What constitutes an alternative or emerging variety? The short answer is: It’s defined by what it’s not. The Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show states… “Wines or blends made primarily from [insert list of well known grapes]… are NOT eligible” You get the gist.
Varieties such as pinot gris and prosecco (glera) have appeared, emerged and graduated from the show. Due to their popularity, they are no longer considered “alternative”. Sangiovese on the other hand, has appeared, emerged and, in Australia at least, remains alternative. In Europe it’s a different story.
Sangiovese is the most planted grape variety in Italy, and while it produces its fair share of pale, thin weedy reds, it is also considered capable of producing the greatest. Most significantly in the warm sunny uplands of Tuscany, chianti classico and Brunello di Montalicino represent the very best terroirs.
In Australia, the first commercial plantings were in McLaren Vale in the 1980s. It is now planted in just over half of our GIs (the technical term for regions), but with only 5,043 tonnes crushed in 2021, that’s only around one quarter of one per cent of Australia’s two million tonne total crush.
So why, when you’re faced with your next wine choice should you give sangiovese a chance?
In short, it can be beautiful and profound. It also offers extraordinary value.
Sangiovese is brimming with flavour, most famously cherries, but also other red berries, dried herbs and salumi. It has the acid-line and freshness of pinot, and boy do you have to pay some dollars to get good pinot. Perhaps most appealing of all is sangiovese’s reassuring grippy mouthfeel (structural tannins), like cabernet sauvignon, only finer and more lacy.
A side note, on tannins , the wonderful grippy compounds extracted from grape skins. Those new to wines can sometimes find these complex, drying, occasionally astringent compounds challenging. But, with time, most learn to love the myriad textural sensations tannins provide. Italian vareties, in particular, have an abundance. If at first you find a red wine too tannic, try it with food, something savoury, preferably salted protein. It can do wonders.
My recent experiences with Australian sangiovese have all been positive. While other varieties steal the limelight, as a variety, sangiovese is quietly coming of age. These three examples are all varietally correct and smartly made. They show their Italian heritage with some added Aussie personality, plushness and generosity in the mid-palate.
Perhaps sangiovese in Australia is just meant to be a fringe dweller. After all, The Alternative Varieties Show, at its inception, was officially known by another name … The Sangiovese Awards.
Tar & Roses 2021 sangiovese, Central Victoria $25
A medium-bodied, neat, well-crafted and moreish dry red. Classically styled sangiovese with tightly woven earthy tannins and precise acid tension to match. The aromatics are generous and smile-inducing. Red and black cherries, red liquorice with a touch of oregano and graphite. A tight and compact package with an impeccable balance of fruit and savoury. 91/100
Frederick Stevenson 2021 sangiovese, Adelaide Hills, SA $38
Packed with character and energy. Deep purple shades, gives hints of the acid festival to follow. This wine truly expresses itself after some airing. Only then, was the full flavour spectrum revealed: high-tone sour red cherry, redcurrant and cranberry, with a hint of cured meat and coffee grounds. This is a slippery, glossy, seamless experience to taste. Tannins are super-fine, and packed with mineral graphite. There’s plenty of mouthwatering and long flavours. Tiny quantities are available in Perth, sold out online. 93/100
South by South West 2021 Super Margs, Margaret River, WA $50
Named after the Super-Tuscan style, where cabernet and other French varieties are blended with sangiovese, young gun winemaker Liv Maiorana has made a deeply charismatic wine. The combination of her best barrels of sangiovese and low yielding cabernet (plus merlot and cabernet franc), yields an angular and multi-dimensional journey of a wine. It changes constantly in the hours after opening. Full but not big. Textured and compelling, ripe and front-loaded with mulberry, blackberry, fennel, clove and black tea. Dry and herbal to finish. 94/100