Sangiovese was declared triumphant in Tuscany at a seminar in London yesterday, having overcome past viticultural problems and competition from international varieties.
The grape was also deemed “moody”, but capable of producing beautiful wines when handled correctly, particularly when low-vigour clones are matched to dry, exposed slopes and calcium-rich rocky soils.
The seminar, held during Liberty Wines’ Premium Tuscan Wine Tasting, focused on pure Sangiovese wines from Chianti, Montepulciano and Montalcino, each chosen to highlight both the quality and diversity of the wines made from this grape.
David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines, introduced the event saying, “Thirty years ago it seemed as though Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah or other grapes would push Sangiovese out of its Tuscan heartland because the international varieties were producing great results and Sangiovese was producing wines that were a bit light and green.”
Continuing he said, “But today it is the opposite, and there is no doubt that Sangiovese is performing fantastically well in its central Tuscan heartland.
“It has captured the world’s attention and is producing wines of class and appeal,” he added.
He then quoted Giacomo Tachis, winemaker behind Tignanello and Sassicaia, who said, “The story of Tuscan wine is the story of the Sangiovese grape.”
Speaking further on the subject of Sangiovese, Paulo de Marchi of Isole E Olena, one of the producers present at the seminar, drew attention to past troubles with the grape.
“We had problems with Sangiovese and we had to recognise the problems, but there was not a magic solution overnight.
“We need a long term view but sometimes you need a short term solution, and French varieties were a short term solution, but in the long term, they would have been a mistake,” he added, referring to the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in the 1970s and 80s.
Among the reasons cited for a quality improvement in wines from Sangiovese in Tuscany was the shift to lower vigour clones, as there had been a past preference for productive examples.
Sangiovese was compared to a beautiful, moody woman
“Sangiovese has a very wide range of clones,” began Alberto Antonini of Poggiotondo.
“These include those producing big clusters and big berries, which are very tightly packed, that were used in the 50s and 60s to make more wine.
“Then there are those with smaller berries with more flavinoids and anthocyanins.”
Clonal selection is a key point in the improvement of the wines,” he summarised.
Turning to Montalcino specifically, a similar story was reported.
Gleave pointed out, “It used to be said that it was better to have Sangiovese Grosso in Montalcino, with its bigger berries, but now most producers in the region are looking for small, loose bunches and small berries from less vigorous clones.”
Similarly, Antonini said, “No-one is looking for Sangiovese Grosso.”
The importance of careful site selection was also discussed, with de Marchi stressing the need for a precise matching of the soil type, grape and grape clone.
In particular, he said the best results were found where the grape is planted on the galestro soil, made up of weathered shale, clay and limestone, with Antonini reminding the packed room that a high calcium content was important for Sangiovese (like Pinot Noir).
It was also said that Sangiovese hates humidity, and hence performs well when planted on south-facing slopes with good exposure to both light and breezes.
Vine age was also cited as playing an important role in the improvement of Sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany.
“Vine age makes a difference [to quality and style] not only because the roots are deep but also because old vines have more old wood so more reserves,” said de Marchi.
He also claimed, having previously worked in the Piedmont, that Nebbiolo was a more “stable” grape than Sangiovese.
“I found Nebbiolo easier than Sangiovese: Sangiovese you need to work a lot and sometimes you are not paid back, but Nebbiolo you have to work a lot but you get paid back – Sangiovese is more moody.”
Echoing this view, Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi commented, “Sangiovese is very moody – it is like a beautiful woman with a moody character.
“It has a double personality – it can be rustic and fine at the same time,” he continued.
Concluding he said, “it is very hard to manage, and after 30 years I can say I am just starting to understand Sangiovese.
“It requires the best: the best locations, the best soil, the best microclimate and a lot of work. That’s why it’s so interesting, Sangiovese wines are never heavy and never boring.”
The views of Gleave and the Tuscan producers were supported by UK merchant Justerini & Brooks, which sent out its first Brunello offer in late May this year.
As previously reported by the drinks business, J&B buyer Giles Burke-Gaffney said, “Sangiovese is a great grape variety with great potential – it can produce fine and elegant wines.
“It has perhaps been missed in the past because of blending with international varieties [in Super Tuscans] but producers are going back to it, and that will start filtering through to consumers.”