Lookin' Good at 58

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I bought a bottle of Chianti Classico a few days ago so this week why not talk about a grape variety where , except for a few plantings in California where the finished product is varily expensive and Argentina who are experimenting with it as well , Italy is it's home.

At least one time in our lives as wine drinkers we have tried a glass of Chianti. The times I have tried Chianti has been a hit or miss which comes from the fact that there are really good ones out there and some real bad ones. The trick with Chianti is check who makes it , if it is from Antinori or Peppoli you are on the right track.

Sangiovese is a grape that has many clones out there all due to the fact that the vitner has been experimenting with this difficult grape trying to see if they can get a wine that will contain 100% Sangiovese. Most Chiantis are allowed to have some Cabernet Sauvignon added to the mix to add some weight , longevity , and bouquet to the finished product. Cheaper Chianti has some Italian native white wine grapes added to it like Trebbiano or Malvasia. Sangiovese is a grape whose colour fades quickly due to lack of pigment caused by it's thin skin. It's rim develops an orange colour quickly which is one of trademarks of this grape. Hence , the addition of Cab.

Before I go further I will tell the story of how the Super Tuscan wines evolved. The DOC which is like the Appelation Controlee in France had strict guidelines as to what grapes could be used. No grapes not native to Italy could be used. Native grape varieties as mentioned above with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon were only allowed. The only way to get around this was to make a wine that was granted a lesser status than DOC and that was Vini da Tavola or translated , plain table wine.

Antinori picked up on this and decided to blend the Bordeaux variety Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese during fermentation. He added 20% Cab and called the wine Tignanello and sold it as a vini da tavola. It became so popular it outsold many wines granted the coveted DOC label. Other wines then were adding some Cabernet to the Sangiovese grape and this resulted in lesser classified wines under the table wine label to outsell the higher ranked wines. The outcome was a big embarassment to the Italian wine regulators so they had to make a new classification to include this group of Super Tuscans in. This status was the IGT category. Along with DOC there is a higher one called the DOCG ranking. So it is all confusing isn't it?

However I digress, back to Sangiovese. There are two major clones of Sangiovese. One being Sangiovese Grosso that is used in Brunello di Montalcino which is the more fuller bodied wine and the lesser quality one , Sangiovese Piccolo.

The grape is late ripening so it needs a long growing season which is why you will never see this grape in North America unless it is California. It is very resistant to diseases but in wet times can be prone to rot. It needs a lot of sun.

The best soil upon which it grows in Tuscany is locally called galestro which is a rock and schist combination. Other soils are of gravel , limestone , and clay predominate elsewhere. Sangiovese needs warmth and these soils are the best for retaining heat.

Wines with up to 100% Sangiovese are aged in new oak barrels where you have less oxidation effect on the wine. Some Chianti Classico Riserva wines are aged in this fashion.

How a good Chianti is produced is you need a dry long growing season first of all. Or the wine becomes too light coloured , the sugars never reach their maximum and as it has a relatively high acidity and quite tannic the wine becomes very astringent.

After fermentation , Sangiovese is subject to prolong maceration to extract as much colour and pigment as possible. So you see why Cabernet , Merlot , or Colorino is added to a Sangiovese wine.

The trademark on the nose you will not find with any other wine are tea leaves. Also you may be able to detect some sour cherry and wet straw in Chianti. Violets and spice are others.

Foods that match well with Chianti are grilled and roasted meats with a herb element added to them. Wild boar , hare , and game birds are some of the dishes that will go good with a Chianti Classico.

This is a brief post on Sangiovese. I will not exacerbate you the reader with more details but it is a subject that is not easy to understand. Just remember that this grape is becoming more and more drinkable without all the other grapes due to the winemakers introducing new techniques.

A big difference from 30 years ago when Chianti was just a bulk wine , astringent , full of acid and not very drinkable. Nowadays you see more fruit , smoothness , and round feeling in the mouth so that it is much more palatable and enjoyable for the consumer. You are now finding a balance between it's high acidity and tannin adding to a nice finish in the mouth.

I hope I have been of some help in understanding this difficult grape........

Till next Thursday when I will talk of another grape variety , take care wine lovers and check for the sour cherry and tea leaves when you take in the bouquet of a Chianti.


Manuel said...

yeah......but Italian wine is so ropey it's not true.....almost apart from their fantastic sparkling stuff like their proseccos and what have you....

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

The reason why Cab is added to Sangiovese.It gives it some body , bouquet , and longevity. Remember the old days with the Chianti in a wicker.That was pretty horrid stuff.Real empty on the palate and it slid down the middle of the throat with some harshness.They have improved since.Prosecco is nice you're right.The whites can be easily forgotten.Orvietto , Soave etc. all pretty neutral whites. Pinot Grigio pretty good though.

MikeTheWaiterDotCom said...

steven, just got this thursday post today via google alerts... i must have forgotten ... yes tignanello is always a great wine to bring when asked for a suggestion.... it's expensive, but people love it. didn't know about the 20% cab.... but that's why we all love the thursday posts!
peace, mtw

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

Mike...you know when someone orders a Tig you will be tipped well.Next week will be another one.Thanks for checking in.