I have recently read a number of comments on the Internet about Sangiovese, and how it can’t make dark-colored wines with ripe tannins and full body. But it just isn’t true.
Sangiovese can and does make wines with a depth of color, fruit and tannins, and anyone who says it can’t just doesn’t know what they are talking about. Everything from new vineyard plantings and clonal selections to rotary fermentation tanks and micro-oxygenation has led many Tuscany producers to make deeper, darker and better Sangioveses.
For example, one of my top wines of the year from Italy, so far, is a pure Sangiovese from the hills outside of Florence – the 2006 Bibi Graetz Testamatta. Here is the tasting note: "Offers beautiful blackberry, coffee bean and chocolate aromas with toasted oak undertones. Full-bodied. with supervelvety tannins and a follow-through that lasts for minutes. There's so much milk chocolate and fruity character on the finish. This is so layered and mind blowing. A fabulous pure Sangivoese. Shows the great quality of the vintage. 98 points."
“What’s impressive about the 2006 Testament is that it has such structure and richness with Sangiovese,” says Bibi, the 30-ish winemaker and creator of the wine. His first vintage was in 2001.
Graetz achieves the concentration primarily in the vineyard. He uses mostly old vines and keeps grape yields down to a minimum, usually much less than a kilo per vine. This means that what is left on the vine ripens to the best possible levels and contains a serious concentration of flavor components as well as polyphenolic compounds, to ensure rich tannins and dark colors. Moreover, his winemaking is equally hands-on, with fermentations done in small open-top wood vats, caps pushed down by hand, and finished wine aged in well-selected new French oak barrels. It’s a combination of details followed at the highest level in both the vineyard and cellar.
There are numerous other Tuscan producers achieving similar levels of quality through such methodology, including both small and large wineries in just about every major winemaking area. The proof is already in the bottle and barrel, especially with the two excellent 2007 and 2006 vintages.
Still, there are disbelievers. They say that any Sangiovese that’s rich and structured can’t be pure and they are most likely blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. I am not saying that this doesn’t happen in Tuscany. And we all know that many producers legally add French varietals to their Sangioveses, whether in Chianti Classico or making an IGT. But it isn’t necessary, if Sangiovese is grown and produced properly.
“Why would I want ruin a perfectly good Sangiovese with Cabernet or Merlot?” asks Bibi.
Of course, he’s being humorous. But he has a point, too. That’s why Brunello should be pure Sangiovese, in my opinion. But that’s another debate.
This all sort of reminds me of Burgundy in the 1980s, when a number of young wine producers began reducing grape yields with their Pinot Noir and using such techniques as cold maceration of the grapes before the fermentation, among other things, to achieve darker colors and firmer tannins. At the time, some critics said that their wines were “atypical” even “adulterated.”
But times have changed and dark-colored red Burgundy is now more than accepted -- it's even preferred by many. The same is true with Sangiovese from Tuscany. It's just that a few of the vocal minority haven’t figured it out yet.