Brunello, Nobile, Chianti… are not just Sangiovese

by Riccardo Viscardi 03/20/23
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Even if everyone now is, rightfully, talking about territories, many wine critics appear to forget, when evaluating a wine, that the same varietal changes based on the area where it is grown and thus the parameters used for evaluation should also change.

There is a lot of talk about zones, subzones and vineyards and other similar concepts only to then read many articles and evaluations regarding the varietal or, even worse, the personal interpretations of that grape that are transposed in every territory in a self-referential way that borders on the ridiculous.

The region that suffers most from this is Tuscany where Sangiovese is by far the most widespread grape with many DOCG appellations. Our ancestors were far ahead of us when they referred to Sangiovese by its local names (Prugnolo Gentile in Montepulciano, Brunello in Montalcino and Morellino in Scansano are the best-known and classic examples and thus avoided any confusion. At the time, Sangiovese was then only used in reference to wines from Romagna and nothing else.

In the distant past blending was the tradition in Tuscany, Chianti being the prime example but this was also the case in Montalcino, until Biondi Santi opted for making a single-grape, Brunello-Sangiovese wine. Over the past few decades we have seen a trend of blending grapes in the region like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, which ran against tradition but increased exports abroad. Then came the phenomena of the Super Tuscans that included some single-grape Sangiovese wines other than from the Brunello (spot-on intuition) zone. All were excellent ideas, certainly successful, but which had an eye more on the market than the territory.

More recently, changes to various production norms increased the possibility of using Sangiovese alone, which opened the door to a problem of territorial identity being badly interpreted by, we must admit, certain wine critics, alas Italian ones. One cannot and should not bend the territory to their vision of Sangiovese based on the logic of “I like Sangiovese to be this way and thus all those that come close to my vision are good and the others are not”. This is because it is a self-referential and dangerous vision for Italian producers and, above all, the amazing territories where the wines are produced.

We should be grateful that this varietal “feels” the many territorial differences it grows in. I believe that the proper approach should be to highlight the structural differences of a wine that are due to the territory it is made in. We should not forget that the classical differences (perhaps simple) have always existed: the acidity and elegance of Chianti Classico; the tannins and austerity of Nobile di Montepulciano; the denseness and boldness of Brunello di Montalcino; the warmth and sunniness of Morellino di Scansano. These simple differences must remain unchanged to best underscore, as they have always done, the areas they are produced in. And should a wine – even a very good one – dangerously border and overlap with another appellation, thus losing the intrinsic characteristics of the area, it should not be considered a reference point nor even worthy of representing that zone. If we do not rigorously respect the simple taste differences between the appellations we will kill the concept of territory and not provide proper information because this will create confusion for the consumer, who is the most precious asset the world of wine possesses.

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