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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sangiovese: Not popular in the US, never will be

Okay, if I'm wrong on this prediction in 50 years you can sue me!  

It's quite popular in Italy, of course, but Americans think it's yucky.   Why is that?

One, it's kind of hard to pronounce, but so are other varieties.  I tell folks if you "talk with your arms" Italian-style while saying "san-jee-oh-VAY-zee" it just rolls off the tongue.

The biggest problem is the acidity of the wine.   All wines have it, but many of the most popular are soft (low acid) wines.   That's why Chardonnay sells more than Sauvignon Blanc.   The high acid in Sangiovese can come across as "bright," "tart," or "bitter."   It depends on the wine and it depends on the individual.   Some people seem to be more sensitive to the acid.

Why do the Italians seem to love it then?    Because they eat a lot of high acid tomato-based foods.    Pastas, pizza, grilled meat with BBQ sauces, and the like are great matches for Sangiovese.   Of course, people will sample their first Sangiovese in a tasting room or at home without food first and will go, "Yuck, where's the Merlot?"

Sangi is one of those grapes that works well in blends as the Italians make it.   California has a hard time with blending, but that's a subject for another time.   If Sangiovese is to catch on in this country it'll be because it's blended.   Italian Chianti is mostly Sangi with a couple other obscure (to us) grapes blended in.   Super Tuscans are a fairly new idea of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.   It seems Sangi might be a natural for blending with Zinfandel, but you never see it (at least I haven't).

In California, Sangiovese grows well in parts of Sonoma and Napa, but seems to do best in the Sierra Foothills such as in Amador County.    I believe CA is still trying to figure out where and how to grow Sangi.

Sangiovese also makes a nice dry rosé wine usually called Rosato di Sangiovese.

Ferrari-Carano's Siena and Viansa's Thalia, both blends, are a couple you might want to look for.  If you want a nice, cheap one try Pedroncelli. From Napa I love the Benessere Sangiovese. Remember to have it with a hearty meal!