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Jonathan Rosenson
December 2, 2020 | Jonathan Rosenson

Wine 101: Sangiovese & Carbonic Maceration

Wine 101 Sangiovese & Carbonic Maceration

Sangiovese, the most planted variety in Italy, accounting for about 10 percent of the country's total vineyard acreage, is especially prominent in Tuscany, its presumed region of origin. This grape has a rich history, with documentation dating back to the sixteenth century. Notably, the technique of carbonic maceration has been applied to Sangiovese, enhancing its unique profile. Outside Italy, Sangiovese is grown extensively in the Mendoza province of Argentina, increasingly in California where carbonic maceration is also being experimented with, and to a limited extent in Australia. The history of Sangiovese in California stretches back to about 1880, where innovative winemaking techniques like carbonic maceration are bringing new dimensions to this traditional variety.

Wines made from Sangiovese tend to exhibit the grape's naturally high acidity as well as moderate to high tannin content and light color. Blending can have a pronounced effect on enhancing or tempering the wine's quality. The dominant nature of Cabernet can sometimes have a disproportionate influence on the wine, even overwhelming Sangiovese character with black cherry, black currant, mulberry and plum fruit.

Different regions will impart varietal character on the wine with Tuscan Sangiovese having a distinctive bitter-sweet component of cherry, violets and tea. In their youth, Tuscan Sangiovese can have tomato-savoriness to it that enhances its herbal component. Californian examples tend to have more bright, red fruit flavors with some Zinfandel-like spice or darker fruits depending on the proportion of Cabernet blended in. Argentine examples showing a hybrid between the Tuscan and California Sangiovese with juicy red fruit wines that end on a bitter cherry note.

A Food Friendly wine, this is due to Sangiovese's high acidity and moderate alcohol. One of the classic pairings in Italian cuisine is tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces with a Sangiovese-based Chianti. Varietal Sangiovese or those with a smaller proportion of the powerful, full-bodied Cabernet blended in, can accentuate the flavors of relatively bland dishes like meatloaf and roast chicken. Herb seasoning such as basil, thyme and sage play off the herbal notes of the grapes. Sangiovese that has been subject to more aggressive oak treatment pairs well with grilled and smoked food.

Carbonic maceration is a form of whole bunch fermentation, when whole bunches of uncrushed grapes are used in fermentation of red wines. Conventional alcoholic fermentation involves crushing the grapes to free the juice and pulp from the skin with yeast serving to convert sugar into ethanol. Carbonic maceration ferments most of the juice while it is still inside the grape, although grapes at the bottom of the vessel are crushed by gravity and undergo conventional fermentation. The resulting wine is fruity with very low tannins. Some key flavors associated with carbonic maceration would be: Bubble gum, Kirsch, Banana, Strawberry

How it works Whole bunches of grapes are placed in vats, which are then sealed and filled with CO2 to remove the oxygen. This triggers a process within the grapes known as intracellular fermentation. Once alcohol levels reach around 2% abv, the grape skins split and release their juice. Carbonic maceration extracts some color from the grapes but little tannin, generally creating red wines that are light in color, low in tannin and which have a soft, fruity wines character. Wines made in this style include Beaujolais Nouveau and are often best when drunk young and sometimes even lightly chilled.


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