Do you enjoy a good mystery? Perhaps a classic “who done it” or even a modern episode of Dateline. Humans have been enthralled with mysteries since the beginning of time. In fact, there are many historical facts where the outcome is known but the circumstances surrounding the outcome remains a mystery. Though classic mystery books, movies and even television shows solve the mystery often in real life many mysteries remain unsolved. In the world of wine most grape varietals have a known origin traced through historical documents, but that is not always the case.
Sagrantino is a grape whose history is shrouded in mystery. There are contradicting accounts as to the origin and timeline of the grape. Antonelli San Marco Winery of Montefalco provides as accurate account as history can collaborate. The word “Sagrantino” derives from the Latin “Sacer,” a holy wine destined for consumption during Christian festivals. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History mentions an “itriola” grape that was found in the [Montefalco] area and he could have been referring to Sagrantino. It is possible Sagrantino is not a local varietal [of Montefalco] at all but was brought in from Asia Minot by the followers of St. Francis of Assisi or that it was imported as a consequence of the invations of the Saracens. Coccorone, as Montefalco was once known, has written records of vineyards dating from 1088. For the first half of the 15th century strict rules governed the vineyards and from 1540 onward the date of the Sagrantino harvest was fixed by municipal order. The first written document that mention Sagrantino in Montefalco date back to the 16th century. In 1925 Montefalco, the host town for a large enological exhibition, was already described as the “most important wine area in the region.” The DOC in 1979 and DOCG in 1992 acknowledge the tradition and the quality from this area.
By the late twentieth century the grape varietal was almost extinct. However, a group of Montefalco wine makers experimented with modern techniques to tame the fierce tannins of the beast to create the modern powerful yet elegant Sagrantino. Vineyard plantings of Sagrantino have grown from 250 acres to over 2000 acres with DOCG vineyards increasing five times their original size. Today the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco has strict guidelines controlling the production of the grape. The Montefalco DOCG guidelines stipulate Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG must be crafted of 100% Sagrantino sourced from the zone around Montefalco, and aged for 37 months with a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels. In addition to Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, the region has another classification for Sagrantino blends called Montefalco Rosso DOC. These guidelines are more lenient and include a blending guideline of 60-70% Sangiovese (the most prominent red grape in Montefalco), 10-15% Sagrantino and 15-30% of an additional red grape varietal, with 18 months aging and no oak stipulation. What do all the guidelines of the DOCG and DOC mean to you the consumer? They mean you have purchased excellent wines that have met very high quality standards to insure your pleasure and enjoyment.
Sagrantino: Creates a wine that is dark and dense, often with colors of deep inky purple and garnet. A typical flavor profiles of black cherry and ripe blackberry marmalade with spice notes and deep earthy characteristics. It has incredibly think skin, containing more polyphenols than another other grape. However these think skins lead to high tannins. In fact, Sagrantino is the most tannic wine of central Italy and has an affinity for oak, pleasantly resulting in a wine that ages beautifully. Sagrantino Montefalco are wines with a lot of structure, though the tannins are high they tend to be ripe tannins rather than dry tannins making it a wine that can be enjoyed young with a proper lengthy decant and sometime even a double decant. Sagrantino does not fear oxygen and will reward you with plenty of air, perhaps at times even tasting better on the second and even third day of opening. Best vintages of these wines are arguably 2008 and 2011 with additional stand out vintages being 2004, 06, 09 and 10.
Regardless of the mysterious origin of Sagrantino and the strict guidelines governing its production, what all of this means to you is Montefalco Sagrantino DOC and DOCG are possibly the best Italian wines you have never had, and I strongly suggest you seek out these wines from your favorite local wine retailers, online and in restaurants. These wines are now coming of age, they are becoming easier to find and are every bit as delicious as your other favorite Italian wines. Montefalco Sagrantino DOC and DOCG are among my favorite wines! In addition to this article please revisit my articles, “The Beauty of Montefalco’s Sagrantino,” and “Beauty and the Beast” to learn more about this mysterious grape crafted into delicious wine.
I recently had the blessing and honor of participating in an online virtual tasting of six Montefalco Sagrantinos hosted by Colangelo & Partners PR and sponsored by Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco. To learn more about these outstanding wines I encourage you to visit the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco web site as well as the web sites for each of the wineries.
Perticaia 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC: This wine was crafted of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Colorino; inviting ruby red; offered black cherries, raspberries, cranberries and red plums with a rich spiciness, white pepper, notes of violets, soft hint of mushroom and a deep minerality. It was very smooth with beautifully balanced mouth-watering acidity and well integrated yet present tannins. It was aged for a total of 18 months: 12 months in steel vats and 6 months in the bottle. 14% alcohol. Beautifully crafted though not complex; it was quite pleasing, had a medium texture and a lingering dry finish. SRP $27.99.
Colpetrone 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC: This wine was crafted of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Merlot; soft ruby, a pronounced earthiness jumps out of the glass, balanced with cherries, cranberries and plums, along with mushrooms, savory herbs, and spice notes; rich and layered on the palate with bold, mouth-filling acidity and tannins, coating the palate and sliding all the way down the throat to a long, dry finish. Fermented in stainless steel with 60% aged in stainless steel and 40% aged 12 months in French oak tonneaux and barrique, then bottle refined for four months. Delicious. SRP $19.99.
Tenuta Castebuono2008 ‘Carpace’ Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG: This wine was crafted of 100% Sagrantino; garnet; balance of fruit and earthiness with red and black fruit, spices, mint, and leather bound aged cigar box; powerful yet elegant on palate with round acidity and pronounced tannins that are slowly integrating; beautiful structure, lingering finish. Beautiful. SRP $37.00
Antonelli San Marco 2009 Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG: This wine was crafted of 100% Sagrantino; invitingly deep garnet; cherries, pomegranate, black raspberries with complex earthiness of savory herbs such as oregano and mint, soft notes of forest floor and cigar ash; velvety smooth yet powerful, balanced rich round acidity with well integrated tannins leading to a long, harmonious finish. Aged in lightly toasted 500L barrels for 6 months then in 25hL oak barrels for 18 months, the wine settles in glass lined cement vats for 12 months then bottle aging for an additional 12 months. Simply outstanding. SRP $45.00.
Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG: This wine was crafted of 100% Sagrantino; intense garnet; rich, inviting aroma; black cherries, black raspberries, pomegranates, plums with mint, cassis, savory herbal notes, and a touch of vanilla on the back of the palate; smooth yet rustic, round acidity with persistent tannins, mouth-filling, lingering finish. Aged in new barrels for 16 months with a total of 24 months in oak, then 9 plus additional months of bottle aging. This wine depicts a traditional vintage of Sagrantino. A Dazzling wine. SRP $ 40.00.
Arnaldo – Caprai ‘Collepino’ 2009 Sagrantino Montefalco DOCG: This wine was crafted of 100% Sagrantino; deep garnet, rustic aromas of red fruit, spice espresso beans and a touch of smoked meats; flavors of black cherries, black plums and black berries, along with dark chocolate covered espresso beans, olive tapanade, and smoky leather. The acidity was round and well-balanced; pronounced tannins; this wine will age beautifully and still dazzle in 20 more years. A bold wine full in body, weight and complexity and full on palate pleasing flavors. A wonderful food wine with a long, dry finish. SRP $60.00.
These bold, rich reds pair best with bold meals such as beef, lamb or wild game stew, braised red meats, roasted lamb, classic heavy Italian red meat pasta dishes and are perfect with black truffles and mushrooms. Stock up on bottles of Sagrantino Montefalco and Montefalco Rosso for your favorite fall and winter cuisines.
My Song Selection: Though these wines are rustic they are also smooth and pleasing. Give them time and oxygen and they will treat you like a smooth jazz song from Coltrane. Can’t beat that!
Get your own bottles of Montefalco Rosso DOC and Sangrantino Montefalco DOCG and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!