SANGIOVESe: A ROMAGNA WINE HERITAGE

 

The food and wine that are paramount to Italian culture date back to ancient times. The relationship betwe­en the Emilia region and wine grape appears to have lasted for millennia -- archaeologists have found fossilized remains of the earliest wine grapes plant that are between 12,000 and 20,000 years old. These fruits were almost certainly wild rather than cultivated.

The birth of wine production in Romagna probably occurred in the seventh century B.C., in the Villanovan civilization in the Po Valley . Evidence also suggests that the Etruscans and celts cultivated red grapes in the area and may have been the ones to bequeath the practice of viticulture to central Italy . Certainly the industry was in full stride by the height of the Roman Empire, as evidenced in the writings of the poet Virgil and the scholar Pliny the Elder that refer specifically to the sangiovese (Sanguis Jovis) grape and its nature.

Early theories on the origin of Sangiovese dated the grape to the time the Roman art in winemaking .It was even postulated that the grape was first cultivated in Tuscany by the Etruscans from wild Vitis vinifera vines. The literal translation of the grape's name, the "blood of Jove", refers to the Roman god Jupiter. According to legend, the name was coined by monks from the commune of Santarcangelo di Romagna in what is now the province of Rimini in the romagna sub region of emilia romagna-east-central Italy.

The first documented mention of Sangiovese was in the 1590 writings of Giovanvettorio Soderini (also known under the pen name of Ciriegiulo). Identifying the grape as "Sangiogheto" Soderini notes that in Tuscany the grape makes very good wine but if the winemaker is not careful, it risks turning into vinegar.

While there is no conclusive proof that Sangiogheto is Sangiovese, most wine historians generally consider this to be the first historical mention of the grape. Regardless, it would not be until the 18th century that Sangiovese would gain widespread attention throughout Tuscany, being with Malvasia and Trebbiano the most widely planted grapes in the region.

In 1738, Cosimo Trinci described wines made from Sangiovese as excellent when blended with other varieties but hard and acidic when made as a wine by itself. In 1883, the Italian writer Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi echoed a similar description about the quality of Sangiovese being dependent on the grapes with which it was blended. The winemaker and politician, Bettino Ricasoli formulated one of the early recipes for Chianti when he blended his Sangiovese with a sizable amount of Canaiolo. In the wines of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Sangiovese would experience a period of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1970s, Tuscan winemakers began a period of innovation by introducing modern oak treatments and blending the grape with non-Italian varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon in the creation of wines that were given the collective marketing sobriquet "Super Tuscans".

The naturalist Marcus Terentius Varro, whose work "De Re Rustica" (On Agriculture) influenced both writers, confirmed that Albana, Trebbiano and Spergola grapes were being grown in the Po River valley in the first century B.C. . And according to a legend dating from the fifth century A.D., a daughter of the Roman emperor was offered Albana wine in a small Romagnan village and exclaimed that such a beverage should be drunk in gold (in Latin, "berti in oro"). Thus, the village took the name Bertinoro.

Over the years, wines have developed and thrived in certain locations, with specific grapes and cultivation techniques suited to the conditions of the soil and climate. Local wines and foods have evolved in close association with each other. Emilia-Romagna is the source of many treasures of Italian cuisine, such as seasoned cheese, Prosciutto and other cured meats. The unique wines of the region are meant to complement the flavors of the local cuisine.

nicola montuschi