While Tuscany may provide the most evocative illustration of Sangiovese’s prowess, it turns out this talented grape has many other homes too. Richard Baudains finds distinctive alter egos and wallet-friendly prices as he explores beyond its heartland
Sangiovese is far and away Italy’s most planted variety. It accounts for a staggering 71,000 hectares of vineyard, equivalent to 11% of the national surface area. It was recently calculated that it is present, either as the principal or as a complementary grape, in no fewer than 243 DOC/Gs across the country. The best known of these are obviously Tuscan. Sangiovese is the grape of the region’s high-profile DOCGs (Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano), of numerous monovarietal SuperTuscans, and of a whole raft of minor local denominations.
Tuscany does not, however, have a monopoly on the cultivar in central Italy. Sangiovese is the principal red grape of Romagna and, a little-known and perhaps unexpected fact, it is also the most planted variety in the neighbouring regions of Umbria and Marche. Sangiovese-based wines from these regions do not get the media exposure of their Tuscan counterparts, but there are excellent reasons for seeking them out. Anyone with nostalgia for the aroma and the juicy vibrancy of young Sangiovese will find great examples in the neighbouring regions of a varietal style that Tuscany has largely forgotten.
On the other hand if you are looking for plush concentrated fruit in the SuperTuscan vein, or the high seriousness of an austere riserva, you will find those too. And because prices have not caught up with continually improving quality, you will also be getting super value for money. Having said that, however, it would be doing Tuscany’s neighbours a gross injustice to present them as simply the source of affordable lookalikes, because the Sangiovese wines of Romagna, Umbria and Marche have distinctive characters all of their own.
Written by Richard Baudains