I just had a quick look to count how many Sangioveses I’ve tried recently, and was surprised to find none listed. I have mentioned the variety a few times, and I know I’ve tasted it within the last five months, but clearly have been slacking in terms of writing about it. For some reason I always clump it together with Tempranillo, another grape I enjoy but rarely pursue because there are so many lesser known varieties in both Italy and Spain that I have yet to explore. Fortunately, I have the opportunity today to put that right, and to talk a bit about a winery I like with this Coriole Vineyards Vita Reserve Sangiovese 2007.
Sangiovese is a cornerstone grape of fine wines of Tuscany, and indeed the most widely planted red grape throughout the entire country. While the literal translation is “Blood of Jove” the origins of the grape are now thought to be much more modern, perhaps as recent as the 18th century. Despite what could be a recent genesis, it has managed to build up an impressive collection of pseudonyms across Italy. One familiar name is Brunello, which as a varietal is made into Brunello di Montalcino, though it is more commonly part of a blend as it is used in Chianti. It also is typically a part of Supertuscans, which are a class of wines made in Tuscany but outside the DOC/G guidelines and often including international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Further south in Italy, it is prized often more for its ability to deliver quantity rather than quality.
As a grape, it ripens slowly and only comes to full ripeness very late in the season. It is thin-skinned and susceptible to rot under cold, wet conditions which can sometimes coincide with the end of the growing season. When fully ripe with controlled yields, the wines can produce structure which will allow for extended ageing, but without sufficient heat the acidity and tannins can make the wine nigh undrinkable. The many names for the grape throughout Italy represent not just local nomenclature but also different clones, and modern research has been focused on matching them with terroir, viticulture, and winemaking techniques to make the most of this highly variable grape.
Outside of Italy, it’s something of an emerging variety in parts of the New World. It has a following within California, and plantings have expanded rapidly over the last twenty years, driven in part by an interest in the Supertuscans. Within Australia it has had similar success with plantings from the early 1990s now mature and use of the grape fairly widespread across more than 200 producers and most major regions.. However, much of the Sangiovese planting was done without the benefit of the more recent research, particularly to do with clonal selection, so there is almost certainly room for improvement.
Coriole Vineyards, owned and run by the Lloyd family, has been working with Sangiovese since 1985, possibly the first in Australia to do so. While the structures on their property date to the 1860s and the original vines were first planted nearly a hundred years ago, Coriole released their first wine, a Shiraz, in 1970. While Shiraz remains the majority of their plantings, they have expanded conventionally into Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills), Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. However, Coriole Vineyards are at least as well known for the range of Italian varieties, including Barbera, Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills), Sagrantino, Fiano, and this Sangiovese, which are largely used for varietals. However, when I think of Coriole my first thought is always of their Chenin Blanc. I took an interest in the variety after visiting South Africa, and was pleased to find that Coriole produces not just a standard varietal, but also an excellent reserve wine they call The Optimist. Unless otherwise noted, all the wines I mentioned are from McLaren Vale, but they also produce a Fiano from an Adelaide Hills vineyard (in addition to the one they produce in McLaren Vale).
I have written about McLaren Vale in terms of climate and soil, and the Italian influence, so I hope I can be forgiven for having nothing much to add to it at this time. However, a few words about this wine in particular are in order. Coriole has a few reserve wines, two Shirazes, a Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend, the Optimist Chenin Blanc. Most of them are made fairly regularly, but this wine, the Vita, has only been released once prior to this year back in 1998. There’s not a great deal of technical information available about how this specific wine was made, but Coriole generally uses open fermenters of either stainless steel or wax lined concrete. They hand plunge, and for Sangiovese they use older oak for maturation. This wine was in barrel or tank for roughly two years after vintage, followed by another three in bottle before I almost immediately took it right out.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright with a dark brick red colour, lightening to garnet at the rim. It has quick legs of a pale garnet colour. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of Mexican hot chocolate, some strawberries and cherries, and some iodine. The palate is dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, and medium plus flavour intensity. The palate delivers what the nose promised in terms of chocolate and sweet spice, though the fruit is more tart – more cranberries and pomegranate than strawberries or cherries. There’s some earthiness, particularly on the finish, though more chocolate mud pie earthiness than actual dirt.
This is a very good wine, and what I believe to be a fine example of a varietal Sangiovese, though I admit to not being as well versed with the grape as I would like. It certainly has a great deal going on as far as flavours, and I like how the acidity changes the fruit I perceived on the nose to what I tasted on the palate. I was prepared for this to be very austere as I took my first sip of a bottle that had been decanted an hour earlier, and it was that, but as I sit here writing my notes four hours after, the wine has really opened up and is much more giving on the palate. As with yesterday’s Moss Wood, I am probably drinking this wine far too young, and it will potentially be a much more rewarding experience in another decade. However, I’m not regretting my choice for this evening, provided I can find another bottle to stick in the cellar.