Why does Sangiovese grow best in Tuscany? Italy cultivates more than 370 wine grape varieties over 1.7 million vineyard acres, but Sangiovese, a difficult and fickle grape, seems to almost exclusively thrive amid romantic vineyards just a sling’s throw from Michelangelo’s David. Central Italy epitomizes the Mediterranean climate and that is an important factor in growing Sangiovese grapes. Tuscany’s fast-draining Galestro soil—a blend of clay and limestone—combined with a mild climate, and wide diurnal range encourage both grape ripening and acid retention, especially in vineyards along sundrenched south- and southwest-facing hills. East and south of Florence you find the Chianti and Chianti Classico regions, the latter being among the world’s most famous and oldest wine producing demarcations. Wines made here sometimes contain 100% Sangiovese grapes, but the most intriguing are balanced and blended with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and lesser-known Canaiolo Nero. Generally Sangiovese cultivated up in the hills retains more acidity than those in the valleys, so hillside wines with their red plum and cranberry flavors are often delicate and thinner than the denser, black plum and berry wines made from low-elevation Sangiovese grapes.
South of Chianti’s bucolic beauty is the hilltop village of Montalcino, home to the most prestigious 100% Sangiovese wine: Brunello di Montalcino. Here temperature ranges are more extreme than northern Tuscany and vines struggle to extract nutrients from poor soils. There are hundreds of producers here, and despite all wines being squeezed from thick-skinned Sangiovese clones adapted to altitude, the flavors and impressions vary as you explore. Young Brunello wines often have mouth-drying tannins, but are also laden with bright red cherries, strawberries and blackberries, and you’ll likely recognize espresso and licorice flavors. Softer older vintages offer less acidity and layers of baked cherries, fig, leather and chocolate notes.
Tuscany’s Sangiovese wines compliment the tartness in tomato sauce, tomato paste and most tomato dishes. In America young and robust Brunellos remain a favorite pairing with grilled steaks and roasted meats, but venturing abroad offers ample opportunities for pairing unfamiliar local wines with regional cuisine like boar sausages, handmade pastas, savory lamb dishes or elegant, uncomplicated fare like roasted mushrooms. So skip those familiar international coffee shops and tourist bars limited to multinational beers and soft drinks. Seek out small trattorias and family-owned restaurants instead. Or go straight to the source and taste wines at Banfi Castle, Castello del Nero, and Fattoria Poggio Alloro on our 11-day Under the Tuscan Sun & Down the Dalmatian Coast Cruise Tour.