Sangiovese, Italy’s most-planted grape variety, is gaining a toehold with Washington winemakers.
The red grape, most famous in Italy’s Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Montalcino regions, will never be a major variety in Washington, but it is the state’s sixth-most-important red variety, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Last fall, Washington winemakers crushed 1,300 tons of Sangiovese, up from just 500 tons as recently as 2004.
That’s enough to produce about 75,000 cases of wine — a tiny amount of Washington’s 12 million cases of annual production. Additionally, a lot of Sangiovese is used to craft some of the country’s best rosé (with Barnard Griffin’s Rosé of Sangiovese being one of the prime examples). And a fair bit goes into red blends, often wines that emulate Italy’s famed Super Tuscan wines.
Sangiovese’s name comes from “blood of Jove” — a name for the Roman god Jupiter. The grape is prolific, often able to produce prodigious amounts of fruit, which is one reason the Italians love the variety so much. At its best, Sangiovese reveals aromas and flavors of high-toned red fruit such as cherry, strawberry, pomegranate and cranberry and is backed with bright acidity. With this combination, it’s easy to imagine enjoying Sangiovese with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs or a hearty helping of lasagna.
Here are a few examples of Washington Sangiovese we’ve tasted recently. As you can imagine, all are made in small amounts, so ask for these at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
•Capstone Cellars 2009 Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese: Yakima Valley farmer Dick Boushey began planting his vineyards in 1980, and while he’s become famous for Rhône grapes, he’s also been willing to work with small customers such as this one in Longview on other varieties. This example of the iconic Italian grape creates aromas of black plum, cherry, strawberry soda, fig and crushed herbs. There’s a bright red cherry greeting on the entry, backed by mild tannins and solid acidity that combine to create plush roundness and length.
• Bunnell Wine O’Clock 2010 Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese: One of the joys of Washington wine country is pairing Wine O’Clock cuisine in Prosser and Ron Bunnell’s winemaking with fruit from nearby growers such as Boushey. Here’s a delicious example that starts with aromas of spicy oak and untempered chocolate wafting over strawberry, black cherry, raspberry and rose petals. Fresh-fruit flavors dominate the racy drink as plump cranberries, red currant, rich cherry and pomegranate keep the tannins pushed way into the background. Their line of screwcapped wines are bottled in Eco-Glass, which uses 25 percent less glass than most wine bottles, Susan Bunnell pairs her husband’s Sangio with her Viva Italia artisan pizza at their family bistro and adjacent Bunnell Family Cellar tasting room.
• Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.