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Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Sagrantino Should be on Your Radar

     Sagrantino pairs perfectly with Umbria's grilled meats, game and Pecorino

If you're a wine lover and you've been to Umbria then most likely you know wines made from the Sagrantino grape. If you've dined in an Italian Michelin star recently and you've asked the sommelier to pick a "hidden gem" red wine, there's a good chance he/she may have uncorked a bottle of Umbrian Sagrantino. These impressive, complex and long-lived wines should be known. 

Many of you may be asking why you haven’t heard of the wine? Sagrantino, thought to be native to Umbria, has been cultivated since the Middle Ages in this central province contiguous with Tuscany.  Typically used by the monks for a sweet sacramental wine, it fell out of fashion as a dry table wine. By the 1960’s it was was almost extinct until one of Umbria’s most influential winemakers recognized the grape’s virtues for a dry wine. Today, there has been a renaissance---25 boutique producers now grow the grape on about 250 acres. Because production is limited, the wine is not well known outside of Italy. But that may be changing.

Sagrantino is now Umbria’s flagship wine and the appellation of Sagrantino di Montefalco is its premium district. This zone surrounding the medieval town of Montefalco, has the most stringent rules for growing and making Sagrantino. For example, the maximum yields per acre are one of the lowest in Italy. Also, wine must be aged for 2.5 years before it can be released…of which a minimum of one year must be in oak. These wines are so distinctive that in 1992 the Italian government awarded Sagrantino di Montefalco its own D.O.C.Q., a coveted demarcated section of quality.

So how does this wine translate into one’s glass? First, Sagrantino di Montefalco is an enormously full-bodied wine, with huge muscular tannins. When poured into a glass one is immediately taken by its deep inky color---nearly an opaque deep garnet. On the nose, there’s an aroma of blackberries and black plums, with often subtle scents of violets. Next, the flavor profile which ranges from black cherries to ripe blackberries with secondary spice and savory earth characteristics. Both the nose and the gustatory elements reflect its mandatory aging in oak with spices such as cloves, nutmeg, vanilla and even chocolate or mocha. Bottles with some age on them are best so that the powerful tannins are tamed. Decanting several hours before is also helpful to soften the tannic structure.

Foods that pair best with Sagrantino di Montefalco include Umbria’s grilled meats, game or hearty stews. Heavy tannins cut through fat, so the wine works beautifully with Umbria’s Pecorino. Heavier pastas (with a hearty tomato sauce or a rich cream sauce) also perform perfectly with Sagrantino. A well-aged Sagrantino also works well with Umbria’s culinary specialty, the black truffle.

If you buy Sagrantino to drink now, make sure to purchase one of the following vintages:  2005, 2007 or 2008.  If you're buying it to age for a couple of years think 2004 or 2006.  If you're planning more than 5 years of aging get the 2010.  But, whatever you do, buy a bottle of this gem of a wine.

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