Learning about sangiovese…and drinking some too.

First of all, this wine should NOT have been priced above $10. My super shopper skills did not pick this out when my mom and I bought it at Wine Styles, a franchise wine shop that just happened to be within walking distance of a place where we ate lunch. That being said, I have decided to use this wine as a learning journey, conducting a fact-finding mission of sorts, about the words on the label, the varietal blend used, and the term “Super Tuscan.”

Dalla Terra informs me that reading the label of an Italian wine should be simple, I merely need to pinpoint the following information. I have taken the liberty to fill in facts about the 2007 Carpineto Dogajolo Toscano, pictured above.

1. Wine name: Dogajolo
2. Wine appellation/grape type: Chianti/Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend
3. Winery/Bottler name: Carpineto
4. Region: Tuscany
5. Denomination (DOC, DOCG, IGT, VGT): DOC, DOCG, and IGT are government marked wine-making areas. DOC is your basic, run of the mill region, and DOCG steps it up a notch and is higher-ranking. They fall under the auspices of Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR). A second category of denominations is titled “Table Wine” and includes IGT’s and VGT’s. You can read more about this here. The heirarchy of information on the label of this wine indicates its name is Dogajolo, followed by Toscano (Tuscany) as the region, and Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or IGT, as the denomination.
6. Vintage year: 2007
7. Alcohol content: 13%
8. Importer (if purchased outside Italy): Opici Import Company, Glen Rock, N.J.

That was easy (even though I had to do a little snooping around Wikipedia)! What I basically found out is that I bought a $15 Italian table wine, but hey, worse things have happened. Mr. Zraly does indicate that 2007 is a great bet for wines from Tuscany and the wine was absolutely delicious with our NYE dinner.

On to the blend: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. I have to admit I had no idea what sangiovese meant, so I asked the manager of the wine store to compare it with a varietal I would know: is it more along the lines of a pinot noir or merlot? After some hemming and hawing, she decided that pinot would do for my purposes. The wine suited both my taste, which is drawn to the pinots, and my mother’s taste for something a little more bodacious, like the 20% cab. As fascinating as the pinot noir comparison was, of course I went home to study up on this sangiovese varietal.

First of all, sangiovese translates to “the blood of Jove.” Literally, the blood of Christ. I especially love this entry about it on the blog Mad Wines, in which the blogger talks about its influence in the Italian wine industry and the troublesome qualities of the Super Tuscan blends. Wine Pros writes, “Tuscan winemakers, experimenting the past few years with blends of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot have succeeded in [sic] creating some excellent Super Tuscan [sic] blends.” This website describes sangiovese, which is a grape varietal, as producing wines “that are often light to medium-bodied with aromas of sour cherries and strawberries, often with a suggestion of spice. Sangiovese benefits from oak-age. It is a wine that had moderate noticeable acidity…” In general, Super Tuscans blends sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon, producing something more fruity and acidic, not high in tannins.

Sangiovese, also known as Chianti grapes, is planted all over Tuscany, the home of Chianti. Because the grape itself is thin-skinned, it needs a great deal of sunlight to ripen. This overdose of sun produces a wine high in acidity, but not particularly fruity on its own with just 100% sangiovese. This seems to be where the blending in of cabernet and merlot lends itself to producing wines that are more consumer friendly, easier to drink, and have that bold but dry and fruity taste without the overwhelming tannins that many people prefer.

So, I think I have a fairly secure grasp of the sangiovese varietal, as well as the wine I drank for NYE. Not the best, perhaps, for the price but a fruity, lip-smacking, dry red wine all the same that assisted us in welcoming 2010 with smiles and cheers. For my fellow wine lovers out there, yes YOU who know much more about this varietal than I do, please comment with information you think I should know about sangiovese, as well as your recommendations for wines of this varietal and style.

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4 Responses to Learning about sangiovese…and drinking some too.

  1. Joe says:

    Glad you’ve delved into Italian wines. They really are fantastic, but the country might drive you mad with its hundreds of varieties.

    I’m not surprised it wasn’t your favorite (if you’re new to wine). For the Italians, wine is an essential part of the meal (I’ve heard one Italian winemaker describe it as nothing more than a “condiment” at the table). For this reason, the wines tend to be higher in acidity and more subtle in their fruit flavors. Why? Because such a style compliments food better. The Super Tuscan “movement” was actually founded out of winemakers wanting to make wines in more of a New World style; that is to say, with less restrictions and more experimentation.

    I didn’t love Italian wine at first (not enough fruit), but as you drink more and start to appreciate the “sense of place” (a term called “terroir” by the French) conveyed by the wine, you’ll love them. And $15 isn’t unreasonable for a Sangiovese-based wine: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and (especially) Brunello di Montalcino can run $30, $40, $50+

    Cheers!

  2. Sangiovese is best suited for food, with a combination of high acidity and some tannin.

    I recommend trying a few different wines, preferably in a flight so you can compare the different styles of the wine. Invite over some friends to help out.

    For the “Super Tuscan” style, look for Banfi Centine and Monte Antico, both of which are fairly widely available.

    For Chianti, ask your local wine merchant for their recommended basic Chianti and a Chianti Classico. Querceto is one of my favorite producers, with Ruffino and Banfi being the big brands which are easiest to find. I would stick to the same producer if you can and the same year, though that will be harder since the wines are released at different ages.

    Make sure to have some Italian food on hand and bag the wines, allowing your palate to decide which you like best.

  3. mjwrites says:

    Thank you for the tips! I plan to seek out and try more Italian wines (with friends and good Italian food!) and will let you know what conclusions I make! I have always been a big fan of Chianti, but actually understanding the nuances of Italian–the terroir–is really my next step.

  4. If you really want to learn about Italian wine, check out the book Vino Italiano.

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