San Giovese Grapes - A Taste of Heaven

A little bit about the grape at the heart of some of Italy's finest wines. What kind of grapes are in your favorite wines? Do we always use red grapes to make red wines or can they be used differently? Learn more about the grapes in your favorite Tuscan bottles.

By Elaina Borer
Mon, Aug 10


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"Saint-giovese" grape, more devilish than saint-like?  Named after San Giovese, the reputed patron saint of the region of Romagna, Sangiovese actually translates into "Blood of Jupiter" (Jupiter, as in the King of the Gods). Sangiovese grapes dominate central Italy, but they reach true greatness in Tuscany.  The Chianti region grows at least 75% sangiovese grapes, the Brunello di Montalcino grows 100% sangiovese grapes, and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano region grows a minimum of 70% Prugnolo gentile grapes. Sangiovese grosso and Prugnole gentile grapes are both selected clones of the Sangiovese grapes. 

At its best, these grapes produce a medium to full, firm, dry, slightly spicy red wine that ages well. At its most ordinary, it is light and astringent. Nevertheless, Italian people don't give much importance to the astringency of their most popular grape, as they always match this wine with food which allows the sensation of astringency to disappear.  Unlike the Cabernet grape, with its consistent results, Sangiovese is a lot less predictable. The Sangiovese grape relies heavily on terrain, ending in highly unpredictable results. 

Tuscan Sangiovese grapes can be deemed at times flawed thanks to its difficulty ripening - this means that even vineyards with perfect exposure can yield inconsistent results.  In the typical climate where Sangiovese grapes thrives, frequent bad weather just before harvest season in October can and does often lead to partially destroyed crops.  However, when this sensitive grape is cared for correctly it can produce wonderful wines. To ensure the sangiovese grapes gives its very best, the informed wine-maker will consider the following factors when planting.        

  1. Maximum exposure to the sun.
  2. Soil composition. In accordance with the saying "Make the soil poor to make me rich," Sangiovese Grosso (the varietal used to produce amazing Brunello wines) absorbs the very best the soil offers and gives us results we love and cherish.  To extract the absolute best from this grape, it needs to be planted on soil with a clay-like consistency.  Of course, this reduces the quantity of grapes produced but gives us a quality of grape truly impossible to beat. Unlike the world-famous Cabernet and Merlot grapes, Sangiovese doesn't tend to impart interesting results when planted in different countries outside of central Italy. 

The phrase Sangiovese does get tossed around frequently, with winemakers moaning about its dual saintly and devilish nature.  The only way to make an informed decision yourself is to taste loads of Sangiovese-based wines. How hard can it be??

For guided wine tastings with Filippo Bartolotta, check out the Brunello di Montalcino tasting videos here, and a quick look at select Chianti options here.

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