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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What's the deal with Sangiovese from California?
—Joe, Hamilton, N.J.
Sangiovese has a funny history in California. As I’ve written before, Italian immigrants were the first to plant Sangiovese in California, in the late 19th century. In the 1980s, there was a small movement to make California wines from Italian grape varieties, and it even had a cute nickname, “Cal-Ital.” But it never took off. Italian-style wines from the Golden State lacked the charm of their counterparts from Tuscany, Chianti, Montepulciano and others. There are only about 1,500 acres of Sangiovese in California these days (compared to more than 85,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon).
I’m still rooting for Sangiovese in California. I’ve seen it most successfully used in blends, where it can add an appealing juicy red fruit quality, especially in Cabernet-based examples. There are also some really charming dry rosés made with Sangiovese. I think one of the mistakes of the Cal-Ital movement's Sangiovese efforts was over-oaking the wines, which drowned out their character.
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