It is the most famous of Italian wine grapes, but in the New World, sangiovese plays only a minor role.
Best known as the primary variety in Chianti Classico, Sangiovese also is the main grape in Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — two hill towns in southern Tuscany. The red grape takes its name from the Latin phrase for “the blood of Jove,” with Jove being the mythical Jupiter, the Roman king of gods.
In its native land, sangiovese produces a wine that is simply sublime, especially with Italian foods such as lasagna and tomato-based pasta dishes. Sangiovese is lighter in color, with bright acidity and moderate tannins. Red-toned fruits often highlight food-friendly sangiovese.
Italian immigrants brought sangiovese to the New World when they arrived and planted them in sunny California in the late 1800s. In Washington, sangiovese did not begin to gain traction until the mid-1990s. By 2004, about 500 tons were crushed by Washington winemakers. That increased nearly three-fold by last fall, when grape growers harvested 1,300 tons, making it the sixth-most-important red grape in the state.
The grape tends to grow well in Washington’s arid Columbia Valley, but winemakers struggle to know what to do with it. Occasionally, it is blended with other varieties to give it more boldness, though many winemakers work to craft it in the style associated with Tuscany.
It is worth noting that Marchesi Antinori, which has been making wine in Italy since the 1380s and produces some of the most famous Chianti Classico in the world, is a co-owner of Col Solare winery on Red Mountain (with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates). Col Solare produces a Bordeaux-style red — but not a sangiovese.
Sangiovese will never be more than a niche grape for Washington and the rest of the West Coast. Here are a few examples we’ve tasted recently that are worth tracking down.