If you’ve ever opened a bottle of Chianti, then you’ve tasted the grape variety Sangiovese with its typical flavours of bitter cherries and herbs. It’s the No1 variety in Italy in terms of area and it’s far more widely planted than just in Chianti; it’s found throughout the regions of Emilia Romagna, Umbria and Marche but its home is, I suppose, in Tuscany (think Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano as well as Chianti).
Outside Italy, though, Sangiovese is far harder to find. To me, that’s surprising considering the number of families of Italian origin who have emigrated and settled in many different countries across the world. They’ve planted a couple of thousand acres in Argentina and a little in California (notably Antinori’s Atlas Peak) but, beyond that, very little. Although I recently found a bottle from Australia made by an ex-Italian family, now living in Victoria’s King Valley, who have imported a range of vines – not just Sangiovese but several other Italian varieties, too – which they grow and use for all their wines.
Pizzini’s Pietra Rossa Sangiovese (Wine Society, £18) is more Brunello than Chianti in style, rounded and full of lovely fresh plum and cherry flavours with a hint of spice. The wine has spent 14 months in barrel, with a proportion of that in new oak, but I found no overt oak flavour, just a savoury, harmonious mouthful. The 2019 vintage is still quite tannic so needs decanting and pairing with chunky flavours.
The King Valley is not well-known (although it is the home of the famous Brown Brothers company) but it is an interesting area, a good couple of hours drive north-east of Melbourne. The key for vine growing here is the closeness to the foothills of the Australian Alps where the heat of the growing season is offset by the altitude. This allows the grapes to ripen fully yet still retain that essential freshness that showed well in Pizzini’s wine.
A little bit of Italy in Australia and perfect for celebrating Australia’s National Day (26 January).