The trademark of wines from Tuscany, and especially those from the region of Chianti, was once the fiasco. This straw-colored flask may carry associations of lengthy rustic meals out on the portico of a villa in the Tuscan countryside, but this romantic reverie must be interrupted with a burst of reality-- the wine in these flasks, dominated by the Sangiovese grape, wasn't very good.
This declaration isn't an indictment of Sangiovese, however. The blame doesn't lie on the grape, but rather on indifferent winemaking. And luckily, since the 1980s, the wine business in Tuscany has transformed, allowing growers to invest in high quality, low production clones. Now producers work hard to limit the vigor of Sangiovese vines, which, if left alone, can produce high quantities of fruit in the hot, dry conditions of Tuscany. In this wine-growing region, wine growers must be willing to reduce yields, if they wish to improve their wines. And before the marketplace changed, few producers were willing to sacrifice yields to make higher-quality wines that wouldn't necessarily be purchased.
Now, however, the reputation of the Sangiovese grape has dramatically improved. One trend remains consistent: Sangiovese is rarely bottled alone. In the past, white grapes were added to Sangiovese in Chianti blends. Now, this process has largely been dropped as part of an effort to produce bigger, more age-worthy reds, but varying percentages of many other red varieties are generally mixed in. Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most popular blending grape, helping to craft the wines currently known as "Super Tuscans."
As Sangiovese is a fairly delicate variety in terms of the fragrances and flavors it offers, what ends up being added makes a major difference in the final profile of the wine. Climate and altitude also influence the nature of Sangiovese-based wines; wines made in hotter, drier parts of Southern Tuscany are fleshier than wines made in Chianti and other cooler, higher areas. With lesser clones and viticulture, Sangiovese tends to produce tannic wines, without great color. The best examples are highly aromatic, fragrant wines with nicely integrated tannic structure.
If you are looking for wines that are 100% Sangiovese, your best bet are the wines from Montalcino, a pretty medieval hilltop town 25 miles south of Sienna. Here, wines are made from the Brunello grape, also known as Sangiovese Grosso, an especially high quality (and large) clone of the Sangiovese grape. These full-bodied and powerful wines, labeled Brunello di Montalcino, rank with Barolo among Italy's most-ageworthy wines. Rosso di Montalcino, also grown in the same town, is also 100% Brunello, but results in a softer, fruitier wine that requires much less aging. Reliable producers for both Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino include Altesino, Caparzo, and Val di Suga.
Sangiovese based wines, including Brunello di Montalcino, are natural partners to the classic cuisine of Tuscany: bistecca florentino, pizza margherita, and veal chops, for a few examples.