It’s possible that I’ve watched one too many episodes of Weeds, Showtime’s brilliant send-up of stoned suburbia, because this week I tried a wine that smelled like a tract house. No floral notes, no hints of oak — just new, fake house.
Needless to say, that’s not a typical characteristic of the wine made from Sangiovese, Italy’s most plentiful red grape. Instead, Sangiovese is known for its bite, and for strong floral, berry, or tobacco flavors that are largely influenced by where the grapes are grown. The varietal thrives in hot, dry Tuscany, where it serves as the main blending grape in that ever-present and nearly always safe bargain staple of American restaurants, Chianti. In California, the usual suspects — wine producers in Napa, Sonoma, and the Sierra foothills — have all had ample success with Sangiovese, but we stuck to Italy for this week’s tasting.
Eau de house was the dominant aroma I got from the 2004 Santa Cristina Sangiovese ($8.99) from the Tuscan wine producer Antinori, whose roots in the industry date back to the 14th century. This wine was the favorite of our remarkably in-sync guest tasters, who loved its aroma of mushroom and spice (and Spackle, and aluminum siding); a bold, dry taste that was both spicy and sweet; and a long aftertaste of black cherry. ‘N Sync happily imagined drinking this one with beef, spicy chicken, or — perhaps my favorite suggested pairing of all time — beer. Very drinkable, this would make an excellent weeknight wine.
Always happy to root for the underdog, I was the lone defender of the 2004 Centauro Ripano Sangiovese ($9.99), from the hilly Marche region of Central Italy. A world-weary cowboy of a wine, the Centauro had an aroma of hot sand, a rough-and-ready beef jerky flavor, and an aftertaste reminiscent of burnt leather. Okay, it’s not for everyone, but it’s a strong wine I think certain people would enjoy quite a bit on its own. “Certain crazy people …” our Token Winemaker intoned, complaining that the overwhelming amount of volatile acidity in the Centauro was the telltale sign of a wine well on its way to becoming vinegar. ‘N Sync agreed, suggesting that you keep this one around to induce vomiting in case you ever accidentally ingest poison.
For our Token Winemaker, the saving grace of this tasting was the 2005 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese ($7.99) from Italy’s tiny, old-world Molise region bordering the Adriatic. He praised its earthy, smoky, slightly funky aroma; nice body; and oaky, fruity aftertaste. Although the big-wine lover in me found this one a little underwhelming, I was in sync with ‘N Sync in finding the taste velvety-smooth and Merlot-y, making the Di Majo a great choice to serve with chicken or fish.