It all Started with a Grape
Sangiovese is a dark-berried vine and the most widely-planted grape variety in Italy. It is synonymous with the red wines of Tuscany and some of the greatest names in Italian fine wine. During the 1980s the quality of Sangiovese was notoriously variable, however drastically improved winemaking techniques saw a significant shift toward more quality-orientated wines.
Sangiovese has numerous clones and is consequently known by many synonyms in its native Italy.
Colloquial names for Sangiovese include: Nielluccio, Sangioveto, Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Brunello, Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino.
Sangiovese is prized for its high acid, firm tannins and longevity. Savoury, gamey flavours alongside dark cherries and black stone fruit are classic feature and are often backed by evocative notes of dried Mediterranean herbs. The use of French oak rather than old Slovenian botte (very large barrels) has become more popular and this adds richer flavours and more prominent toasty oak characters.
All clones of Sangiovese are relatively slow ripening and perfectly suited to the largely warm, Mediterranean climate of Tuscany, which results in an extended growing season and rich, strong, longer-lived wines. Sangiovese grows well on most soils but reaches its peak when planted in areas of high limestone content which seems to bring out his elegance and dramatic aromas. That being said, excellent examples of the grape can come from areas of clay-heavy soils which add richness and power alongside the characteristic elegance.
Montalcino: The Purest Sangiovese
Montalcino is a small village perched amongst the Tuscan hills, 500m above sea level. Located in the region of Siena, this village was the first, with Barolo (Piedmont), to be awarded a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) in 1980, for its eponymous 'Brunello' and 'Rosso' di Montalcino.
View on Montalcino from the Sesti vinyards
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
As a wine this dates back to the 14th century, however, it wasn't until 1870 that it took its recognisable form as the 100% Sangiovese ‘Brunello’, emerging out of the clayey and sandy soils of Montalcino. This expression of terroir would not have happened without the vision of Feruccio Biondi-Santi. His influence upon modern winemaking in the region started at his winery were he experimented with separate vinification of grape varieties. He became famed for his lighter, fruiter pure Sangiovese wines.
As time went on the reputation of Montalcino grew and by the end of World War II it was considered Italy’s finest wine. Until the mid-1950’s, Biondi-Santi was the only commercial producer of Brunello, declaring only 1888, 1891, 1925, 1945, as released vintages. This pushed local producers (11 at the time) to establish a “new” style.
Modern Brunello follow a strict winemaking process. The vines must be planted around the village, at altitudes not surpassing 600m. The grapes are largely confined to the northern and south-western slopes, with a unique style in each. Northern grapes are typically lighter and more elegant due to cooling breezes whilst the South are more robust and ripe.
Prior to commercial release the wine must be aged for at least two years in oak, and at least four months in bottle, with a minimum total ageing of 48 months. Brunello remains a fine wine with the longest required ageing time globally.
Brunello di Montalcino received DOCG status in July 1980 and today there are over 200 producers.
What started as neighbourly help assisting in the nearby vineyards and wineries soon led Giuseppe Sesti to discovering his own passion and talent for winemaking...
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Rosso di Montalcino DOC
Considered by most as the little brother of Brunello, created in 1984, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata Rosso di Montalcino rises in the same geographical area as Brunello. It was created so producers that were not satisfied by the Brunellos could declassify them and release them earlier to keep up cash flow, whilst the DOCG aged.
Since he took over the family estate in 1988, Giancarlo Pacenti has climbed to the pinnacle of Brunello’s most esteemed producers with his modern and perfectionist approach to making Brunello di Montalcino...
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Montepulciano: The "Noble" Sangiovese
Montepulciano is a town south of Siena on the hills east of Montalcino. It is home to two appellations, Rosso di Montepulciano DOC and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Both have a long history dating back to the 16th century, when they were mentioned by Pope Paull III. Unfortunately Montepulciano wines were labelled as Chianti during the 19th century which caused much damage to their reputation. The wine regulations of the 1960s heralded a comeback for Vino Nobile which is continuing to this day.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG
The name “Vino Nobile” comes from the words of Adamo Fanetti, a local Montepulciano producer who in 1925 labelled his wine “Noble”.
In order to be labelled Vino Nobile the grapes must come from the vineyards surrounding the village of Montepulciano. Vino Nobile must be made from at least 60-80% Prugnolo Gentile (the local name for Sangiovese), which can be blended with local varieties such as Canaiolo (10-20%) as well as other international varieties.
The wine must then follow an ageing period of 24 months (36 months for the Riserva), 12 of which are spent in Italian oak botti. These barrels are used for their slow, controlled maturation. In 1966, Vino Nobile received the DOC appellation, before being awarded the DOCG appellation in 1980.
The Capoverso vineyards
Rosso di Montepulciano DOC
The Rosso di Montepulciano DOC was created in 1989. Like its older brother, the Rosso must be made from grapes grown around Montepulciano. There are two major differences however - the Rosso only requires 6 months of ageing and can be made from only 70% Prugnolo Gentile.
The two classifications enable producers to choose where they intend their fruit to end up, taking into account factors of vineyard site and vintage.
Capoverso, which literally means 'new beginning', is a tiny estate outside Montepulciano...
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Chianti: The Homeland
Chianti is the oldest and first “appellation” in the world, defined in 1716 by Cosimo Medici III. This limited the villages of Radda, Gaiole, Castellina, and Greve to making Chianti.
In 1872 Barone Ricasoli, from his castle of Brolio, would set about distinguishing two different types of Chianti. The first a simple, easy and young drinking wine. The second, intended to be cellar aged, was more subtle and complex.
Chianti Classico DOCG
In 1975, the Antinori estate started to make Chianti’s with large amounts of Sangiovese and small amounts of Cabernet, contradicting the DOC laws of 1963 which called for indigenous variety blending and no international varieties. The backlash promoted the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG in 1984, which meant that vignerons are required by law to have a minimum of 80% Sangiovese in their blends.
Chianti vineyards grow between altitudes of 250-500m. In order to make Chianti Classico, producers are allowed to release the wine after 1st October in the year following the harvest. Riservas have to age 24 months before release and 3 of those must be in bottle.
High in the hills in prime location in the Chianti Classico municipalities of Greve, Panzano, Radda and Gaiole, this is a stunning estate...
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Scansano The Forgotten
The village of Scansano is situated south-west of Siena toward the coast. and the wines are produced around the coastal hills of the medieval village. Scansano viticultural history has been documented for centuries, dating back to the Etruscan times.
Morellino di Scansano DOCG
The name is a combination of the geographical area Scansano, and the local grape variety 'Morellino', which is actually the local nickname for Tuscany’s finest, Sangiovese. This is a very particular DOCG, because it does not require any minimum ageing, so it can be released in March after the harvest. Morellino di Scansano has to be made from at least 85% Sangiovese (or Morellino) and in order to receive the Riserva label, the wine has to go through at two years of maturation, one of which is in oak.
Scansano vines grow on volcanic soils and benefit from a south-western orientation, as well as a coastal climate. This results in a very different style of Sangiovese which has higher ripeness levels and is plumper and more vivacious.
Fattoria le Pupille
Fattoria le Pupille is undoubtedly the leader of the Morellino di Scansano and one of Maremma's finest estates...
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Fattoria Le Pupille's vineyards