Sangiovese & English

What hasn’t been written about the Sangiovese grape. A simple google search will show you that everyone who has something to say about wine has written at least once about the topic.

I originally wasn’t going to write this blog post for this very reason; there is so much information out there what could I possibly add.

However, just this past week I held my monthly wine tasting for my Italian students….Italian students learning English that is. Essentially, it’s an English language class masked as a wine tasting, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Regardless, I get to talk about wine for a hour and half to Italians in a language they don’t really understand yet about a subject that is in itself difficult to understand. Chaos and amusement ensue to say the least. In any case, the students enjoy themselves and I get to practice using my wine knowledge; the wine flows and everyone is happy.

I usually prepare a short reading then quiz for the students so that they can practice reading and learn some new vocabulary before I explain the wines we taste. Below is the reading, which is really only helpful to those who are just starting out on their wine journey. We are at the beginnings, people, of both wine and the English language, but nothing wrong with that because it’s met with genuine enthusiasm and curiosity. And, let’s not kid ourselves, thirst as well.

My students also love the fact that I taught them the 4 S’s of wine tasting, which sadly I did not come up with. I must give credit where credit is due; the 4 S’s come from The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide. I had to give them something simple, fun and easy to remember, and remember they did.

4 S’s of wine tasting –

See – Vedere; Osservare

Swirl – Roteare; Vorticare

Smell – Annusare

Sip – Sorseggiare; Assagiare

Other vocabulary that emerged from this lesson –

Bunch – Grappolo

Tannin – Tannino

Ripening – Maturazione

Harvest – Vendemmia; Vendemmiare

Barrel / cask – Botte

Clone – Clone; Varieta’

Sour – Aspro

Cherry – Ciliegia

Savory – Non dolce; Salato

Cheers! – Cincin; Salute


Sangiovese is Italy’s number one grape variety and although it is cultivated in several Italian regions, such as Umbria, Emilia-Romagna and Campania, it flourishes best in the sun-filled, dry Tuscan hills. Some of the greatest expressions of Sangiovese are from Tuscany, and so it is no wonder that this grape variety is predominantly associated with this region.

Sangiovese Vines in Chianti (photo:

History of Sangiovese

Even after much research, the origins of Sangiovese are quite difficult to understand. It is claimed that the famous grape was already well-known more than 2000 years ago when the Etruscans used it to produce wine. Even the origins of the name are uncertain and there are numerous versions of the story. There are those who claim the name comes from “San Giovanni”, others who say it comes from “uva sangiovannina” which refers to its precocious ripening, and still others who swear it comes from “Sanguis Jovis”, the “blood of Jove” in Latin.

The Sangiovese Grape

The antiquity of Sangiovese is demonstrated by the numerous varieties of this grape and there are varying statements as to how many clones actually exist. This means that over the centuries variations of Sangiovese have adapted to very different territories.

Sangiovese Grapes (photo:

There are two distinct types of Sangiovese, the Sangiovese Grosso and the Sangiovese Piccolo. Both are widely used in the most famous Tuscan red wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino (variety “Brunello”), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (variety “Prugnolo Gentile”) and Morellino di Scansano (variety “Morellino”).

The Sangiovese Profile

The Sangiovese grape is a delicate, thin-skinned grape that takes time to mature and is usually harvested in late autumn. The profile and characteristics noticeably vary according to the clone, climate, altitude, and overall territory of production. Some clones that have good success in an area of Tuscany do not produce good fruit in another, even though the areas might not be that distant.

The color is generally not very saturated and can range from ruby red to garnet in young or medium-aged wines, while taking on shades of orange after long aging. Good Sangiovese wines generally have a medium body with a good balance of acidity and tannins.

Sangiovese’s aromas are primarily oriented to red and black fruits, especially sour cherry, black cherry, blackberry and plum. While violet is its most characteristic floreal aroma, rose comes in second. Among these, the combination that characterizes Sangiovese the most is black cherry and violet but it can also exhibit bitter notes as well as tomato, oregano, and tobacco.

Sangiovese wines can age well and are frequently aged in small wooden barrels and casks. This means that aged wines might show spicy aromas of vanilla and licorice, as well as toasted notes of coffee and chocolate. Aged Sangiovese wines have a more earthy or rustic aroma and the intensity of these aromas depends, as always, on the producer’s use of casks or barrels.

Sangiovese Food Pairing

Sangiovese wines can pair with a wide range of foods because of its medium body and savory character. First dishes with a tomato base are great with a younger Sangiovese wine. Meanwhile, an aged Sangiovese wine pairs well with medium to high fatty dishes such as a filet, steak, or lamb and the high tannins in the wine complement a roast, cured sausage or hard cheese.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s