This past weekend the 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco’s were released at the Sagrantino Wine Festival and we weren’t going to miss it. Over 30 vineyards participated in the four-day event, with daily tastings, free films, classes and seminars. The event took place in Montefalco, Bevagna, Giano dell’Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo, the wine-growing region a little south of Perugia.
Sagrantino, while an ancient grape, is a relative newcomer to the top-level international wines, but it is rapidly carving it’s own distinctive niche. The Italian Trade Commission says the origins of the grape have been lost in time, but there is speculation that sagrantino may have been growing wild in the Umbrian countryside since Roman times when Pliny the Elder waxed on about the delicious wines he drank in the area. Traditionally Sagrantino wine was a sweet ‘passito’ wine made from the dried grapes and it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that a few vineyards started to make a dry version of Sagrantino. Scacciadiavoli was the first vineyard on record to make a dry version, and Caprai is credited with fully developing and marketing the wine. The problem, or the challenge of Sagrantino, is the strong tannins. Translation: a real mouth pucker-drier-outer. It’s the Savonarola of the wine world, you remember Savonarola; he was that tough talking Florentine Renaissance monk that wanted everyone on the straight and narrow. Sagrantino is sort of like that; it’s an austere monk of a wine, thin, elegant but with incredible structure and discipline. Honestly, I think it’s a difficult wine, but very worth getting to know. Sagrantino must be aged at least 30 months, with at least 12 months in oak to try and tame those tannin muscles.
Sagrantino’s more accessible sibling is Montefalco Rosso which is a blended wine of 60-70% Sangiovese (the main grape in Chianti wine), 10-15% Sagrantino and often touches of merlot, cabernet sauvignon or other grapes to make the wine a little rounder and fuller. For me, Montefalco Rosso wines are friendlier, more like the fat jolly monk who is fun to be with.
This year in Umbria, it seems that there is an overall elevation in the quality of the local wines, and walking around the Montefalco tasting reinforced the feeling that Umbrian wines are really breaking out and coming into their own.
Jeff and I have been fans and champions of rose wines and their aren’t many in Italy that have truly wowed us. I like Corvo from Sicily; it’s pleasant and easy but not exceptional. Here in Umbria, Tenuta San Lorenzo is releasing their first batch of rose, called “Ose” and I’m hoping this is not a case of beginner’s luck because this rose was outstanding. And as an extra treat, the label is gorgeous, featuring a lush and decadent rose.
Cantina Novelli is another vineyard that is pushing the parameters. They have a lovely, easy sipping white wine called Bianco Cube, along with it’s partner Rosso Cube, these are two affordable and excellent every day wines. The lovely lady from the Cantina also told us that their Trebbiano is excellent, but it’s so popular that it’s already finished. Next year, we’re going to have get there earlier. Cantina Novelli is also developing a sparkling wine for the first time, and I can’t wait to taste it when it is released later this year. Lungarotti is currently making an outstanding sparkling wine, so it would be nice to see some Umbrian wines give Proseco a little run for the money.
All the big players were there, Caprai, Lungarotti, Adanti, but I like finding the other guys, the little vineyards that can afford to take some chances. Another vineyard to keep your eye on is Dionigi; their Sagrantino passito is some of the best that I have ever tasted. Complex, full of spice and vanilla, harmonious with a subtle, lingering, relaxed finish. But more on Dionigi later.
If you can’t find these wines at your local wine seller, then start pestering them to get some, it’s worth the effort.