by Fred McMillin
for December 22, 1998


The Sangiovese Problem


Problem #1—Clone Prone: Sangiovese produces so many clones (different strains), that even in its native Italy, the best clone-soil-climate matchups are not clear.

Problem #2—Overenthusiam: A typical Cabernet Sauvignon yield is two tons of grapes per acre. Unrestrained, Sangiovese (san-joh-vay-seh) will produce as much as 12 tons, making a watery, tannic red.

Problem #3—A Bunch of Trouble: The grape bunches ripen unevenly. When the cluster is ripe, there often will be some under-ripe berries (veggie flavors...ugh) and some over-ripe "raisins" (prunes).

Problem #4—A Sour Attitude: Produces a lot of acid, which can make the wine too tart.

Problem #5—It's Not Oakey Dokey: Oak can easily overwhelm the fruit, producing a wood-flavored wine.

My 1995 Wake-Up Call

With all these problems, I didn't expect much from the six Sangiovese entries when I was covering the 1995 California State Fair competition. Sure enough. The excellent panel of judges gave no awards at all to over 1,000 wines. BUT WAIT! Five of the six Sangiovese bottles won medals, mostly golds and several BEST OF REGION. No area dominated, the medalist coming from every California district except the torrid Central Valley. So, I slipped one Sangiovese (from Monterey County) into my last course. It was no longer a suprise when it outscored 25 rivals from Europe and California.

The Wine

Lockwood Vineyard 1996 Sangiovese, Monterey County
Lockwood Vineyard (pictured)
Rating—Highly recommended in its price range.
Food: Pork, veal, ham, pepperoni pizza
Contact: Katie Ballou Calhoun, (800) 357-9463
Price: $16 range


Historian Ruth Teiser once told me wine "firsts" are very, very important to very, very few people. Here's one about Sangiovese. Centuries before the rise of the Roman Empire, Etruscans settled in Tuscany and made wine from the ancestors of the local Sangiovese grape. Etruscans were the first to use cork in their wine jars. Ergo, Sangiovese must have been the first of today's important red-grape wines to rest against a cork stopper.

Articles by Bob Thompson, Frank Prial, James Laube and particularly, Dan Berger.

For more about Lockwood, see the Feb. 5, 1998 WineDay titled "Something's New Under the Sun."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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