Sangiovese has to rank near the top of the list as one of the more food-friendly wines you'll find.
The key to sangiovese lies in its general profile of high acidity, moderate alcohol content, low to medium tannins and a slightly herbaceous quality, especially from those made in an Old World-style.
These characteristics make the wine a natural to soften the astringency of tomato-based pasta dishes, to complement such seasonings as basil, oregano and thyme, and to enhance the flavors of otherwise nondescript chicken, seafood and beef.
Sangiovese originated in Italy centuries ago, and its primary uses have been as the sole grape in the oftentimes pricey Brunello di Montalcino and as the primary blending grape in the more affordable, and occasionally maligned, Chianti.
Chiantis suffered an identity crisis until fairly recently by sometimes coming across as a bit on the bland side. That problem was addressed by winemakers with the introduction of "Super Tuscans" who combined (and, some say, improved) their sangiovese with more powerful, full-bodied red wine grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Plantings of sangiovese in Washington are very small, but the wines they produce are tasty, reasonably priced and frequently more fruit-forward than those from Italy. Here are a few recommendations of sangiovese and sangiovese blends I think you'll enjoy.
Mount Baker Vineyards 2009 Sangiovese (about $15) - Sourced from the Yakima Valley, this wine is packed with beautiful black plum, cola and fig flavors to start, before transitioning to more traditional leaner fruits of pomegranate and red currant. It's a bit uneven at times, with a whopping 14.9 percent alcohol content to boot, but I had a lot of fun sipping this wine and thought it was an excellent value at this price.
Luce Della Vite Lucente 2010 (about $29) - This Tuscan blend of merlot and sangiovese is the mirror image of the Mount Baker wine in that it starts out leaner and finishes on more of a darker note. Raspberry dominates up front, with rounder blackberry and cherry on the mid-palate and lengthy finishing touches of chocolate and espresso. It's impressively crafted and a pleasure to taste.
Marchesi de Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello 2007 (about $75) - Floral and woodsy aromatics lead off, while understated black plum and more pronounced cherry tomato flavors follow and give the wine an acidic edge. The finish flashes a spritz of pepper, clove and a crush of dried herbs. The big question: Is this wine worth the price?
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.