Sangiovese’s long history is closely tied to that of Italy itself. To analyze Sangiovese from a historical point of view, it is necessary to consider two important elements – the myth of the origin of its name, and its typicality.
MITH. Myths are created by societies to give a particular significance to the phenomena and events they experience. The myth related to Sangiovese revolves around the origin of its name. Many hypothesis connect the name Sangiovese to blood, the symbol most closely linked to wine. Roma mythology made Jupiter a powerful God – the name “Sanguis Jovis” /Blood of Jupiter was most likely bestowed on the wine. Others connect the name to the idea that it was “good for the blood” – a belief strongly held among some traditional Tuscan families to this day.
Yet it is the Etruscans who early on make wine an integral part of their celebrations and rituals. Even though we do not have a complete understanding of the Etruscan language, we know that the word “vinum” forms part of it, as does the word “sanisva”/ father or ancestor., The latter is very similar to a dialect word used in Romagna “sanzvè” or Sangiovese. No wonder that to these days, Tuscany and Romagna argue about what should be the real birthplace of Sangiovese.
TYPICALITY. Typicality is a wide concept whose story and tradition go back more than 6000 years. It is strictly linked to the territory, the production style and to the point in time and its social context. Wine is a product with a strong typicality, and as such includes both tangible and intangible features. Consumers of wine then and now acquire more than simple tangible aspects of the wine. They often associate the drinking of wine with special occasions or rituals seeking the notion that they are enjoying quality product by which a variety of emotions can be experienced.
TYPICALITY I. Prior to 1500, there is no written mention of Sangiovese. The first to write about Sangiovese is Gioanvettorio Soderini in his book “Trattato sulla coltivazione delle viti” Firenze 1590. In his work Soderini testifies, “Sangiogheto is a juicy and full wine that never fails”. Later on, Cosimo Trinci from Pistoia in his “Agricoltore sperimentato” – Lucca 1726 – says that “San Zoveto is a grape of beautiful quality and very abundant”. Cosimo Villifranchi in his “Oenology Toscana” defines San Gioveto as the most important grape variety present in the best of Tuscan wines. While in Tuscany a few authors write about Sangiovese, in Romagna, where there is no written records, the name Sangiovese frequently appears in oral literature and performances. During the 18th century, the evidence of Sangiovese grows more abundant. Countless are the authors who consider Sangiovese the king of the Tuscan grape variety, and names such as Montalcino, Montepulciano appear as the territory of great quality. In its long history Prugnolo, Brunello and Sangiovese are studied and analyzed first as separate varieties than as having a common ancestor. It is Apelle Dei, Secretary of the Ampelographical Commission of the Siena Province, who in 1876 affirms that the three names actually refer to the same variety and that the variety is Sangiovese. In the following decades the variety, whether called Sangiovese, San Gioveto, Brunello, Prugnolo or even other names, is steadily and continuously cited everywhere, and it is in the forefront of every improvement applied to wineries and in vineyards both in Tuscany and in Romagna. It appears crystal clear that the territorial typicality of Sangiovese is linked to Tuscany and Romagna the core from which progressively moves to the neighboring regions of Marche, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lazio
TYPICALITY II. Having reviewed typicality in the context territorial origins, it is necessary to look at the one related to the vinification practices. Initially, only in Romagna, the wine is vinified as 100% Sangiovese, while in Tuscany it is blended with other varieties. Cosimo Trinci notes that the Sangiovese vinified alone is “a bit too stiff but it expresses itself much better when blended with other varieties”; Villafranchi adds that Sangiovese “gives more body to much lighter varieties”. Typically for those times, it is blended with Canaiolo, Colore, Trebbiano and Malvasia. Bettino Ricasoli, most likely the inventor of Chianti, writes in 1872 that there is a need make a perfect Chianti. His includes 7 parts of San Gioveto, 2 parts of Canaiolo and 1 part of Malvasia. More importantly, he clearly explains the beneficial aspect of every single variety in the blend – San Gioveto forms the most interesting part of the bouquet and gives vigor; Canaiolo provides amiability that softens the harshness of San Gioveto without altering the bouquet; and Malvasia lightens the taste and makes the wine ready to be drunk. From then on, Sangiovese comes to the forefront of the oenological panorama of Tuscany. Again, it is Ricasoli that gives a key boost to the quality of the wines based on Sangiovese by starting a varietal selection that highlights the best clones of the variety. Among the vine species of Italy, Sangiovese has a prominent position within the many internationally known DOC, DOCG and IGT wines. It is characterized by a great heterogeneity. It is often given a different name depending on the area where it is grown – in Montepulciano, Sangiovese is called Prugnolo and forms the base of “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano”; in Montalcino it is called Brunello as in “Brunello di Montalcino”; in Scansano, it is called Morellino as in “Morellino di Scansano“; in Carmignano, it is called “Carmignano”, but its most common name is still Sangiovese as it is in the Chianti area, Arezzo, Cortona and many other locations in Tuscany. Abroad, mainly in California and in two French departments, Sangiovese has been planted since 1990.
The origin of the most vine varieties cultivated in Europe “Vitis vinifera” is still partially unknown. As far as we know, the first attempt to cultivate vines occurred in the Caucasian region some 7000 years ago, and from there it moved to Greece and to the Mediterranean. It was only with at the time of the Roman Empire that the vines spread all over Europe. For the last 20-30 years, there have been many attempts to find a genetical origin of Sangiovese. It was only in 1996 that Vignani et al determine its monoclonal origin using the method of microcrystals to study the clones. The presence of some clones not related to the monoclonal origin makes many to believe in a polyclonal origin of the variety, an aspect confirmed by the high phenotypical variability of Sangiovese. Over the centuries, the polyclonal origin creates an ample genetical base where multiple genetic mutations and interactions with the environment significantly widen the variability. In particular, the differences noted are significant where a variety has been cultivated for long time in a territory with climatic variations. That variability is further enhanced by the selective application of different production objectives.
Today, according to the most recent data available, “IV Censimento Generale dell’Agricoltura del 1990″, Sangiovese occupies 11% of the total Italian vine-growing area. In Tuscany, the area with the highest distribution, it represents half of the regional vine-growing area. It is authorized in 16 Italian provinces, recommended in 56, and in 2 French departments of Haute Corse and Corse du Sud“. It has a significant presence in California and in France, while in other world regions like Chile, it is marginal. In Italy it represents 12,4% of DOC and DOCG wine production; it is used in the production of some 388 DOC, DOGC, IGT wines and in the composition of 182 DOC wines with a percentage varying from 15% to 100%. In Tuscany, the most prestigious wines are based on Sangiovese like Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepucliano and Morellino di Scansano. It makes a significant contribution to the production of many high quality IGT Toscana wines known as Supertuscans.
In conclusion, it appears that Sangiovese has an exceptional relevance both in Italian and in the world’s viticulture. Being initially a variety mainly cultivated in Italy, its importance has now spread even to the most recent vine-growing areas thanks to its characteristics of great value. It produces wines of very high quality, great structure and complexity even without blending it with other international varieties to enhance its aromatic spectrum.
Thanks for providing the history and origin of Sangiovese. So much to learn and so little time to learn it. Looking forward to our next visit to Tuscany…