mature. Too much heat, however, may dilute its intense flavors and vibrant coloring while elevating its acidity to unpleasant levels.
Over the past several decades, growers have been experimenting with blending Sangiovese with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, or other indigenous Italian grapes such as Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo, and Colorino. Opting for independence from local consortiums, these growers often lean towards a blend containing less Sangiovese and more of the French varietals than consortium regulations permit. Many of these independent producers are renowned wineries, whose owners confidently venture in this direction buoyed by the quality of their wines.
The Frescobaldi family, Florence’s medieval bankers since the 1300s, are proud producers of some of the finest Sangiovese-based wines. They operate 11 estates, with six located in the heart of Tuscany. Tenuta Luce Della Vite, one of their flagship estates, crafts a variety of red wines, including a number of Super Tuscans. The recent release of their 2020 vintage — a blend of 50 percent Sangiovese and 50 percent Merlot — has introduced two notable wines, Luce and Lucente, which scored impressively at 95/100 and 92/100 points respectively during recent tastings.
Quality and age
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Tenuta CastelGiocondo, another Frescobaldi estate located in Montalcino, south of Siena, is known for its early production of Brunello in the 1800s. The 2017 Reserva, which had been maturing patiently, impressed at a recent tasting, scoring 97/100 points.
The Frescobaldi family also owns Castello Nipozzano, an ancient fortress east of Florence dating back to the year 1000. This property produces the exemplary Montesodi, a Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG wine, made from Sangiovese grapes harvested by hand. This beautifully ruby-red wine is dry, with a firm structure and the dense texture that characterizes the finest Sangiovese wines. The 2020 vintage was awarded a commendable 93/100 points during a recent tasting.
Nestled in the heart of the Maremma is the Tenuta Ammiraglia Estate, where vineyards ripple over the hills neighboring the Tyrrhenian coast. The estate is renowned for its elegant Aurea Gran Rosé, a blend of Syrah and Vermentino. Aurea, which employs winemaking techniques typically used for white varieties, scored a respectable 89/100 points.
Lastly, Ornellaia, one of Frescobaldi’s most illustrious wineries located in the Bolgeri DOC along the Tyrrhenian coast, produces wines that generally retail between $258 to $300 per bottle. This winery typically avoids using Sangiovese in their blends, favoring a classic combination of French varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.
Their exception, Le Volte, first released in 1991, is a 50 percent blend of Sangiovese and varying percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Recently, a Salmanazar (9 lt. bottle) of Ornellaia 2005 fetched an impressive USD$33,600 at a Christie’s auction. A recent tasting of the 2020 Bolgeri Superiore Red left attendees in awe, scoring an astounding average of 99/100 points, with many awarding it the perfect score.
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