American Sangiovese 

In Italy, the Sangiovese grape is responsible for some of that country's greatest and best known wines, including Brunello and Chianti. It enjoyed some popularity here in the States, but subsequent lackluster sales caused many vineyard managers to replant with other varieties. The problem is that Sangiovese thrives too easily. What it needs is hardship—unforgiving soils limit yields while producing top-quality grapes. The panel's top picks from a selection of American-grown Sangiovese represent three different regions, but the common denominator is the unforgiving vineyard sites. Here are our three favorites:

2005 Luna Sangiovese, Napa Valley, $23.50

Since its beginning in 1995, this winery has specialized in Italian varieties. While unmistakably Sangiovese, their 2005 vintage definitely demonstrates its California roots. Sweet cherry fruit dominates on the nose, but there are nice hints of mocha, spice, cola and white pepper. This is an unapologetically opulent wine with creamy fruit flavors like chocolate-laced raspberries punctuated by rosemary, anise and rose hip. It has the softest acidity of the three, but enough to keep things in balance.

2004 Seghesio Sangiovese, Alexander Valley, $23

Best known for their exceptional Zinfandels, Seghesio's experience with Sangiovese goes back more than a century. Spicy berry and cherry fruit aromas are backed by dark chocolate and licorice with touches of tobacco, earth and orange zest. Sweet berry fruit flavors are nicely balanced by bright acidity and soft tannins. The finish is long and smooth in this traditionally styled Sangiovese that begs to be paired with food.

2005 Tamarack Cellars Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $24

Founded in 1998, Walla Walla's Tamarack Cellars is the newest kid on the block, but they are definitely making a name for themselves. This beautifully crafted Sangiovese shows one reason why. It leads off with floral red fruit aromas (cherry, strawberry, raspberry) playing off herb and spice. It's rich and velvety in the mouth with ripe cherry and berry fruit flavors that linger nicely on the finish. A good hit of acidity on the mid-palate makes this another food-friendly wine.

This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Michael Molinengo, Idaho Wine Merchant; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing.

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