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The undiscovered Sangiovese

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

The undiscovered Sangiovese: Marche

Area planted to Sangiovese 3,600ha

Leading Sangiovese producers – monovarietal or blend Bucci; Boccadigabbia; Capecci Sasn Savino; Ciù Ciù; Il Conte-Villa Prandone; Murola; Saladini Pilastri; Velenosi

In wine-producing terms, Marche is the sleepiest of the central Italian regions. Less ambitious perhaps than its neighbours, less glamorous certainly. Marche has long been the region with the biggest internal wine consumption in the country and much of its production is geared towards supplying the locals with honest, everyday drinking. However there is much more to discover. Verdicchio is the region’s best known wine outside Italy, but surprisingly Marche grows more red than white grapes, and most of this is Sangiovese.

The vast majority of the production comes under the basic, widely planted Rosso Piceno DOC, while the top-end Rosso Piceno Superiore originates in a restricted area near the beautiful medieval town of Ascoli Piceno, the most southerly outpost of Sangiovese along the Adriatic coast. Clay soils and a warm, maritime climate combine to create hearty reds. The basic DOC is rustic in the best sense. The superiore version on the other hand is capable of the refinement that comes with a minimum of 12 months’ oak ageing and a noticeably superior fruit quality. The typical tasting note reads something like ‘spicy-floral with distinct notes of pepper, full body and big dry tannin’.

The DOC stipulates a blend of 70% of the native Montepulciano and a maximum 30% Sangiovese, relegating the latter very much to the role of complementary variety. Producers tend not to enthuse about Sangiovese, but it has an important function. On its own, Montepulciano can be overpoweringly tannic and one-dimensional.

As Marica Ciccarelli from leading producer Velonesi, says, ‘Sangiovese by itself is not really very expressive, but it softens the Montepulciano, tones down the tannins and gives contrast and elegance.’

The other possible source of Sangiovese is the IGT Marche label. The IGT allows for the bottling of a wide range of monovarietals, among them Sangiovese. Since the denomination is regional, the wines are less identifiably terroir-driven and, as is in the case of IGTs in general, reflect house styles more than soils and climate. Ciù Ciù (pronounced like the train) for example makes deeply coloured Sangiovese with big, juicy fruit in the modern oenological style. If you are looking for less sophisticated winemaking, Murola makes a toothsome artisan wine with bags of character. Boccadigabbia’s Saltapicchio, on the other hand, is more classic and is the wine which more than any other suggests there could be a future for quality monovarietal Sangiovese in Marche. However, the competition from Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah may well prove too strong for the native grape and it is more likely that the new generation of reds in the region will be based on international varieties.

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