If many wine publications are to be believed, Sagrantino is “probably Italy’s most tannic red wine.” This is a heavy burden for any varietal to bear. We find Sagrantino to be one of Italy’s most nuanced, while undeniably intense, wine grapes with chewy but well-polished tannins and gorgeous red and black fruit flavors.
Sagrantino, like many native Italian grapes has an uncertain history. It’s important to consider that the large chunk of history (roughly 1,000 years) between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance was a period of lost history. From what we do know, Sagrantino appears to be a grape with an ancient history.
There are written accounts of the grape we now call Sagrantino from the Middle Ages while the name Sagrantino seems to have first appeared in 1598. It is nearly certain that from the 16th century though much of the 20th century Sagrantino was used to create sweet wines. These wines were made with the appassimento technique whereby partially dried grapes are utilized. When the DOC that features Sagrantino was created in 1977 it was for sweet wine, not dry red.
Sagrantino is a native of Italy’s Umbria region – a land-locked region in Central Italy that’s bordered by Tuscany, Lazio, and Le Marche. More than 90% of all Sagrantino grown in Italy is grown in Umbria.
Sagrantino features in one appellation, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. Sagrantino is the solo grape utilized in the creation of this dense, complex, and age-worthy wine. This appellation was formerly part of the Montefalco DOC and was awarded its own designation in 1992 and named Sagrantino di Montefalco later becoming Montefalco Sagrantino in 2009. Sagrantino does plays a supporting role in the wines of Montefalco Rosso DOC blending with Sangiovese in quantities no less than 10% and no more than 25%.
Sagrantino like many Italian varietals was in danger of extinction. Arnaldo Caprai is often credited with the revival of this grape. Caprai bought his estate in 1971 and planted 13.5 acres of Sagrantino in 1973. His wines are believed by many to be the gold-standard of Sagrantino in Umbria.
Sagrantino has quite high polyphenol levels that contribute to a dark color and dense tannins in its wines. Sagrantino wines are described as being abundant in aromas and flavors red berries, red & black cherry, ginger, anise, cocoa, vanilla, and brown baking spices. The famous tannins are surely plentiful but present themselves as well-polished and rarely astringent.
In the case of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG it is required to be aged a minimum of 37 months including a minimum of 12 months in barrel. Many producers greatly exceed this 12 month minimum in wood. This is a deep and complex wine that will just begin to show its full-potential five years after its vintage.
If you have never experienced Sagrantino I suggest trying a bottle or two of Montefalco Rosso to subtly introduce your palate to the complex and rustic flavors offered by Sagrantino. If you find these wines enjoyable then step up to Montefalco Sagrantino.
Montefalco Sagrantino needs to breathe so we urge you to decant the wine at least 30 minutes before serving. This is a bold food wine pairing well with cured sausages, game, braised meats, and aged pecorino cheese.