Sangiovese, the most-planted grape in Italy and particularly famous in Tuscany, is little more than a niche wine in the Pacific Northwest. Yet many Northwest wineries are making delicious wines from the red grape, and it is gaining a following with wine lovers.
Sangiovese is the primary component in Chianti, a red wine made in Tuscany, especially the Chianti Classico region around Florence. It finds its greatest expression in the Tuscan town of Montalcino, where it makes Brunello de Montalcino, as well as the nearby hill town of Montepulciano, where it goes into the fancifully named Vino Nobile de Montepulciano.
Sangiovese tends to grow well in many climates and is prolific in its grape production -- one reason Italian winemakers love it so much. In Washington, grape growers have been planting Sangiovese since at least the early 1990s, though it has never caught on big. In 2010, just 800 tons were harvested, making it the seventh-most-popular red grape in the state.
Many Washington wineries, most notably Barnard Griffin and Maryhill, make beautiful dry roses out of the grape, thanks to the grape's naturally high acidity and bright red fruit flavors.
As one might easily guess, Sangiovese pairs well with Italian fare, especially lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza and chicken Parmesan. It also goes nicely with grilled meats and vegetables, soups (including minestrone) and stews.
While Sangiovese still remains a fairly rare grape in the Northwest, it should not be difficult to find a few examples and explore them for yourself. Just for fun, open a bottle of one of the wines below alongside a reputable Chianti Classico, such as those made by Antinori, which co-owns Col Solare (with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) on Washington's Red Mountain.
Ask your favorite wine merchant for these recently released Sangioveses or contact the wineries directly.
Le Chateau Winery 2008 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $18: It opens with very appealing nose blending fruit and oak influences, running from red cherry, currants and Crasins to chai spice, vanilla, coconut and smoky mocha. The flavors focus on the Chukar Cherry blend of chocolate and cherries, backed by more ripe cranberries, violets and chai spice.
Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2009 Wahluke Slope Vineyard Sangiovese, Wahluke Slope, $16: This friendly wine offers a greeting of cranberries, blueberry and Cinnamon Bear candy get a backing of smoky cherry, minerality and leather. The palate is loaded up front with flavors of cranberry jelly, blueberry, Van cherry and red currants.
Snake River Winery 2009 Arena Valley Vineyard Estate Sangiovese, Snake River Valley, $20: This beautiful Sangiovese opens with aromas of pomengranates, red plums, cranberries and black cherries, followed by expressive flavors of cherries, chocolate and even a hint of lime. The focus of this wine is on fruit and acidity, with tannin and oak playing mere complementary roles on the palate.
Mannina Cellars 2009 Seven Hills Vineyard Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $22: This opens with aromas that reminded us of a cherry pie that had just come out of the oven, as well as plums, cranberries and Belgian chocolate. On the palate, this wine is tightly integrated, with flavors of black licorice, red currants, cola, chocolate and a touch of oak.
Desert Wind Winery 2008 Sacagawea Vineyard Sangiovese, Wahluke Slope, $18: Chocoate-covered cranberry, fig and mint tones carry spiciness from a year in American oak and bring along zesty acidity for this food-friendly wine from estate fruit.
Airfield Estates 2009 Estate Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $28: Lush strawberry jam, black cherry, chocolate-covered raspberry and cinnamon aromas don't mislead on the flavor profile. The structure shows lots of extraction, richness and barrel influence as the tannins muscle through the acidity. Hints of crushed leaf should add to its ability to pair with a bowl of minestrone or osso bucco. This wine is available only at the winery.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.