Sangiovese — A Guide to the Basics

Without it, there would be no Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Sangiovese grapes at harvest
Photo: Andrea Federici / Shutterstock

Sangiovese is one of the most important grape varieties in Italy. This is not an overstatement: It forms the backbone of Chianti, which can include other varieties but is dominated by Sangiovese. Brunello di Montalcino is entirely Sangiovese by law (and more often than not a clone of the variety called Sangiovese Grosso). And Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is synonymous with, you guessed it, Sangiovese. It also shows up in other wines throughout Italy — it's the most widely planted variety in the entire country — though Tuscany is its center of gravity. It's also grown in other countries around the world, but those expressions of Sangiovese generally don't get the same attention as the grape's Italian incarnation.

What is Sangiovese Wine?

Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy, though given the naming conventions of Italian wines, it's unlikely that you'll find a bottle labeled as such. Rather, you'll have to know beforehand that Sangiovese is the dominant grape variety in Chianti blends and the only one permitted in Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Outside of Italy, Sangiovese has some success in parts of Australia, particularly McLaren Vale, and in Oregon, Arizona, and pockets of California. Sangiovese is, however, primarily grown throughout Italy.

Where Does Sangiovese Wine Come From?

In Italy, Sangiovese's proverbial home is Tuscany. There, it is most famously employed in what might be called the Big Three of Tuscan reds: Chianti, where by law it must comprise at least 70% of the blend for the Chianti and 80% for the more location-specific Chianti Classico. In Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese comprises the entire wine. If you can, it's well worth looking for a bottle of Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino; the iconic producer was the first to make it under that name back in the 1800s. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also entirely Sangiovese, and the reds of Montecucco and Morellino di Scansano, also in Tuscany, express other, equally transporting sides of this varietal.

Many Super-Tuscan reds include or rely on Sangiovese. Tignanello, for example, is based on Sangiovese, which is then blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, whereas Solaia reverses that, leaning primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon that's supplemented with Cab Franc and Sangiovese. Interestingly, not all Super-Tuscans employ Sangiovese: Le Macchiole focuses entirely on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah for their monovarietal reds, and Ornellaia doesn't use it at all in their blends.

Outside of Tuscany, Sangiovese is typically used to blend with other local grape varieties, often lending them acidity, distinct cherry or plum fruit, and the kind of leather bass notes and violet-like lift that the variety is famous for.

Why Should You Drink Sangiovese Wine?

Because of its history and deep ties to the country and Tuscany in particular, Sangiovese offers a uniquely enlightening and delicious lens through which to see the particular places where it's grown and vinified. Nebbiolo, and its sole role in Barolo and Barbaresco, plays a comparable, albeit more regionally limited, role.

In Chianti, for example, since it dominates the blend, Sangiovese expresses the differences in terroir with particular aplomb. And in Montalcino, variations in micro-climate, soil, underlying geology, aspect, and more are manifested in the wines without the complicating factor of any other grape varieties.

Beyond that, Sangiovese simply produces delicious wines. They tend to be food-friendly with their elevated acidity and assertive tannins, and partner brilliantly with a wide range of foods, not just Italian. However, to ignore the great Sangiovese-based pairings of the Italian and Italian-American food worlds would be to miss out on some of the greatest pleasures to be had at the table: Brunello di Montalcino with bistecca alla Fiorentina can be wonderful, and the tried-and-true pairing of Chianti with pasta in long-simmered tomato sauce with sausage or meatballs is reliably terrific and comforting.

Importantly, Sangiovese can be found for prices that are well suited to casually popping the cork or to carefully placing on a shelf in a temperature-controlled cellar. There is a Sangiovese, in other words, for every taste and budget.

What Does Sangiovese Taste Like?

Sangiovese generally boasts elevated acidity and assertive tannins, flavors of cherries, herbs like sage and rosemary, savory notes of leather and tobacco, and in riper vintages, plums. Some Sangiovese also contribute hints of violets. And as it ages, Sangiovese can evolve notes of blood oranges and bay leaves. Of course, Sangiovese will showcase different flavors and aromas depending on where it's grown and what it's blended with, if anything.

Sangiovese is best enjoyed with just the slightest chill; a 15-minute rest in the fridge should do the trick. And it will shine most brightly from a Cabernet Sauvignon-style or universal wine glass. Often, a stint in the decanter — however brief — will help soften the tannins and allow the fruit to shine through more vividly. If you don't have a decanter, or if you don't want to create more dishes to wash, then vigorous swirling in the glass should work well, too.

Five Great Sangiovese Wines

There are countless great Sangiovese wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Sangiovese has to offer.

Castiglion del Bosco

It's a gorgeous property, golf course, and wine estate that's worth visiting if you're in the area. And the 2016 Millecento 1100 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is a great example of what they do so well here: The nose is a textbook evocation of Tuscany, with tobacco leaf, leather, brambly berries, scrubby Mediterranean herbs, and mineral as well as a dried violet lift. On the palate, this is gorgeously structured, with classic Brunello tannins that are sweet and ripe yet also assertive and licorice-flavored. Notes of lavender, violets, cedar, dark cherries, and cherry pits roll along the woodsy spices and baseball-mitt leather on the finish. Cocoa powder, espresso beans, and torrefaction flavors frame it all.

Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2016

This is gorgeous right now, with impeccably integrating oak, sweet, woodsy spices, and a bresaola character to the red cherries, brambly berries, allspice, star anise, cocoa powder, hazelnuts, and green olives.


From the family that is credited with the creation of the Chianti "recipe," and now helmed by the charming, forward-thinking, and indefatigable Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd Baron of Brolio, the single-vineyard Chianti Classico Gran Selezione bottlings are a must taste. The 2018 Colledilà in particular shows how profound 100% Sangiovese can be…although the other two, CeniPrimo and Roncione, are excellent as well.

Tenuta di Arceno

From vigneron Pierre Seillan, who was born in France, and winemaker Lawrence Cronin, who's from the United States, Tenuta di Arceno, which is part of the Jackson Family portfolio, shows how a truly international team can produce a wine that profoundly speaks to its Tuscan origins. The 2018 Chianti Classico Riserva is particularly exciting, with tart black and red cherries, leather, and violets ringing through the vibrant and mouthwatering finish. The 2018 Strada al Sasso Gran Selezione is also phenomenal, a more sweetly fruited and generous — yet still very age-worthy — expression of Chianti Classico.

Tenua di Lilliano

The 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva "Ruspoli" is a delicious example of a wine that finds an excellent sense of balance between ripe plum fruit, hoisin sauce, and a core of umami, with plenty of energy and the kind of fine-grained tannins that will allow it to pair with a range of foods. Don't be afraid to open this with sauce-glazed and barbecued ribs: It'll sing.

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