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Wine made from the Sangiovese grape may be the most diverse in the world.

The little black grape is closely associated with Italy and rightfully so. But it is also grown in Argentina and California. But in Italy, Sangiovese is king – the most widely planted grape in a country that ships more wine to the U.S. than even France.

Perhaps some readers have never heard of the grape? But if you’re a regular wine drinker it’s highly probably you have consumed wines made from Sangiovese.
That popular 60s and 70s bottle with the basket covering – that’s Sangiovese. If you’ve ever consumed a Chianti or Chianti Classico in a restaurant or bought a bottle – that’s Sangiovese wine.  Perhaps you’ve picked up a Rosso di Montalcino or the high-end Brunello. Both of those wines are Sangiovese.
A view of the hilltop town of Montalcino

I recently returned from Italy on a business trip and had the opportunity to drink a good amount of Rosso di Montalcino, or ‘baby Brunello’ as some will call it.

But first, let’s do some geography for novices. Florence sets in the north central region of Italy. Tuscany starts north of Florence and runs down through Siena. Just south of Florence you find the Chianti region of Italy and at its heart is the Chianti Classico designation. Remember, old world wines from France and Spain are named by region and not the grape.
Italian law dictates the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has to be 75-100 percent Sangiovese, up to 10 percent Canaiolo and up to 20 percent  of any other approved red grape variety such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah.
A little farther to the south you enter the Montalcino region, centered around the lovely hilltop town of that name crowned by an ancient castle. The grapes there are also largely Sangiovese. Montalcino is the region for Sangiovese’s best representation in a bottle, Brunello wines.
Brunello is 100 percent Sangiovese and must be aged in oak at least two years. The wine tends to be silky smooth and full-flavored with considerable acidity which makes it perfect for food.
A photo I took from atop a castle tower in Montalcino

The problem with Brunello for many consumers is you can barely touch a bottle in the U.S. for $50.

The better alternative for most will be Rosso di Montalcino. The differences are, frankly, easy to understand. The winery owner or winemaker selects the very best grapes from their vineyard to make Brunello. The remainder of the crop goes into the Rosso which is often referred to as ‘table wine.’
Rosso di Montalcino is aged for just one year so you get a wine that is less tannic. The Rosso is richer and easier for wine novices to drink than it’s big brother Brunello.
I’m nearing the conclusion that Rosso di Montalcino might be the best value-for-the-money wine that you can pick up off a wine shelf. You can find Rosso wines anywhere from $15-$30. There are plenty of great selections at $15-$20.
You’ll get a great food wine but also a wine that can be sipped. The taste will have a smooth and often silky flavor. It will feature a recognizable cherry flavor from the great Chianti-styled Sangiovese wines. It will be less tannic and more rewarding for novice wine drinkers.
Sangiovese wines are great with red sauce Italian dishes, pizza and red meats.
Rosso di Montalcino is a wine you might never find in a supermarket and few liquor stores, but it’s worth the search. Most wine shops with a good selection of Italian wine will have a few bottles of Rosso di Montalcino.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes every other week about wine for 18 Midwestern newspapers.

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