Andretti Winery, Sangiovese, Napa Valley, California, 2009, 14.9% abv.

Sangiovese is a black grape native to Central Italy and primarily Toscana whose name literally means ‘Blood of Jove’, the Italian name for Jupiter.

It’s Italy’s most planted variety, is the only grape allowed in Brunello di Montalcino and is the base for blends that make Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the Supertuscans of the western Maremma coast.  Sangiovese has several variations and names – Prugnolo Gentile, Brunello, Morellino and Niellucio.

Prior to 1700 the most common grapes grown and used in Tuscan wines were actually white – Trebbiano and Malvasia – and most wine scholars seem to think Sangiovese was the result of a spontaneous cross between two obscure grapes (Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo).

Early wines made of Sangiovese were quite hard and acidic, so it was often blended with other grapes to soften and sweeten the end product. Usually Canaiolo is used and it has become the basis of most modern Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines. Bettino Ricasoli is widely agreed upon as being the inventor of that ‘recipe’.

Toscana is very hilly and the weather can vary tremendously from hilltop to hilltop. Sangiovese does not do well when planted much higher than 500m. It’s very slow to ripen and the harvests are almost always late, starting after Sept. 29 and lasting into October.

If the yields are too high, the grapes produce wines that are too acidic and lightly coloured. Sangiovese grapes are thin-skinned and susceptible to rot, so having rains at harvest is dangerous to the ultimate quality of one’s Sangiovese!  Today’s wines are oak treated using French oak barrels.

Sangiovese is also an important grape in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon in Carmignano DOC and in Umbria. In the New World, it has been exported to Argentina and lots is grown in Mendoza but better examples exist in California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo near Los Angeles.

This wine is from Mario Andretti’s Napa Valley winery.  It is clear and bright, medium ruby and has solid legs. The nose is clean and developing with medium plus intensity and offers aromas of strawberry, cherry, red plum, roses, tar and as it opens, leather and tobacco.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity and beautifully medium dusty tannins with admittedly high alcohol. It’s got flavours of more ripe strawberry, cherry, red plum, fragrant rose petals and tar with kid glove and sweet tobacco and vanilla.  The finish is medium plus.

This wine is WSET Very Good; the alcohol is a little heavy and affects the initial balance but does blow off. Other than that it’s nicely concentrated and complex with secondary leather, tobacco and tar complementing the ripe red fruit.  The finish lingers. Went perfectly with spaghetti and fresh meat sauce.


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