History and Nature of Sagrantino

Scientific tests have demonstrated that Sagrantino has a higher quantity of phenolic compounds than any other varietal. It is also the highest in tannins of any known grape variety in the world. As a consequence, the aging potential is enormous and leaning towards the infinite…

Since its skin is very thick, Sagrantino is generally harvested by mid October or even later, so to get a perfect ripening. Some say that Sagrantino is indigenous to the area of Montefalco, whilst others believe that it was brought there by wise Franciscan Friars or even by St. Francis himself. At least one thing is indisputable: Montefalco is the only place it is grown now and Sagrantino has turned out to be the most important of all the Umbrian wines. Also, those Friars didn't discover Sagrantino as a robust dry wine as it is mostly celebrated nowadays. In fact, they appreciated it as a Passito sweet wine, obtained by leaving the grapes macerating in the vineyards and then – after a delayed harvest – exposing them to the sun, so to dry them and concentrate the sugars inside the vines. However, Sagrantino has been in Umbria since a long long time, in all probability before the Middle Age times. Even Pliny the Elder, back in the XX A.C., wrote about the fine wines of Montefalco! Even if he didn't write the word, it's naturally understood that he was meaning Sagrantino.

Just like it often happens with most of the great wines, the varietal is strictly combined with its territory and so to all the traditions of its area, and "Umbria is a land of Saints and great wines" as well as the "green heart of Italy", like two popular watchwords say. The vineyards of Sagrantino rest among the Apennine Mountains whose chilling winds soothe the outcomes of the hot summers. The most relevant drying breeze is called Tramontana and comes from the North limiting rot. Also, the growing season, like much of Italy, is lengthened by the Mediterranean. The soil is mostly clay, sometimes sandy, muddy and with some river pebbles. A clay ground can also supply further cooling to the vines at their roots, whilst the overall Mediterranean flow yields a longer growing season. This climate leads to a grape that has lots of tannins yet also sweet dark fruit. All these dynamics and more lead to a truly unique full bodied wine that reaches a wonderful ripeness of fruit, with an astonishing tannic structure. Its colour is so deep that is almost impenetrable, complementing a rich bouquet that is usually recognized with nuances of vanilla, black fruit, liquorice and chocolate. The palate follows the aromatic progression, and the power has never an end to itself. So once again, if there's a red wine that you can meticulously keep in your cellar for the longest time in the world, that one would be Montefalco Sagrantino: it really becomes smoother and smoother in time, and one of the most elegant wines you'll ever taste.

Until the early Sixties, only a few winemakers were even growing it. And at that time, most of the Sagrantino grapes were used for the blend of Montefalco Rosso - that is the other popular red wine of the area – or for the production of the Passito. Then in 1979 Montefalco was accorded a blanket DOC to cover the various wines produced there, and just the following year, Montefalco Sagrantino was conferred a distinctive D.O.C. appellation. The disciplinary avowed that the wine must be 100% Sagrantino aged for 30 months (of which at least 12 in wood) before release. Yet in 1982, Montefalco Sagrantino got the DOCG status, mostly thanks to the work of Arnaldo Caprai, one of the first wineries to really believe in the great potential of the grape. After the rediscovering of the grape during the early Nineties, presently there are about 250 acres planted in the D.O.C.G.

As for the pairings, the dry version of Sagrantino needs strong and persistent tastes like the ones you may find on many dishes of the Umbrian tradition: fine game, wild boar, lamb, free-range country pigeon, brased meats and of course aged cheeses. Montefalco Sagrantino would never be a starting or an aperitive wine, but you could decide to open it in front of your hosts at the beginning of the meal, and then let it decant for at least one hour, so that when it's time to serve the main course, you'll also pour a glass of Sagrantino that will open its flavors and aromas into and out of the glass. You might even pair it with a square of fine dark chocolate or a cigar after-supper, since it's a superb meditation wine too.

Of course, the Passito version typically recalls simple settings like dry fruits, biscuits and very dark chocolate as logical couplings. Most of the sommeliers convey that it's not only a dessert wine though. In fact, the combining with aged cheeses, game and even lamb meats is bold but fascinating.