Sangiovese, una storia millenaria | Consorzio Vini di Romagna
Mosaico di Vita | Consorzio Vini di Romagna
November 2023 | Wine

Sangiovese: A Thousand-Year History

One of Italy's winemaking treasures, one that has written some of the foundational chapters of our country's viticultural history. Sangiovese is deeply rooted in history.

Historically vinified as a single varietal in Romagna and blended in Tuscany, Sangiovese is a versatile grape that flexibly adapts to various cultivation styles, pruning methods, and variations in climate and soil. Its long history of success is primarily attributed to its fascinating ability to express unique characteristics from the diverse terroirs in which it is cultivated. 

THE ORIGINS 

The origins of Sangiovese are lost in time, with evidence dating back to the 16th century. An intriguing hypothesis suggests that Medici troops transported a crossbreed of southern grape varieties – the genetics of this variety trace back there – from the Lucania region to the north. Here, grapes and wine had already been known and appreciated since the time of the Etruscans, over two thousand years ago. This is supported by findings in Etruscan tombs in the Valconca area of Rimini, which revealed remains of vitis sylvestris, the wild predecessor of vitis vinifera. 

If the geographical origin remains debatable, it is credible and fascinating that grapevine cultivation was likely attested along the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennine ridge, thanks to the efforts of the Vallombrosan Benedictine monasteries – 4 of them located between Marradi, Palazzuolo and Firenzuola. The seclusion of these monasteries certainly promoted grapevine cultivation, allowing the monks to become self-sufficient in providing wine for Mass and their daily consumption (!), as meticulously detailed by the founder Saint Benedict in his Rule. Here, Sangiovese demonstrated the ability to thrive – with proper care – even in the lean mountainous soils. 

THE NAME 

The name of this grape variety is the subject of numerous conjectures. Some suggest an origin linked to the cult of Dionysius in ancient Greece, while others associate it with “sangiovannese”, indicating its presumed origin around San Giovanni Valdarno. Still, others connect it to dialectal forms, particularly with “sangiovannina”, used to describe an early variety that matured around the feast of St. John the Baptist at the end of June. However, Sangiovese is a thermophilic grapevine that requires the accumulation of high levels of temperatures and numerous days to reach maturity. Thus, it cannot be the same variety as the one harvested at the end of June in the 17th century: considering the current and unprecedented context of global warming, today, Sangiovese matures between September and October. 

An intriguing hypothesis has its roots in the heart of Romagna, in the picturesque village of Santarcangelo. Here, on Mount Jupiter, there once stood a monastery surrounded by lush vineyards. Legend has it that the village, renowned for its underground galleries carved between the 6th and 15th centuries, used the network of tunnels to store wine and supplies. The system became so widespread and well-known during the Middle Ages that the locals dubbed the local wine “sangue di Giove” or “blood of Jupiter”, owing to its origin from the capillary excavations they called “the veins of Mount Jupiter”. However, in this case as well, historical evidence of the existence of the grape and wine, as well as the first references to the name Sangiovese, date back to the late 16th century. Therefore, the story of “sangue di Giove” as the origin of the name lacks factual basis, though it remains a charming legend. 

SANGIOVESE IN ROMAGNA 

Rigorous scientific research has led to tracing the origins of the name “Sangiovese” right in Romagna: the region plays a central role in the documented history of the grapevine. Studies promoted in the last decade by the Consorzio Vini di Romagna (Sangiorgi and Zinzani, 2017) led to the belief that Sangiovese, originating from the south, found its cradle in the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennines thanks to the Vallombrosan monasteries. The variety would arrive in Romagna with the name “Sangiovese” between the 15th and 16th centuries, while it would be known in Tuscany as “Sangioveto”. These two names refer to the “gioghi” (mountains) of the Apennines. If we consider that the term “Sangiovese” would only appear in Tuscany in the late 19th century and that its exclusive use would be established in 1930, we can conclude that at least the name of the grapevine, as we know it today, is from Romagna. But the “sangue dei gioghi” comes from far away: recent genetic studies have highlighted the numerous offsprings of Sangiovese among southern grapevines (Calabrese di Montenuovo, Nerello Mascalese, Gaglioppo, Frappato and others). 

An ancient notarial deed from 1672 found in the State Archive of Faenza (another one dating back to 1625 has recently emerged!) is among the earliest known documents mentioning the name Sangiovese: a lady, owner of the Fontanella estate located at 400 meters asl in Casola Valsenio, leased a vineyard to the parish priest of Pagnano, reserving three rows of Sangiovese situated near the house for her family.  

Thanks to the DOC recognition in 1967 and the significant enhancement efforts that led to the establishment of 16 subzones as well as the creation of the collective brand “Rocche di Romagna” to promote Sangiovese in its pure form – as per local tradition – Romagna Sangiovese (Romagna Sangiovese DOC since 2011) is increasingly attracting the attention of enthusiasts and connoisseurs. The characteristics of “Sanzves” evoke the spirit of Romagna locals: straightforward and rough, free and versatile. The time of the Subzones has begun, promising a fascinating and endless tasting journey to uncover the distinctive characteristics of each terroir — a delight for the palate and the heart. 

Romagna Sangiovese is drafting a successful story, featuring numerous itineraries to discover and taste dreamlike regions. Don’t miss the chance to experience them!