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

One year later, in 1980 Sagrantino di Montefalco was given its own DOC status. Sagrantino di Montefalco wines are 100% Sagrantino and are aged for 30 months (12 of them in wood barrels) before being released. The quality of these wines soared as wineries such as Arnaldo Caprai invested time and resources into making the greatest wines possible. As a result, in 1992 Sagrantino di Montefalco was elevated to DOCG status. Sagrantino can be used to make both dry and sweet red wines. There is not a lot of Sagrantino produced. Presently there are about 250 acres planted in the DOCG. Although this article is discussing the dry red wines, the sweet red wines can also be ethereal and are priced accordingly.

Sagrantino produces tannic, heavy masculine wines. It is a powerful wine deep in purple and ruby colors. The better versions are almost unapproachable in their youth as they are tight and tannic. These wines appear to be able to age effortlessly for decades. The simpler varieties have a sweetness to them from the ripe fruit and a complexity from the soil.

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There are a variety of producers who make these wines. Two in particular stand above the rest. Their differences illuminate the modernist versus traditionalist debate going on in much of the wine world.

Paolo Bea makes some of the most intellectually interesting and deliciously tasting wines to be found anywhere. In his 70’s, he is the man in charge at his family’s winery in Umbria. The family can, in fact, trace its Umbrian roots back to the 1500’s. His son Giuseppe now grows the grapes while his other son Giampiero handles the commercial aspects for the winery. They pride themselves on natural and organic methods to make their wine. In fact this is a working farm with livestock and other products for sale including olives, vegetables and fruits. Five Hectacres are devoted to the growing of grapes and 60% of that is devoted to Sagrantino.

The Bea wine is made in the traditional manner. The grapes are harvested by hand. After harvesting, the grapes are allowed to stay in contact with the skins and seeds for up to a month. The wine goes through full malolactic fermentation in stainless steel and is then racked into large oak barrels. The wine is left in barrel for a couple of years before bottling without filtration or fining. The resulting wine is thick, dark and tannic and in need of seven or more years of bottle age to really show what it is about. After that though, it is good for the next twenty (at least). The Bea Sagrantino is considered by many to be among the best in the world.

At the other end of the spectrum is Marco Caprai. The Arnaldo Caprai winery was founded in 1971 with only five acres. Arnaldo’s son, Marco eventually took over management. His work in the 1980s and 1990s led to a scientific examination of the clones of Sagrantino used with help from the University of Milan. At the same time he invested in the winery itself utilizing modern techniques. In fact, the winery was completely redone in 1997. Marco became the chief proponent of Sagrantino wines from Umbria. The Caprai Estate has now grown to 90 acres. While they make whites and Sangiovese based reds, the Sagrantino is the star of the show. The top of the line wine is called the 25 Anni. It was first released in 1996 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the winery. This is a brooding dark wine that takes years to reach maturity. Drunk young, the wines simply are so tight that they cannot reveal all the potential the wine contains.

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