In Italian they say ‘finire in bellezza‘ and that is exactly what we did, ending up the season of new release tastings in front of Benozzo Gozzoli’s magnificent frescoes in Montefalco.
Such beauty! It’s taken me over a week to recover! Just adore St. Francis driving the demons out of Arezzo! Benozzo was busy, between working in Florence for the Medici and coming down here to Montefalco.
While the two-day event was billed as the 2014 Sagrantino anteprima, there’s a whole lot more going on in Umbria than just Sagrantino. The February 19-20 event featured about 40 local producers.
It’s one of the coldest winters on record here in sunny Italy, so we let those big Umbrian reds warm us up.
Yours truly heading up a deserted Montefalco street to the event
Montefalco is adorable, but I suggest you visit it in warmer weather!
No matter how small your sip is, Sagrantino is a very big grape. Talk about aggressive tannins! At one point, as I was about to taste, a producer told me this Montefalco Sagrantino had spent 24 months in barrique. Yet, I was not prepared for my tongue to be aggressed in that way! What the heck would it have been if it had spent even a day less?
These are big, chewy wines, and after a day of tasting, it felt like they’d chewed me up and spit me out! You can see the glasses are coated with this full bodied, big structure central Italian red.
We limited ourselves to only 7 producers for a couple of reasons: we still had to drive home (the skinniest Sagrantino weighs in at 13% and many go to 16%), and – well, I don’t want you to think I’m a lightweight, but – my taste buds were begging for mercy! Which producers, you ask? In alphabetical order: Antonelli, Arnaldo Caprai, Colle Ciocco, Perticaia, Romanelli, Tabarrini, Terre de la Custodia.
Whether they are big or small (and no one is too big in this region, making for some very nice niche producers), everyone is passionate about communicating their wine to you in an intimate setting. It is a region that lends itself to meandering along spectacularly beautiful country roads and stopping in at the wineries along the way. Memo to self: do the Sagrantino road soon!
The ‘other’ red – Montefalco Rosso – depends heavily on our good friend Sangiovese (minimum 60% maximum 70% with only 10 – 15% Sagrantino), which believe it or not, actually tones down the Sagrantino!
Actually, I think the Umbrian whites are pretty exciting: refreshing, aromatic, easily paired with food or enjoyed as an aperitif, there is great range of native and international varieties, going into some delicious blends: Grechetto is the star of the show, and the grape variety that goes into Umbria’s historical and perhaps most famous white, Oriveto DOC. But I also enjoyed getting to know Trebbiano spoletino better.
The President of the Consorzio for Montefalco Sagrantino, Amilcare Pambuffetti (and like the wine, that name is a mouthful!) made an impassioned yet humble speech. Everyone is worried about global warming of course, but the appeal to work together, to improve communication, to share the know-how, and the invitation to journalists to give feedback, was exemplary.
Sometimes I ask myself if people who live surrounded by such beauty all the time, both in nature and in art, can still appreciate it all, or if they know how lucky they are. Umbria is a region that lends itself to food&wine tourism.
Does all this great eating and drinking make you a better person? Perhaps. Because this is also the land of saints… From Saint Francis of Assisi to Saint Clare of Assisi, Santa Clare of Montefalco, Saint Agnes of Assisi, Jacopone da Todi, Saint Rita from Cascia, Saint Benedict of Norcia (founder of the Benedictine order), some heavy-hitting saintly people came from this terroir.
We know the origins of this wine is as a passito, a sweet dessert wine used also for the Mass. Holy wine, vino sacro, sacro vino… Sagrantino!