Sangiovese – the Australian grape ‘also-ran’
(I wrote this article for a print column late last year. Interested to hear if you agree)
Do you know what one of the greatest things about making wine in Australia is?
We can grow any grape variety anywhere.
That may sounds silly but in the classic wine regions of Europe, where regulation dictates what can be grown where (and how), the freedom to plant whatever you please is a real luxury.
What’s more, in Australia there’s a genuine sense of admiration when a winemaker can produce a whole fruit salad of different wine varieties from just one vineyard, with a focus on just a few grape varieties sometimes seen as a commercial hindrance than a specialisation.
There are some grapes, however, that just don’t seem to ‘work’ locally. Grapes that, like Indian cricketers, just don’t perform as well away from home…
In Sangiovese’s home nation, Italy, it grows like a weed, with some 10% of all vineyards thought to be planted to the grape. In the rolling hills of Tuscany, home of such famous wines as Brunello and Chianti , Sangiovese is king, regarded as the ‘noble grape’.
Yet in Australia, Sangiovese is an also-ran. Aside from a handful of top makers Sangiovese rarely rises above mediocrity.
Admittedly, we have (relatively) little experience with this capricious grape, as the oldest Australian plantings are less than forty years old. But then again, we’re making pretty handy Chardonnay in Australia and it hasn’t been planted locally for much longer…
So what is it? According to Mark Lloyd of Coriole some of the problems centre on genetics, with many old Australian vineyards planted to inferior clones. He also thinks that ‘Sangio’ is a tricky variety to grow, known more for big bunches and lots of variation – as hard to get right as notoriously fickle Pinot Noir.
But maybe the problem is not with Sangiovese, but with us? I mean, we’re so used to drinking full and luscious Shiraz and Cabernet that when presented with the savoury, medium bodied flavours of Sangiovese (which really needs food to show its best), maybe we just don’t know what to do?
Still, if you do think more savoury, dry and mid-weight reds could be to your liking, there are a few Aussie Sangiovese out there that impress – wines like the Coriole Sangiovese (RRP $25) for one, which shows a helluva lot of varietal flavour for relatively few dollars. Ditto the Greenstone Rosso di Colbo Sangiovese ($28) which is juicy enough to tempt even the most jaded Sangiovese non-fan.
Finally, if all that isn’t ringing your bell try the Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($139) which is one of the most beautiful Sangiovese I’ve tried in a long time from one of the more special Sangiovese sites in the world.
If only all the Sangiovese tasted like that.