SEE­ING RED

ITALY’S WINE RE­GIONS HAVE THEIR SPE­CIAL­ITY GRAPES, BUT ONE GRAPE UNITES THE COUN­TRY: THE MIGHTY SAN­GIOVESE

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Sangue is the Ital­ian word for blood and the ori­gin of the name of Italy’s vi­nous beat­ing heart, san­giovese, which is found grow­ing in large num­bers across much of the coun­try. And while often it is the base of generic reds, wines to wash down lo­cal dishes, at its finest, as in the great wines of Tus­cany, san­giovese is an aris­to­cratic bea­con of Ital­ian wine, and one of its finest jew­els.

For cen­turies san­giovese has been revered through­out Italy. While the grand and aris­to­cratic neb­bi­o­los of Barolo and Bar­baresco rise from a hand­ful of hill­sides close to Turin in north­west­ern Italy, and deeply flavoured prim­i­tivos and nero d’Avolas are found in the sun-drenched south, it is only san­giovese that flour­ishes na­tion­wide. Not only is the grape able to with­stand a wide va­ri­ety of cli­mates and con­di­tions, it is also a de­li­cious and food-friendly red.

San­giovese is also a chameleon. In the flat­ter and warmer south­ern cli­mates it crafts juicy, fruit-filled wines with mor­eish, savoury red fruits, often rem­i­nis­cent of red cher­ries. But travel north into its Tus­can heart­land and san­giovese’s savoury per­son­al­ity comes to the fore. Baked earth, to­bacco, Ital­ian herbs and faint char­cu­terie scents are wound up in lay­ers of dark and red cherry fruits. And de­spite their gen­eros­ity there is al­ways an acid-driven back­bone com­pli­mented by sinewy tan­nins which makes this one of the world’s great food wines, tremen­dously ver­sa­tile with a vast range of dishes and cuisines.

It is in the hills north of Siena in Tus­cany that the most fa­mous san­giovese is found: in Chi­anti. Its dis­tinc­tive black cock­erel em­blem is recog­nised through­out the world as are its juicy, bright gar­net, scented wines. Chi­anti and its pres­ti­gious sib­ling Chi­anti Clas­sico have gone through a me­ta­mor­pho­sis over the past two decades. Gone are the kitsch wicker-based bot­tles, re­placed by hearty, gen­er­ous and plea­sur­able reds, es­pe­cially in the Clas­sico zone – wines with den­sity and rich­ness of fruit but also with bright acid­ity and gen­er­ous tan­nins.

But if one wine were to rep­re­sent san­giovese at its inim­itable best, it would have to be the Brunel­los sourced from the low hills around the medieval ci­tadel of Mon­tal­cino. Perched high above the lo­cal coun­try­side, Mon­tal­cino is a stark and his­toric town – its 13th-cen­tury fortress mark­ing its strate­gic im­por­tance. While the qual­ity of wines from Chi­anti has been recog­nised for cen­turies, it is only for 150 years that Mon­tal­cino, made solely from the Brunello clone of san­giovese, has been fully ap­pre­ci­ated.

Ini­tially Brunello di Mon­tal­ci­nos were tremen­dously rare, with very few winer­ies in op­er­a­tion and ir­reg­u­lar bot­tlings – the his­toric Biondi-Santi es­tate bot­tled Brunello in only four vin­tages be­tween 1888 and the end of World War II. In the 1960s only 11 pro­duc­ers were bot­tling wines ex­clu­sively made from Mon­tal­cino. These wines were not only rare but also very dif­fer­ent from Chi­anti and al­most all other dry wines around the world due to long oak age­ing, some wines hav­ing spent up to a decade in bar­rel be­fore bot­tling. To­day Brunel­los are still an un­com­mon sight, with to­tal pro­duc­tion only a small frac­tion of Chi­anti.

Among those his­toric winer­ies is Col d’Or­cia, named after its lo­ca­tion on a hill over­look­ing the Or­cia River, which first show­cased wines at the Siena Wine Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1933 un­der its for­mer name, Fat­to­ria di Sant’An­gelo. As was com­mon at the time, the prop­erty was planted with a range of crops – wheat, olives, to­bacco and grapes. But as Brunello’s fame has grown more and more vines have been planted.

Al­though a his­toric pro­ducer in Mon­tal­cino Col d’Or­cia also has mod­ern ele­ments to its grape grow­ing and wine pro­duc­tion. Col d’Or­cia has al­ways been man­aged with a strong be­lief in pro­tect­ing the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. In 2010 this lead to the com­plete con­ver­sion of all crops on the prop­erty to or­ganic farm­ing meth­ods. And that same ded­i­ca­tion to qual­ity is also seen in the cel­lar across the range.

While in some ways pro­duc­tion is tra­di­tional with age­ing in large for­mat Slavo­nian oak, more mod­ern French Oak bar­riques are also used. Col d’Or­cia also pro­duces wines made from non-tra­di­tional Tus­can va­ri­eties such as pinot gri­gio, chardon­nay, mer­lot, caber­net and syrah for its ex­tended range. This at­ten­tion to de­tail com­bined with a foot in both mod­ern and tra­di­tional Brunello di Mon­tal­cino makes wines from this prop­erty worth seek­ing out.

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