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: Umbria
Area planted to Sangiovese 2,464ha
Leading Sangiovese producers – monovarietal or blend
Bocale; Castello di Corbara; Castelbuono; Di Filippo; La Carraia; Lamborghini; Lungarotti; Pardi; Scacciadiavoli
Sangiovese figures, in varying percentages, in nearly a dozen DOCs in Umbria. Most of these are of the type listed in reference books as ‘minor denominations’. The chance of finding wines like Colli Altotiberini, Colli Perugini or Assisi Rosso outside their immediate local areas is limited. This is not to say that the wines are without interest – if you find a bottle of Assisi Rosso by Sportoletti for instance it is well worth trying – simply that supply is tiny and that the real action is elsewhere.
The hottest zone, the one in which key players on the national scene (like Lunelli, SaiAgricola and the Cotarella brothers) have invested in recent years, is Montefalco. The impulse for the boom came from the rediscovery of the powerful local variety, Sagrantino. Aged in new oak to focus its muscular exuberance, for a while it seemed that this was the wine the outside world was dying for, but the initial enthusiasm for larger-than-life reds has cooled, leaving an opening for what in the past was the second-label wine and which is now asserting itself in its own right, Montefalco Rosso. In this case Sangiovese, with its 60%-70% share of the blend, is the palate on which Sagrantino adds the colour; the wild berry fruit, the spice and the tannic backbone.
Montefalco is still a big mouthful, but it captures a very assertive terroir in a more nuanced and a lot more drinkable style than monovarietal Sagrantino. If Montefalco is the emerging DOC, the longestablished top billing is Torgiano. Created by pioneering producer Giorgio Lungarotti in the 1970s with more than a nod towards the traditional Chianti blend of Sangiovese/Cannaiolo/Colorino, it has the peculiarity of being, in practice, a singleproducer denomination. Lungarotti’s Riserva Vigna Monticchio DOCG is one of the glories of Italian winemaking and is also unique. If its example has not inspired emulation, the reason may lie in the grape itself. ‘Sangiovese,’ says Chiara Lungarotti, ‘is complicated to grow. It needs to be nurtured. International varieties are far less demanding, but for me it is Sangiovese that expresses Umbria.’
That distinctive Umbrian Sangiovese character – densely textured but not overweight – is also worth seeking out among the more dynamic of the smaller DOCs, like Lago di Corbara and Colli Martani, both of which provide for monovarietal Sangiovese, and the smattering of IGTs, which may fall into the category of tasty everyday drinking, like that made by La Carraia, or claim a place near the top of the range, as with Lamborghini’s IGT Era.