by Fred McMillin
for October 29, 1997

Sangiovese: "California, Here I Come"

Prologue:
Acres of Sangiovese in California...

1990—39 acres
1993—450 acres
1996—1,359 acres

Price of Sangiovese vs Cabernet Sauvignon in Cal. (1995)...

Cabernet Sauvignon—$867 per ton
Sangiovese—$1,230 per ton

Number of California Wineries Making Sangiovese...
1991—4 wineries
1995—64 wineries

The Rest of the Story: As the numbers indicate, Sangiovese (sahn-JOH-vay-zeh) is the hot-button red wine of California. How did it get here?

1100 B.C.—The Etruscans arrive in central Italy. They cultivate the precursor of Sangiovese. The wine may have been one of the first to ever rest against a cork stopper, since the Etruscans were the first to use that material to seal wine containers.

1722 A.D.—The earliest known mention of the grape in print is made by Giocanvettorio Soderini who notes it is "highly praised for the making of wine." It is the principal grape in what will become Italy's best-known red wine, Chianti.

1880's—A few vines are planted in California but make no waves. They disappear with Prohibition.

1980's—The success of Sangiovese in non-Chianti Italian wines prompts the return of the grape to California.

1995—Six local Sangiovese are entered in the huge California State Fair tasting. While over a thousand entries receive no awards, five of the six Sangiovese garner medals, three in the gold and double-gold categories. That should be no suprise, since Giocanvettorio TOLD us it made "highly praised" wine.

Today's Sangiovese:
1994 Sangiovese, California (85% Napa Valley)
La Famiglia Di Robert Mondavi
Oakville, CA
Tasting Notes—Lots of lovely fruit, intense, but without the unsettling jolt of some Cabs. My tasters were most enthusiastic; over 90% gave it a Highly Recommended rating.
Food Affinities—Chef Amey Shaw's herb-rubbed leg of lamb with wild mushroom demi-glaze, Alta Plaza Restaurant, S.F., Fax (415) 922-1767
Winery Contact—Nancy Light, (707)259-9463
Price—$22

Postscript: The grape's name? Jove, alias Jupiter, was the CEO of the Roman gods. "Sanguis" is the Latin word for blood. Thus, SAN-JOV-vay-zeh is the blood of Jove.


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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