Italy’s Most Famous Grape

A history lesson in how the Sangiovese grape has evolved over the years, lending itself to an array of beloved varieties.

This article, written by Fred Tasker, appears on Providence Journal.

Italy’s ‘defining grape’ known by many names

The sangiovese grape, made into Chianti, is sensitive to how it’s treated.

Americans love to visit Italy, especially Tuscany, and one of the reasons is the grape called sangiovese. Best known when made into the red wine called Chianti, it is called “the defining grape of Italy.” It has been both the region’s boon and its bane.

Infinitely malleable, it is so familiar to centuries of Italian growers that they have given it a dozen local names, from sangiovese grosso to prugnolo to brunello, to the confusion of its fans.

It’s been planted at least as far back as the Etruscan civilization in the second century B.C. Its name comes from the Latin sanguis Jovis, or the “blood of Jove,” the supreme local god.

Sangiovese’s home is Tuscany, a stunningly beautiful area of rolling hills topped with medieval castles, olive groves and miles of vines. Sangiovese’s most famous wine, Chianti, is named for a wine region covering a large chunk of Tuscany south of Florence down to Siena. The center of Chianti, considered the best growing area, is called Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico is governed by complicated, often shifting rules. Its traditional recipe written in 1872 calls for at least 80 percent sangiovese, blended with 20 percent of other local grapes such as canaiolo and colorino.

Sangiovese is sensitive to how it’s treated. Grown poorly, made cheaply, it turns pale, thin and acidic, with tart tannins. Grown and made well, it is savory and dry, with aromas and flavors from violets to blueberries to mulberries to black cherries, spice, even tobacco and leather.

It is a great wine for everything from the wild boars of the Tuscan Hills to grilled steaks to meat-lovers’ pizza to pasta with tomato sauce.

America’s love affair with sangiovese began after World War II when American GIs returned from the Italian front with fond memories of sidewalk tables with checkered tablecloths and Chianti poured from straw-covered bottles called fiaschi, or flasks.

By the 1960s, however, Chianti had flooded the American market, becoming a victim of its own popularity as overplanting and cheap production methods turned some of the wine thin and acidic, hurting its reputation.

Italian growers realized they had to react. They did, in two different ways. Read more at Providence Journal.



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