Sagrantino Inspired by Bordeaux to Show Off Its Qualities

The headline of the press release read, “Sagrantino inspired by Bordeaux to show off its qualities.”  Since it was the 30th anniversary of Montefalco Sagrantino receiving its DOC designation, this was a good time to make the announcement.  The wine also has been awarded the DOCG, so the consortium was looking for a way to bring more attention to the wine and the area.  What better way to do this than to imitate the French!

The Consorzio Tutela Montefalco, with the approval of The Ministry of Forests, Food and Agriculture, established a commission (the makeup has not been decided) to divide the wines into several quality classes, inspired by the model adopted by the Saint-Emilion area in Bordeaux in the mid-nineteen fifties. It will be known as: La Classification del Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.

A conference on the Experimental Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG was organized for November 19 and 20 in Montefalco primarily to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed classification.  I was part of a group of journalists both international and Italian who were invited to the conference.

Professor Dobourdieu, Professor Zampi and Daniele Cernilli speaking at the conference

A panel discussion moderated by Daniele Cernilli, Gambero Rosso magazine’s editor, included the distinguished Professor Vincent Zampi (Economics Professor of the Florence University). He explained the proposal and elaborated on it.

The other speakers were: Denis Dubourdieu (Oenology Professor at Bordeaux University), Attilio Scienza (Oenology Professor at Milan Univeristy), and French journalist Thierry Desseauve. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro (FederDOC president) and Stefano Raimondi (CE wine and food drink manger) also spoke. It was an interesting discussion and there were very good points made for and against the proposal. We will have to wait until next year to see what happens.

One of the questions that crossed my mind was why Montefalco Sagrantino was chosen as the first wine for this type of classification. The Consortium’s answer was that Sagrantino di Montefalco can be considered a unique laboratory for creating and perfecting a classification system. Of course the Consortium feels that the pros outweigh the cons.  They went on to say that the wine is neither well known, nor has it achieved the prestige that it deserves and that the classification may help to achieve these ends.  When I asked some of the producers how they felt about the proposed classification, there were mixed reviews.

To understand why the Consortium considers the wine unique and to understand it a little better, here is some information that I learned from my visits to Montefalco.

Sagrantino grapes

There are many different explanations on how the Sagrantino grape came to Umbria.  Pliny the Elder (d.79 A.D) in his Naturalis Historia writes that a grape called Itrola was cultivated there in Roman times. Some sources state that it might have been brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis returning from Asia Minor in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Others think that it is native to Spain and may have been brought to Umbria by the Saracens.

Recent studies show that the Sagrantino variety does not have any similarity to any other grape variety cultivated in Central Italy, nor is it related to Sangiovese as some believed. The grape is only found around five hill towns, Montefalco being the best known. It is therefore a very local grape variety.

The name can be traced to the Latin “Sacer”, meaning sacred and related to the sacraments, since the grape was cultivated by monks to produce a raisin wine used for religious rites.  Sagrantino is first mentioned in a document dated 1549 when a Jewish trader named Guglielmo and his wife Stella placed an order for this grape.

Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G. must be produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes.  In the beginning it was only made into a passito (dried grape) wine. It is an ideal grape for this process because it can dry for as long as four months and can conserve its sugar components intact.  By law, this version has to be aged for 30 months and have at least 14% alcohol. The dry version (secco) must also be aged for 30 months (as of this year 36 months) but 12 of the months must be in wooden barrels. The alcohol content must be at least 13%.  It was not until the early 1970’s that a dry version was produced.

Sagrantino Vintage 1985

The Sagrantino grape is very high in polyphenols (substances extracted from the skins of grapes that provide the coloring and texture for the wine) and also tannin which helps red wine to age.  We were told by Signore Mattivi from the Instituto Agrario Di San Michele all’Adige that of the 25 most popular grapes tested, Sagrantino was the highest in polyphenols and tannin. I also learned that the structure of tannin is different in the pits and the skins. Even though the Sagrantino grape is so high in tannins because of the nature of the grape, it is possible to have a balanced wine.   Phenolics (polyphenols)  have powerful antioxidant properties, but I will not go into this discussion!

Sagrantino is a wine with unique characteristics and a number of producers make exellent wines. They deserve to be better known and I wish them luck with their classification!

After the conference there was a tasting of Montefalco Rosso DOC, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Passito.  There are 47 producers that are members of the Consortium (a few producers are not members) and about half of them were present at the tasting.

***Next time my impressions on the tasting and my visits to Antonelli San Marco.where I tasted – 1985 Sagrantino and an 85 Passito., Adanti where I tasted wines from 2005- 1994. Di Filippi, an organic winery, Lungarotti  where I was given the grand tour by Chiara Lungarotti, Scacciadiavoli,. Fattoria Colsanto where I met my friend Valneo Livon and had a great lamb dish that worked perfectly with his wine. and Azienda Agricola Dionigi for a vertical tasting of Sagrantino

If anyone is interested I can e-mail the remarks on the classification made by Professor Vincenzo Zamoi which is in English.


Filed under Italian Red Wine, sagrantino

8 responses to “Sagrantino Inspired by Bordeaux to Show Off Its Qualities

  1. Charles:

    Excellent post- thanks for sharing this information.

    I love this area and think there are many excellent estates here, especially Antonelli and Adanti. But why do they feel the need to do this? Do they really believe a classification will help sales?

    Let the French have their system. The local producers and consorzio should be doing a better job of promoting these wines, which as you wrote, are quite distinctive.

    • charlesscicolone

      Ciao Tom
      I believe that they think it will improve sales and bring attention to the area. What better way to do it, they believe ,then to copy the French. As a good friend often says “siamo in Italia” when trying to explain what the Italians are doing.

    • ES

      I just returned from a trip to Umbria and tasted several Sagrantino’s including several Passito wines. They were marvelous. I’ve been enjoying Italian wines for 30 years and was not aware of Sagrantino until this trip. Improved sales of this great wine would do much for Italian wines in general, I think, because it would expand the the range of wines available. “Super Tuscans” have proved that well-made windes that capitalize on and expand the basic flavor of Italian wines can profitably expand the market. Why shouldn’t a great wine like Sagrantino do the same? I’ll be especially pleased if they get to the US in larger numbers and are not overpriced!

  2. Charles:
    Given how confusing so many Americans already find the DOCG/DOC ratings, is this designation going to be another hurdle for Americans to cross before delving into Italian wines?
    As for copying the French, I am surprised the (frequently) Franco-phobe Italians would have anything of their’s that might be a French knock-off.
    in modo che il mondo gira.

    • charlesscicolone

      Ciao Dave:
      The DOC/DOCG laws are very confusing to most Americans and I also agree that the Classificazione may add to the confusion.
      The French speaker Professor Dubouedieu was against the idea. The Italians still seem to look upon the French as leading the way.

  3. Pingback: “Montefalco…Not Just Sagrantino DOCG” and my Adventures at Vino 2011 | Charles Scicolone on Wine

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