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Sangiovese Games and Power of Words

January 11, 2022 6 comments

Okay, folks, this might be the scariest post I have ever written. This might lead to unsubscribes, unfollows, ostracism, and public shaming. Well, it is what it is.

Here it comes, my confession.

I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Here, I said it. You heard me right, and I can repeat. I do not know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Still here? Okay, then I would like to ask for a chance to explain.

I know how Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like. Whether it is produced in Bordeaux, California, Australia or Tuscany, I still expect to find cassis, maybe eucalyptus, maybe mint, maybe bell peppers.

I know how Pinot Noir tastes like. No matter whether it comes from Burgundy, South Africa, Oregon, New Zealand, or California, I still expect to find cherries, maybe plums, maybe violets, maybe some smoke.

I can continue – I know how Chardonnay tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Riesling tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Sauvignon Blanc tastes like (from anywhere). I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

While we are talking grapes, we are also talking about the power of words. As soon as we hear Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, we have an instant mental image, set our expectations, and the first sip of wine is judged against that mental image. Of course, we make regional adjustments – Pinot Noir from Oregon might offer dark chocolate, espresso, and mocha in addition to the cherries, but cherries will be there. Bordeaux (okay, it is usually a blend, so this might be a bad example) is expected to be leaner that’s California Cab, but it will still show that cassis core. And I still have no clue how Sangiovese should taste like.

I know how Brunello tastes. It is 100% Sangiovese, but it has its own unique taste profile with layers of tart cherries and cherry pits framed by oak notes and firm tannins. I know how Vino Nobile de Montepulciano tastes. It is also 100% Sangiovese, with tart cherries usually weaved around a core of acidity. I know how Chianti typically tastes. It has to be at least 80% Sangiovese, plus other grapes, and it will have the cherries usually surrounded by leather and tobacco.

Brunello, Vino Nobile, Chianti are renditions of Sangiovese, but they are references only to themselves. When I hear any of these names, I know what to expect. But I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

I don’t know if you ever had a chance to experience Shafer Firebreak. This wine used to be made from California Sangiovese (92%) with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), the percentages are representative of the last vintage which was in 2003 (Sangiovese plantings were removed after that). This wine had nothing in common with any of the Italian Sangiovese renditions, but instead had a smoke, espresso, and powerful dark fruit. A very memorable rendition of Sangiovese – but not referenceable.

You might be annoyed at this point by me constantly repeating “I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like” and wondering where I might be going with that. So this post was triggered by a few events. Last year, I got a few samples of Sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa. When I tasted them, they were reminiscent of Chianti, and I even had to open a bottle of Cecchi Chianti, which is an outstanding producer making Sangiovese wines with exemplary regional expressions, to compare. I also tasted a bottle of California Sangiovese which had only a name of Sangiovese, but really tasted more like a fruit compote mixed with a fruit cake. As the end result I realized that I have no idea how Sangiovese actually should taste like – and here I am, pondering at the subject with you, my dear reader (I hope someone is still reading this, eh?)

So let me take you a bit further with a few of the tasting notes and references.

First, I have to say that I probably found what can be considered a reference Sangiovese. Two years ago I had an opportunity to taste a range of wines from Cecchi, and one of the wines was called Sangiovese Toscana IGT. It was not Chianti of any kind, it was pretty much an unadulterated rendition of a pure Sangiovese from the motherland, from Tuscany, which was not even aged in oak, only 2 months in the bottle. Here are the notes:

2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGP (13% ABV, $10)
Dark ruby
Cherries, coriander, sage
Light, bright, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, sweet basil, refreshing.
8+, can be perfect even on a summer day, but I can’t complain on a winter day either. Unique and different.

The wine was absolutely spectacular in its pristine beauty and an absolute steal for the money. Ever since I tasted this wine it became my reference for how pure Sangiovese might take like.

Now, the peculiar California Sangiovese I mentioned before was the 2017 Seghesio Venom. 100% Sangiovese from Rattlesnake Hill in Alexander Valley, 14.9% ABV, $55. Seghesio is a Zinfandel specialist, and they are good at that. If this wine would be called Zinfandel, I would have no issue with it. But under Sangiovese name, it makes me only wonder what possessed Seghesio to make a wine like that. A fruit compote with a bit of a structure doesn’t equate to Sangiovese in any shape and form. And at the price, if you just want to drink a California wine, it might be fine, but if you are looking for Sangiovese, just look elsewhere.

Well, you don’t need to look too far. Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is really focusing on bringing their Italian heritage to wines they craft in California. Yesterday I talked about their range of Pinot Noir wines, which was excellent. Their California Sangiovese can probably be called a glorious success as I even had to open a bottle of classic Chianti to compare the notes.

I tasted two Sangiovese wines from Castello di Amorosa (for the history of the Castello, which is very fascinating, I would like to refer you to the link I included above).

2017 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $36)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, baking spices
Plums, tart cherries, light tannins, medium body, good structure, a hint of leather.
8-/8, it is reminiscent of the Chianti, nicely approachable, but will improve with time, judging by the late tannins on the finish on the second day.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $45, single vineyard)
Dark garnet
Smoke, granite, gunflint, tobacco, dark fruit, Very promising.
Tobacco, baking spices, cut through acidity, medium body. Very unusual. Needs a bit of time.
Tart cherries, a hint of vanilla, bright acidity. Reminiscent of Chianti, but not as earthy
8-

And then I opened a bottle of Cecchi Chianti and was pleasantly surprised how successful Castello di Amorosa was with their Californian Sangiovese rendition.

2017 Cecchi Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $14)
Dark garnet
Herbs with a hint of cherries
Tart cherries, good acidity, fresh berry profile, medium body. Was earthy upon opening, but mellowed out after a few hours in the open bottle.
8-, easy to drink, nice.

As you can tell, the wines are similar, and I would call it a very successful effort.

Well, I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, because this is all in the words. Unless we taste blind, we are bound by the power of words, and therefore our excitement and disappointment are fully dependent on those words. Was the Venom a bad wine? No, but it is an utter disappointment when called a Sangiovese. Thanks to Castello di Amorosa successfully offering a saving grace. While I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, I’m willing to continue the quest for the tastiest rendition.

If you are still with me – thank you for reading and cheers.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Asnwer, Wine Blogging Conference Update, Generous Pour and more

June 12, 2013 10 comments

Meritage time!

First, the answer for the Wine Quiz #60, Grape Trivia – Sangiovese.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Sangiovese grape, one of the essential Italian grapes. Here are the questions, this time with the answers:

Q1: Grape, blending partner mostly of the past, typically leading to Sangiovese wines becoming dull and unexciting.

A1: White grape called Trebbiano at some point was mandatory blending partner of Sangiovese in Chianti wines, leading to overall diluted character of the wines. Nowadays, when even 100% Chianti wines are allowed, the usage of Trebbiano in the Chianti wines is very minimal.

Q2: What is Fiasco, and how is it related to the Chianti wines?

A2: Fiasco is a straw cover which was traditional with the Chianti wines. It also became a symbol of wines of a bad quality, as many Chianti’s of the past actually had quality issues.

Q3: On some of the bottles of Chianti, you could see an image of the black rooster. What is the meaning of it?

A3: Black Rooster, or Gallo Nero, is the symbol of Consorzio Chianti Classico. It can be argued that black rooster serves as a symbol of quality – whether it is true or not, I can only tell that most of the Chianti Classico I tried which had the Black Rooster symbol on them, where of a very good quality.

Q4: Tuscany no doubts is the major source of Sangiovese wines. Can you name 4 sub-regions in Tuscany, producing great wines with Sangiovese as the main variety?

A4: Considering all Chianti sub-regions as one (Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina), the answer is Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano.

Q5: Name 3 leading regions in United States producing Sangiovese wines. For an extra bonus, add your favorite producer(s).

A5: The way the question was formulated, it was hard to give a good answer, so all the answers will be considered correct for this question. I actually was looking for California, Washington and Texas and 3 main regions in US producing wines from Sangiovese grapes.

Considering that questions 4 and 5 were somewhat lacking precision, I will count all the answers to those questions as pretty much correct ones. Therefore, we have 3 winners this week – Wayward Wine, Red Wine Diva and The Winegetter are all getting the usual prize of unlimited bragging rights!

And now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and web!

First, the 2013 Wine Blog Awards winners had being announced at Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC13) last week. You can find the list of all winning blogs here. Also, the location of WBC14 was announced, and it will be… Santa Barbara! Here is the link to the announcement. Santa Barbara sounds quite appealing as a location, so at this point I really hope that I will be able to attend the WBC14 event.

Capital Grille is doing it again! Generous Pour program is back – starting July 8th, you can taste 7 different varietals from 7 different wineries, all for $25. Don’t miss it, as this program will only run during summer – and if past experience is any indicator, yep, you don’t want to miss it for sure.

Somewhat on a sad note, as reported by Guardian, wine writer Hugh Johnson is selling his wine collection, which includes bottles dating all the way from 1830. I think it is pretty sad when you have to part with the wine which you wanted to drink, but the moment comes when you realize – there is simply not enough time… You can read the story for yourself here.

Well, that’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty. But it will be refilled, I promise. Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #60: Grape Trivia – Sangiovese

June 8, 2013 11 comments
Sangiovese grapes close up from Wikipedia

Sangiovese grapes close up from Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend! Yep, it is the time for the new wine knowledge test.

We are continuing our Grape Trivia series, and today we will talk about Sangiovese – one of the most famous Italian grapes. Sangiovese is typically associated with Chianti, but in reality, Sangiovese is one of the most planted grapes all over Italy. One of the interesting issues is that Sangiovese, similarly to Pinot Noir, is very clone-prone, so it is known in different places under different names, such as Sangiovese Grosso, Prugnolo Gentile or Calabrese, to take a few.

Sangiovese is black skinned grape with cherry-dominant, earthy and savory profile. Sangiovese is capable of a wide range of expressions, starting from simple food friendly wines from Chianti to the oak-loaded monsters requiring long ageing and long decanting, coming from different regions in Tuscany and beyond. Absolute majority of Sangiovese plantings are located in Italy, but the grape is also slowly becoming popular in the other regions such as United States or Argentina.

Now, to the quiz! I thought that Zinfandel was not a simple quiz to compose, but then I realized that it is even more difficult to create an interesting quiz all around Sangiovese. For what it worth, 5 questions are below.

Q1: Grape, blending partner mostly of the past, typically leading to Sangiovese wines becoming dull and unexciting.

Q2: What is Fiasco, and how is it related to the Chianti wines?

Q3: On some of the bottles of Chianti, you could see an image of the black rooster. What is the meaning of it?

Q4: Tuscany no doubts is the major source of Sangiovese wines. Can you name 4 sub-regions in Tuscany, producing great wines with Sangiovese as the main variety?

Q5: Name 3 leading regions in United States producing Sangiovese wines. For an extra bonus, add your favorite producer(s).

Have a great weekend, have fun and cheers!

Dreaming of Tuscan Wines

November 4, 2012 17 comments

Source: Wkipedia.com

“Tuscany”. Try to say the word out loud. It rolls of your tongue, smooth, round and effortless. It is so easy to picture endless green hills, beautiful little houses spread across the endless green, and of course, sun-soaked grapes.

I visited Italy many times, but not the Tuscany, which still stays on the “dream destinations” list. I can easily picture bringing my family there, renting a little villa (there are many villas in Tuscany), and spending time doing… nothing, just enjoying that beautiful scenery, true, simple and honest food and of course, the wines.

The wines of Tuscany hold its own special and unique place in the wine world. True, the wine making was born outside of Italy ( Georgia and Greece are the top contenders for the title of “cradle of the winemaking”). But where else you can find wineries and winemaking families which are almost a thousand years old (look at Barone Ricasoli, which is tracing its wine history to 1141, or Castello di Ama, which goes all the way back to 1210), next to the wineries which propelled from non-existent to the world’s best in mere 30-40 years, as many of so called Super-Tuscan wines did? Tuscany offers tremendous diversity when it comes to wines, and I want to take you on a little tour of Tuscan wines.

We are going to start with Chianti, one of the oldest wine-making areas in Tuscany, located in the center of region. Sangiovese is the main grape which is used to produce Chianti wines, but other grapes can be also blended in, including both red and white grapes.

Then there are all sorts of classifications for the Italian wines – but I really don’t want to bore you with the details of it. While classification information is very important, there are so many available resources covering subject in depth, like this Wikipedia article, for instance, you can definitely learn about it without my help. As a side note, I want to mention that in the end of the day, DOC, DOCG, IGT , the producers and the wine ratings are all important, but you really have to let your taste buds be a judge when it comes to finding the wine you like.

Chianti are some of the oldest wines with the world, with the very rich history having its up and down times – it is impossible to cover Chianti’s history at any good depth in the blog post, so again I have to refer you to the great source – the Wikipedia article. Chianti wines are usually split into two main groups – Chianti and Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico, which comes from its own part of the Chianti region, is available as Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, which is usually aged for more than two years before it is released. If you are looking for a good bottle of the Chianti, you can always play it safe and go by a good producer – Antinori, Castello Banfi, Castello di Ama, Fontodi, Frescobaldi, Monsanto, Ricasoli, Ruffino are all well known producers and represent a good bet as you are looking for your next bottle of Chianti.

Let’s move down south from Chianti to the town of Montalcino. A bit younger than the Chianti, only going back to the 14th century : ), there was a local wine produced there, which was called Brunello, referring to the name of the local grape. Eventually it was established that the actual grape was a clone of Sangiovese, called Sangiovese Grosso, but the name of Brunello always stayed with the wines called Brunello di Montalcino (often referred to simply as Brunello).

In order to be classified as Brunello, the wines have to be made from 100%  of Sangiovese Grosso (no other grapes allowed). Over the many years, Brunello built a reputation as some of the best wines in the world – power, finesse and ultimate ageability make them very desired wines among wine consumers and collectors. Biondi Santi is probably the most legendary producer of Brunello wines, but Altesino, Casanova di Neri, Castello Banfi, Poggio Antico, Valdicava are all well worthy of your attention.

Continuing our tour from the town of Montalcino, we got two options – we can move east, to the town of Monepulciano, or west to the region called Bolgheri. Let’s talk about Montepulciano first, as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are rivaling Chianti in its history. The first references  to the vineyards around Montepulciano go all the way back to the 8th (!) century, but it was not until 1925 that the wines from the region are actually assumed the Vino Nobile name. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are again produced from Sangiovese clone,  known as Prugnolo Gentile, and often blended with other local grape varieties. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are lesser known then Chianti wines, but they are worth looking for as they still provide a good value.

And now, let’s go all the way west, to the coastal area of Tyrrhenian Sea, to the town of Bolgheri, where some of the best wines in Italy are made. I’m sure you heard the term Super-Tuscan – these are the wines made in Tuscany, but in completely non-traditional way. Starting from 1960s, Bolgheri was a center of Super-Tuscan wine revolution – instead of making the wines by the strict Chianti rules, many vintners started producing wines based on terroir, always looking for the best grapes from particular vineyards. In 1978, Antinori started producing the Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend wine called Tignanello, which became a great success. Many winemakers turned their attention to traditional Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, eventually producing the wines rightfully called some of the best wines in the world. Today Super-Tuscan wines need no introduction, and absolute majority of wine lovers can’t pronounce the names such as Ornellaia, Solaia, Masseto, Sassicaia, Redigaffi without their breathing stopping for a second and eyes rolling up to show utmost respect. You don’t need to take my word for it  – get a bottle and taste it for yourself, and you can thank me later.

Before we are done here, I want to share some interesting numbers with you. You probably heard of Wine Spectator, a very famous wine magazine. Wine Spectator has their 100 points rating system and obviously, it is not simple to get a 100 points, as the wine should be truly ultimate to get such a high rating – only 74 wines out of more than 250,000 rated wines received 100 points. Out of those 74, 13 are Italian wines. Out of those 13, 6 are the Tuscan wines. And out of those 6, 2 are Brunello di Montalcino wines, 3 are Super Tuscan, and one wine is a Vin Santo – another famous Tuscan wine, this time it is a dessert wine, made out of Trebbiano and Malvasia white grapes. And to complete the picture, do you want to guess what grape those 100-point Super Tuscans are made from? Sorry Miles ( remember movie Sideways?), but all three 100-point Super Tuscans (Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masetto, Tua Rite Redigaffi and Le Macchiole Messorio) are made out of 100% Merlot!

I think it is time to finish our tour. Tuscany makes a lot of great wines, and there are many books, articles and blog posts covering those wines from all possible angles. I think  my top tip for choosing the Tuscan wines will be very simple – go out and play! Open a bottle of Tuscan wine, and be transported in the instance to the warm and inviting land of great food, wines and people. Salute!

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