Sangiovese By Any Other Name

By / Magazine / April 9th, 2013 / 3

The Italians don’t make things easy for wine lovers. Take Sangiovese, for example. The name derives from the Latin sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jove,” also known as Jupiter, the chief deity in Roman times. You probably know that Sangiovese is the grape of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano, all of which are produced in Tuscany. It is also prominent in the DOCG wines of Umbria’s Montefalco Sagrantino secco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva, Conero in Marche and the DOC wines of Lazio and Rosso Piceno in Marche. But here’s where it gets confusing:  there are 51 synonyms for the Sangiovese grape in Italy.

One of the most interesting of these synonyms is the poetically named Morellino di Scansano — Sangiovese grown in Tuscany’s south-western coastal region, called Maremma. The coastal plain, similar to the Camargue in southern France, used to be mosquito-infested marshland until it was drained in the Mussolini era. Now it is pastureland for the famous breed of the long-horned Maremmana cattle, which are wrangled by butteri, Italy’s only cowboys. Morellino is grown on the slopes of these rugged, low-lying hills that look nothing like the manicured hills of the Chianti Classico region between Florence and Siena. Some of the locals will tell you that the name Morellino comes from the colour of the sturdy Maremmano horses ridden by the butteri; a more plausible explanation would be that it comes from the Morello cherry, which is deep red in colour and has refreshing acidity. And if you taste Morello di Scansano, the first descriptor that comes to mind is cherries.

While the wine doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as Chianti (next to pasta and Ferraris, Chianti is the most well-known product of Italy), it’s more enjoyable to my palate because of its sweet fruitiness and softer tannins. Temperatures in Maremma can rise to 40˚C in high summer, and there is less rainfall than in Chianti. With this kind of weather Maremma can ripen Bordeaux varieties, as evidenced by its most commercially successful wines such as the Super-Tuscans, Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) and Antinori Guado al Tasso (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah).

Morellino di Scansano was granted DOC status in 1978 and raised to DOCG in 2007. Like Chianti it must be produced from at least 85 per cent Sangiovese; if blended, any black non-aromatic variety can be used — usually these will be Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.

In January I had the opportunity to tour the area and to taste a plethora of Morellino di Scansano wines in Siena, where the Enoteca Italiana was presenting the winning wines of the 10thSelezione dei Vini di Toscana — featuring the top 100 wines of Tuscany. My pick of the Morellinos were Val de Toro ‘Reviresco’ 2010, Vignaioli del Morellino di Scansano ‘Roggiano’ 2011, Fattoria di Magliano Maremma Toscana Rosso ‘Sinarra’ 2010, Alberese Pellegrone Morellino di Scansano 2008 and Azienda Agricola Castel di Pugna 2003. The latter wine is made on an ancient estate three kilometres from the centre of Siena. The owner, Conte Luigi Alberto Fumi Cambi Gado, is as traditional as his 12th-century wine cellar. The family crest is a tower in flames, commemorating a battle in 1259 when the Florentines attacked the Sienese and raised Valdipugna Castle to the ground. The Count has taken part in a project to recover and safeguard historical grape varieties that used to flourish around Siena — varieties with names like Gorgottesco, Salamanna, Occhio di Pernice and Tenerone. So there might just be additional synonyms for Sangiovese to come.



Tony Aspler has been writing about wine for over 30 years. He was the wine columnist for The Toronto Star for 21 years and has authored sixteen books on wine and food, including The Wine Atlas of Canada, Vintage Canada, The Wine Lover's Companion, The Wine Lover Cooks and Travels With My Corkscrew. Tony's latest book is Tony Aspler's Cellar Book.

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