Sagrantino di Montefalco: From Umbria Comes The Best Red Wine You Never Tasted!

The region of Umbria sits landlocked in the center of Italy. With Tuscany to the Northwest, the Marches to the East and Latium with Rome to the South West, it is a beautiful region that sometimes gets lost in the conversations about Italy. Umbria has one wine that gets some international recognition; their famous white wine Orvieto. In fact, many agri-tourismo wineries surround the quaint medieval town of Orvieto which has become something of a destination for a few relaxing days while touring Italy. But, there is also a red, Sagrantino di Montefalco, which also hails from Umbria that is worth putting on your radar.

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Sagrantino is grape varietal that grows only around the hilltop town of Montefalco. In fact, it is grown nowhere else in the world (although lately there have been some experiments with it in Tuscany). Its origins are mysterious. Whether the grape is indigenous to the area or not is up for debate. Some theorize that it was brought to Umbria by the Greeks, while others say it was brought by the Franciscan (French) friars. Another theory has St. Francis of Assisi bringing it from the Middle East to be used as a sacramental wine. Among the wine cognoscenti though, it is now Umbrian at its soul.

What makes this wine so special? Well to start with, the geography. The vineyards sit in a bowl surrounded by the Apennine Mountains. The soil is mostly clay with limestone and sand. The climate gets very hot in the summer (and cold in winter), but the clay soils keep the roots cool as they search for water deep in the ground. The mountains provide cooling breezes especially at night. During the hot days a drying breeze called the Tramontano comes from the north limiting rot. The growing season, like much of Italy, is lengthened by the Mediterranean. This climate results in a grape that has lots of tannins yet also sweet dark fruit. 

Sagrantino has a long history in Italy. The first official mention of Sagrantino was by the Ampelographic Commission of the district of Foligno in 1879. There are recordings of vineyards in Montefalco going back to the 11th century. Pliny the elder mentions wines grown from Montefalco. There is no way to know if these were Sagrantino though. The grape fell into obscurity by the end of the 20th century and was well on its way to extinction. Only a few growers still cultivated the grape, most notably perhaps Fratelli Adanti. Then in 1971, with the founding of the Caprai winery, a renewed interest was found in Sagrantino. It has only been in the last 30 years that the combination of scientific research, care in the vineyards as well as the winery, and finding a vigneron to champion the grapes has resulted in wines of such grandeur.

In 1979, Montefalco was granted DOC status. This area is located south of Perugia and comprises the towns of Montefalco and Bevagna. The main wine produced, however, is Montefalco Rosso, primarily a blend with 60 to 70 percent Sangiovese (the grape made famous in Tuscany with Chianti and Brunello), 10 to 15 percent Sagrantino and the remainder other red varietals. Interestingly, Sangiovese is still the most planted red varietal in Umbria. Used for making Torgiano Rosso, which has traditionally been the “luxury” red of Umbria.