Sagrantino: The King of Wines

By Nadia Ghattas, Epoch Times
March 21, 2013 4:43 pm Last Updated: March 21, 2013 4:43 pm
( Montefalco Consortium)
Montefalco, in the heart of Umbria, produces wine from a grape found nowhere else in the world, Sagrantino. ( Montefalco Consortium)

Umbria, a treasure trove of medieval history, culture, and tradition, lies in the center of Italy. It is a jewel with a landscape speckled by mountains and green valleys, seeped with age-old traditions and famed flavors. It is the birthplace of many great saints such as St. Francis and St. Benedict.

Umbria is also the motherland of the Sagrantino grape. This thick-skinned varietal comes in small clusters and has no relationship to any other of Italy’s grapes. It has very high concentration of polyphenols and tannin.

The local winemakers have a long history of perfection in wine production dating back to 1549 in Montefalco, which is part of the province of Perugia. After its disappearance in the 1960s, Sagrantino was revived by dedicated Umbrian farmers, and it is finding now its place on the international arena. Currently its production is limited.

One of the legends is that in ancient times, the wine was produced by Franciscan monks who brought it from Asia Minor as a sacramental wine and by local farmers specifically during religious feasts and festivals. Actually the name Sagrantino originates from the Latin “sacer,” or sacrament. The region produces mostly red wine with some whites.

There are different types of Sagrantino grape. There is the stronger Sagrantino and there is the more elegant Sagrantino, with each vineyard having a Sagrantino with its own marvelous personality and character specific to that lot.

If you want something strong, because Sagrantino has the most tannic personality of all the grape varieties, you can choose from vineyards like Tabarini or Capria, and if you want a more elegant and lighter Sagrantino, you can choose from Pericaia or Scacciadiavoli.

( Montefalco Consortium)
( Montefalco Consortium)

The same applies to the Rosso de Montefalco. The strength of the wine comes from Sagrantino, and so the farms that produce stronger Sagrantino will produce a stronger Rosso Monfefalco.

Another variety of grape is Trebbiano Spolotino. In Umbria, it was used thousands of years ago, and then it was forgotten. Fortunately, it is now being rediscovered. It comes to maturity after Sagrantino. It makes a particular wine, something better than Gregetto or Orvieto. It is strong and with good bouquet due to the high concentration of polyphenols, which gives a stronger taste, and it also has acidity, which helps aging for few years, and some for as much as 10 years. It’s perfect for making spumante.

Throughout the month of March, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco will showcase the wines of Montefalco at a series of promotional events at Eataly, giving New Yorkers a chance to discover the wines of the region, principally Sagrantino.

There are five participating wineries in the Sagrantino Month promotion: Antonelli San Marco, Arnaldo Caprai, Perticaia, Scacciadiavoli and Tenuta Castelbuono. Five more wineries will be involved in the other activities throughout the year, these are Colle Ciocco, Colle del Saraceno, Le Cimate, Romanelli, and Tenuta Bellafonte.

Amilcare Pambuffetti, president of the Montefalco Consortium, said: “Last year, we introduced many Americans, both trade and consumer, to Sagrantino and the response was enthusiastic. This year we plan to build on the foundation we’ve established.”

Different Types

In the past, Sagrantino grape was produced exclusively as a passito wine (a sweet wine) using a method that involves drying grapes on wood racks for months without rotting, which conserves their sugar component for a long period of time. Now different types of wine are produced. The following are all excellent, and reasonably priced, ranging from $39 to $100.

Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG

Only 100 percent Sagrantino grapes are used in the production of Montefalco Sagrantino. This grape grows solely in the Montefalco area. It has unique characteristics that bear no similarities with any other grape variety in Italy. All efforts to cultivate this grape in other areas of Italy have produced no comparable results. The production is limited, the bunch itself is very small, and the skins of the grapes are extremely thick. This feature permits partial drying.

( Montefalco Consortium)
( Montefalco Consortium)

The wine produced has a very strong structure and an extremely high concentration of polyphenols. As a result of its extraordinary richness in polyphenols and tannins, Montefalco Sagrantino is very suitable for long aging. Sagrantino can be enjoyed only after it has been aged for at least 30 months, 12 of which in wooden barrels, then in a bottle. It has a complete character and a full body that explodes in the palate with a full, round, and long finish. The tannin give dry taste, long and persistent with finish of bouquet of blackberry aroma in general but with different flavors depending on the farm. Best served at a temperature of 64F with grilled meats, game, and dark sauces.

Montefalco Rosso DOC

It is a more flexible wine. In Montefalco, the Sangiovese grape is traditionally very widespread, as in many other wine areas of Central Italy. From this grape, the Montefalco Rosso takes its origin in combination with at least 10 percent Sagrantino grape, yielding an intense aroma with undertones reminiscent of ripe plums. And to the palate the wine expresses a rich body and dry flavor with right balance of tannins resulting in a vivid ruby-red color, winey structure, and characteristics typical of the area, and a pleasing drinkability. Suitable to pair with dry flavorful dishes, white and red meats, cheeses and cured meats, in other words, it is great with a meal from beginning to end. Best served at a temperature of 61F, with first course, roasted meats, and poultry.

With dessert or as an aperitivo, serve Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG. The traditional passito is obtained from the same grape, Sagrantino. The bunches are carefully selected and left out to dry on a trellis for at least two months. The grapes are then pressed after which the must is left to ferment together with the grape skins. This way, the wine becomes very sweet—sweet yet structured, thanks to the high tannins. Fabulous with local desserts as rocciata filled with apples, nuts, and raisin, tarts made with blackberry and cherry jam, and all kinds of biscuits. Also excellent with parmigiano cheese and other cheeses drizzled with honey. Best served at a temperature of 54F.

Montefalco Bianco DOC

This fresh and balanced white wine is made with Grechetto, the other indigenous grape of Umbria, and Trebbiano. It has a straw-yellow color with subtle green highlights, the bouquet is fresh and complex with hints of white flowers and fruits and apple. The Grechetto grape provides flavors while the Trebbiano grape adds its typical freshness. It goes well with all entrées, soups, fish and white meats. Best served at 50F.

Source: Montefalco Consortium