The Renaissance of Italian wine expertise is thriving – especially from a value point of view. It’s one of the happy stories during this dark recessionary period. Grapes such as Primitivo, Falanghina and Nero d’Avola are becoming familiar to wine lovers and their palates, just as Campania and Puglia aren’t merely trivia answers for map geeks.
But, what about Sangiovese? An Italian stalwart, Sangiovese might have the most worldwide recognition of any Italian red grape. It’s the primary fruit of Chianti and other Super Tuscans, and cutting-edge Italian vintners blend it with “international” varietals – and a big dose of marketing prowess – to create something for the world’s most demanding connoisseurs.
Thanks for driving up the price, youse guys.
One of the few reds that can actually be tagged with the descriptor of “bracing,” Sangiovese has a lot of forward fruit. It is often rather concentrated, even to a fault. Pairings abound with classic Italian cooking: meats and pastas that feature robust seasonings, sauces and the like.
However, exploring this ubiquitous Italian grape, only in less familiar territory – the New World – has yielded some real values. These are wines that aren’t a.) derived from insipid bulk juice and clad in straw bottles, nor b.) leveraged by savvy, back-label marketing copy about Mediterranean Sea breezes – and subsequently slapped with a $45 price tag. No, the wines listed below are ones that fly below the radar – landing in the price range that readers here might appreciate:
Friends.red Sonoma County Red Wine 2008: This is the hunk-of-cheese-and-hearty-bread red, or the hey-don’t-actually-need-any-food red wine. Sangiovese actually is one third of the blend (sharing glass time with Merlot and Zinfandel), but it’s the varietal that stands out. “People find it so smooth and drinkable,” says Emily Link of the Winnetka Wine Shop. “It’s been very popular ever since we started carrying it.” This is a fun, succulent wine. $11.
RiverAerie Sangiovese Columbia Valley 2007: This beauty is from the desert country of eastern Washington State. This interesting and overlooked terroir produces a fruit-forward Sangiovese with lots of dark fruit and spice box aromas, and concentrated black cherry flavors – a really unique expression of the grape. “This is a great wine for pairing with a well-seasoned pork roast,” says Sandeep Ghaey, owner of Vinic Wine Company in Evanston. A Christmas ham would be a good companion too, he adds. $17.
Seghesio Sangiovese 2008: From California’s Alexander Valley, the Seghesio is dry, rich and balanced, featuring a great tandem of currant and mocha, plus a pleasant finish that’s slightly smoky. Enjoy with staple Italian fare, or tender roast prime rib. $15.