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Sagrantino: Sadly, a little-known wine from Umbria (Italy)

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The region of Montefalco in Umbria is home to the Sagrantino grape, which makes a stunning red wine. This grape is only grown in Montefalco. There are not many producers, and those who use it tend to make the wine in limited quantities.

The grapes grow in small bunches and the skins are very thick, which produce rich fruit flavors and strong structure in the way of tannins and other components. Part of these other components imparted by the skin is an extremely high concentration of polyphenols. “Scientists believe that polyphenols are a potent inhibitor of Endothelin-1, which causes constriction of heart vessels and leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.”*

Reports of the cultivation of Sagrantino in Montefalco date back to 1549. There is a lot of speculation as to the origin of this grape variety, but it is just that. There are no definitive answers, and according to the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, there is no relationship between Sagrantino and any known grape varieties cultivated in central Italy.

The Sagrantino grape almost completely disappeared from Umbrian vineyards in the 1960s. A handful of producers worked to preserve it, and it obtained DOC designation in 1979; by 1992 it had attained DOCG status.

Montefalco’s Sagrantino is a wine for the ages. This grape produces a very tannic wine, so time in bottle is paramount. In fact I’m reviewing five samples from 2006 and 2007, and they are the current releases on the market.

Some of the constants I found in all of the samples are aromas and flavors of blackberries and sweet spices, as well as obvious but lovely tannins.

· 2006 Fongoli Sagrantino di Montefalco is very earthy, almost dirty, on the nose with aromas of black- and blueberries, graphite and subtle smoke. It is medium-to-full bodied with a peppery palate and dark berry flavors. It has beautifully balanced acidity, velvety tannins and a finish that goes on forever. (Uncorked Wine Co. - $42)

· 2007 Arnaldo-Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco has a big nose of red berries, ginger and flowers with some tobacco in the background. On the palate it shows the youthful exuberance of a child who needs to grow up. It has bright red fruits, medium body, still-scratchy tannins and a big finish. (Nolita Wine Merchants - $103)

· 2007 Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco offers a nose full of black fruit and sweet spices. The palate follows the nose. The wine is medium bodied with killer acidity, velvety tannins and a long finish of blackberries and white pepper.

· 2007 Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco is high in alcohol (15.5%), and I notice it on the mid palate. There iss also forward black fruit, sweet spice and some earthy notes. Funnily enough, the sweet spices dominate the nose, but not the palate. The tannins start out drying but as the wine opens up become the sweet velvety ones I've grown accustomed to on this type of wine. Long, lovely finish. (Bowery and Vine, $42)

· 2006 Antonelli Chiusa di Pannone Sagrantino di Montefalco has a slightly developed nose showing graphite, leather, cedar. The palate also shows development as well as bright blackberries and sweet spices. There’s an oddly savory component as well. It’s medium bodied with great acid, slightly velvety tannins and a slightly rustic finish.

*This comes from research done by Bodegas Catena Zapata in Argentina, which produces Malbec high in polyphenols.

The author also recommends this article about Sagrantino di Montefalco,

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