Sangiovese, Uninterrupted

Sangiovese, Uninterrupted

As oenophilic exclamations go, it may sound a bit underwhelming, but nonetheless … there are times when I really do want my Sangiovese to drink like, well, Sangiovese.

Making a connection with the earthy, wild cherry impressions, supple textures and body of quintessential Sangiovese, however, is not as easy as one might think. In fact, that one might walk into a local wine shop asking for a bottle of Sangiovese and emerge with a wine expressing consummate Sangiovese character is likely to prove one of life’s little unpredictables 😉

Here are a few considerations that may help the hunt for wines with classic Sangiovese personality:

sangiovese-uninterrupted-aIn the company of Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – legal blending partners in several of Tuscany’s great Sangiovese wine denominations – Sangiovese produces wines that are seductive in their own way, no doubt. With respect to the archetypal Sangiovese experience, however, Bordeaux varietals can, at times, overwhelm the somewhat subtle Sangiovese varietal tastes and aromas that, more and more, I have come to seek out.

Within Tuscany’s aforementioned Sangiovese denominations, DOC law also allows uniting Sangiovese with more traditional varietal partners. Blended with small amounts of varietals such as Colorino, Canaiolo, or Mammolo, for example, Sangiovese seems more at home, less interrupted, and better able to communicate the subtleties of its unique message.

When crafted from 100% Sangiovese, Sangiovese in purezza, some wines can achieve a certain state of ethereal grace. While inspiring examples of 100% Sangiovese wines can be found electively produced within other of Tuscany’s important Sangiovese appellations, it is the most famous of these wines, Brunello di Montalcino and its sidekick Rosso di Montalcino, which are perhaps the surer bet: they are required by Italian law to be produced from 100% Sangiovese.

What happens in the cellar is vital to allowing Sangiovese to play the expressive leading role. Compatible techniques in the cellar include the carrying out of fermentation in steel or cement vat. Ideally, ageing is done in Slavonian oak, or at least in part, as it is a very neutral, Sangiovese-friendly maturation treatment. And please take note: easy on the French barrique (especially 1st passage) – heavy hands here can impart too much wood / spice influence so as to encrypt the Sangiovese message – it’s a fine line between state of grace and state of Bordeaux wanna-be 😉

On a final note, generally speaking, when looking to satisfy the craving for prototypic Sangiovese, one may fare better by sticking close to normale bottlings: riserva wines tend to be heavier on the oak influence which, as we’ve noted, can be interfering in this context. But, please remember that there are always notable exceptions (see below).

Producers / wines to investigate:

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Felsina Chianti Classico & Chianti Classico Riserva
La Ciarliano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Le Gode Brunello di Montalcino
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino & Rosso di Montalcino
Monteraponi Chianti Classico
Pietramora Morellino di Scansano “Brumaio”
San Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico Riserva
Santa Lucia Morellino di Scansano “Tore del Moro”
Val delle Corti Chianti Classico
Ventolaio Rosso di Montalcino

Sub-zoning Brunello: To Be or Not to Be

Sub-zoning Brunello: To Be or Not to Be

While lovers of Brunello di Montalcino may appreciate the wine for its utter harmony, they may find more of debate than of harmony brewing around the discussion to sub-zone Brunello territory.

brunello-foto-aThe argument in support of sub-zoning is framed around increasing consumer understanding of distinctions between Brunello wines relative to where in the current denomination Sangiovese grapes used in Brunello production are grown. At issue is what is viewed by proponents as the varied suitability of certain areas within the Brunello zone for cultivation of Sangiovese.

Supporters include wine critics and authors, loudest among them, perhaps, the well-respected and highly published Ian D’Agata and Kerin O’Keefe (O’Keefe has written a truly excellent book about Brunello), as well as a smallish group of Brunello producers.

No doubt there exists a fascinating measure of micro-terroirs within the Brunello production zone. If sub-zoning is approved to officially delimit the denomination, it seems rather likely that Montalcino’s varied terroirs will exert their influence even among wines from within a particular sub-zone. In addition, one might expect that stylistic differences between producers would continue to contribute to distinctions between Brunello wines, again, even within the same sub-zone. If the consumer wouldn’t be already confused trying to decide which Brunello sub-zone is deserving of his hard earned cash, when he realizes that wines purchased from within the same sub-zone reflect differences, too, he surely will be.

That the market should better understand the diversity of Montalcino terroir and its perceived influences on Brunello wines is not a bad thing. It is, though, an initiative perhaps better left to good market education and consumer outreach initiatives driven by Montalcino’s producers, the governing Consorzio Brunello, wine educators, etc., without involving clunky nomenclature that may confuse consumer buying decisions.

A sub-zoning of Brunello territory, one could imagine, might be similar to today’s delimited Chianti territories (some proponents of sub-zoning Montalcino have noted the commercial success of sub-zoned Chianti) – a Classico designation considered to be the heart of the region with several defined non-classico zones to represent everything else. There may be reason for pause, however. To examine why, you might ask any average wine buyer intending to purchase a bottle of Chianti which Chianti sub-zone he prefers. The blank stare and silence sure to follow will make the point.

One wonders if Brunello di Montalcino, as a brand, doesn’t have more to gain by remaining as a single appellation. As such, Brunello stands to increase consumer awareness by continuing to reinforce market recognition of a single, unique, united brand. Even if sub-zone details are well communicated to consumers, divided consumer attention could erode primary brand awareness. Too, under a single appellation, the collective intelligence of Montalcino’s producers – to be counted among the territory’s greatest resources – seems likely to continue to evolve in a way that benefits the greater Brunello good, instead of devolving into silos of competitive sub-zone-specific knowledge and interests.

When considering the Brunello sub-zone debate, we may do well to take a lesson from the technology sector: in spite of best intentions, if the user interface isn’t intuitive and simple, broad adoption of a technology doesn’t happen. Inasmuch as the DOC / label function as the wine consumer’s user interface to the brand, I should hope the powers in Montalcino think long and hard before moving ahead with a proposal to sub-zone for Brunello di Montalcino.