A Taste of La Dolce Vita through PNW Sangiovese

by | Mar 10, 2021

Sangiovese, a quintessentially Italian grape, evokes so many more images than just Chianti, the delicious cherry-hued Tuscan wine for which it is best known. One could even say that it is symbolic of the good Italian life. Think Sangiovese, and rows of manicured cypress trees, undulating hills, and Renaissance architecture come unbidden to mind. 

There is a certain, undeniable romanticism associated with this ancient Roman grape. Even its name has a poetic feel to it. When translated, it means “Blood of Jove,” referring to Jupiter, the Roman king of gods. The deep savoriness that sets Sangiovese a cut apart can best be described as umami. The wine exhibits a spectrum of flavors – but usually boasts sumptuous cherry flavors, grippy tannins and herbaceousness. 

It’s relatively uncommon to see Sangiovese plantings outside Italy, yet the Pacific Northwest is one of the few places in the world where this terroir-driven grape thrives. In the late 1900s, this revered grape found its way into premier Washington and Oregon vineyards. Since then, pioneering PNW winemakers have tried to capture the finest expressions of Sangiovese, making the best of the grape’s innate Italian personality in this part of the world. Remy Drabkin, owner-winemaker at Remy Wines said, “Sangiovese is adaptable to its surroundings while palate characteristics stay strong. As a winemaker I feel like I’m getting the best of both worlds – a wine that’s sensitive to the terroir and climate of its surroundings but still exhibits a strong sense of identity once in the bottle.”

The pandemic has derailed one plan too many, and we’ve lived vicariously through great local wine through it all. A glass of good Sangiovese is a sensory experience and can be transportive, to say the least. “Classic Sangiovese descriptors include cherry, red plum, strawberry and fig, and these descriptors apply to Washington Sangiovese too,” said Mike Januik, owner-winemaker at Novelty Hill Januik.

While your plans at the charming Tuscan villa spilling over with bougainvillea might be on hold for now, the good news is that you can travel through local Sangiovese wine this spring. The best-kept secret to La dolce vita way of life is … shhh … not a secret at all. It is pretty simple –  take pleasure seriously. So enjoy that afternoon siesta, relish unhurried meals and drink that “special-occasion” wine today. 

While this high-tannin, high-acid wine pairs phenomenally with rustic Italian fare, we think the best pairing is a glorious spring sunset. This is the time to find happiness in the here and now, and sip some delicious tannic wine while we’re at it. In that spirit, here are some stellar PNW Sangiovese wines from our favorite local producers. Cin cin!

2017 Long Shadows Saggi Red Wine, Columbia Valley

At Long Shadows, winemaker Gilles Nicault worked with Tuscany’s Folonari family to develop its Super Tuscan style. Nicault wanted “to capture a Tuscan expression of Sangiovese with Saggi, putting the grapes’ bright acidity and liveliness front and center in the wine.” The blend is Sangiovese-dominant with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah adding complexity, structure and texture. Fun, floral and spicy – it is marked with crunchy red fruit that goes on and on. A very cellar-worthy wine, it will develop delicious complexities over the years. Pair with barbequed salmon or halibut in a saffron cream sauce. $60

Photo by Elizabeth Phung

2018 Novelty Hill Il Corvo, Columbia Valley

A Washington Super Tuscan-style red that is both traditional and revolutionary? Yes, please. Trust Novelty Hill to make it. Mike Januik tells us what sets Il Corvo apart, “The Italian Sangiovese clones planted at Stillwater Creek (the winery’s estate vineyard) have a higher level of phenols, adding to the wine’s structure. Sangiovese has great structure and when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, you get a unique mouth-filling wine with robust, interesting aromatics.” Keep the pairing simple – a Margherita pizza is a wonderful bet. $45

Photo courtesy of Novelty Hill

2018 Remy Wines Kiona Sangiovese, Red Mountain

Remy Drabkin is known for her sheer sorcery when working with European-style single-varietal wines. The 2018 Remy Wines Kiona Sangiovese made with 100% Sangiovese sourced from Red Mountain AVA tastes like a Tuscan dream. Aromas bring dried roses and violets, making it delightful for spring sipping. Besides traditional dark fruit flavors and a distinct mineral quality, this wine throws delightful curveballs with notes of citrus and anise. “We recently found notes of blood orange and fennel pollen,” said Drabkin. Try this fruit-forward Sangiovese with an Italian classic like pappardelle with a rabbit ragu. $39

Photo by Zachary Goff

2016 Camaraderie Cellars Sangiovese, Yakima Valley

If you’re looking for great-value Sangiovese from Washington, this bottling from Camaraderie Cellars might be perfect for you. They make their Sangiovese in a Super Tuscan style with about 15% Merlot to add body. It has bright blackberry and jammy fig notes, firm tannins and lots of mouthwatering acid. The wine is ridiculously food-friendly and cellars well. Owner-winemaker Don Corson recommends a lovely rustic pairing, “Here’s a classic Tuscan combination –Fresh summer-ripened tomatoes slowly simmered into a rustic sauce, with Mozzarella d’ Buffalo, fresh basil and olive oil. Enjoy with fresh pasta or hunks of crusty bread.” $29

Photo by Don Corson

2020 Smak Wines Spring Rosé, Walla Walla Valley

Smak Wines is a women owned and operated winery in Walla Walla that produces Rosé exclusively. (Yes, that’s right – rosé all day, everyday!) They make a fabulous rosé of Sangiovese for spring. Fiona Mak, owner-winemaker at Smak wines said, “I love using Sangiovese for our Spring Rosé because Sangiovese has such high natural acidity. It also lends a lot of tangerine and floral tones to the wine.” This pale grapefruit-hued beauty opens with a delicious rose aroma. It leads to ripe peach and tropical fruit flavors that’s well balanced with refreshing saline minerality. This easy-breezy rosé goes splendidly with seafood – try it with butter-garlic shrimp, oysters and sushi. $18

Photo by Erin Lodi Photography

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