Food & Drink

Northwest Wine: Italy’s most famous grape plays small role in Washington

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.

Five Star Cellars 2010 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $30: The nose hints at red plum, red cherry and rich chocolate. On the palate, it’s big, bold and dark with firm tannins that stretch out the finish. (14.6 percent alcohol)

Malaga Springs Winery 2010 Sangiovese, Washington, $29: This well-structured red carries aromas of cherry, rose petal, crushed walnut and dusty oregano. Black cherry and dark strawberry flavors highlight the palate. (13.3 percent alcohol.)

Trio Vintners 2011 Flash Point Reserve Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $29: Red plum, black pepper, vanilla and toast aromas lead to flavors of plum and raspberry with a rich finish. It will be released by the Walla Walla producer in October. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Mannina Cellars 2012 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $22: This is a classic Washington sangiovese, thanks to aromas and flavors of plum, cherry, red currant and strawberry, all backed with trademark acidity. (13.7 percent alcohol)

Kaella Winery 2011 Ciel du Cheval Sangiovese, Red Mountain, $25: Additions of cabernet sauvignon (7 percent) and merlot (7 percent) give this example hints of black currant candy, cherry taffy, raspberry and chocolate, while the palate brings dark plum, red currant and dried cranberry as well as barrel notes of chocolate and toast. (14.3 percent alcohol)

Helix by Reininger 2009 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $27: Aromas of black currant, dark cherry and earthiness of black truffle and porcini mushroom give way to flavors of black cherry and dark plum. It’s all backed with fine-grained tannins. (14.8 percent alcohol)

Eleganté Cellars 2009 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $26: Hints of high-toned red fruit such as raspberry, red currant and cherry highlight this gorgeous Sangiovese from a Walla Walla airport winery. (13.1 percent alcohol)

Kyra Wines 2010 Sangiovese, Wahluke Slope, $18: Based in Moses Lake, winemaker Kyra Baerlocher is crafting superb reds and whites. This is a suave sangiovese with notes of dried strawberry, red cherry and even a hint of caramel. (13.7 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at