Four of Italy’s most important red wines: Chianti, Chianti Classico, brunello di Montalcino, and vino nobile di Montepulciano are all made from sangiovese grapes.
Despite sharing their primary variety, each of these wines taste quite different. One reason is that Tuscany, the birthplace of all four, is a plethora of distinct mesoclimates. These are created by an endless succession of twisting, turning, undulating hills and low mountains. Another reason is that sangiovese, a finicky and demanding grape, has begotten hundreds of clones or genetic variations of itself. Over time, these variations have adapted to their local environments and taken on distinct flavor characteristics. There’s a flavor and feel to Tuscan wine that, to me, is dramatically different from wines made almost anywhere else. There’s a firmness and delicious espresso-like bitterness to the wines—the result of acidity coupled with tannin. Sangiovese is, like pinot noir, a grape relatively high in acidity. At the same time, modern winemaking methods have coaxed more color, power, and tannin from the grape. Significant acidity and tannin, when found together in the same wine, is not always easy to take. The best wines pull off the marriage. Top Tuscan wines never taste better than they do in Tuscany itself because one’s palate is usually coated in olive oil—a countermeasure against the firm, bitter bite of the wine.