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  ABC Wine Issue 39, March 2006   
Montefalco SagrantinoMontefalco Sagrantino  Contents 
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Montefalco Sagrantino

In Umbria, green region of central Italy, land of culture, art and ancient traditions, shines a star in the enological firmament which takes its origin from the land of Montefalco: Sagrantino

 Who could have ever thought that in Umbria, the region considered as the Green Heart of Italy - famous in the world for the bliss and quietness of its landscapes, full of peace and spirituality, land of saints and heroes - was able to show firmness and strength in one of its most famous wines? Sagrantino, the grape variety responsible for this prodigy, has been successful in a short period of time to firmly conquer the top of worldwide enology and its success is so resounding, that also other Italian regions begin to claim the chance of cultivating this grape in their territories. Sagrantino means Montefalco and Montefalco - according to an enological point of view - means Sagrantino. The connection between this land and its grape is strong since centuries, and no matter it will be, no one will be able to break this bond, because - since ever - Montefalco is Sagrantino. This is thanks to the firmness and obstinacy of local producers, which have been able to create a great wine from their great grape.

 A grape which has always had the main role in Montefalco's vineyards since ancient times, although - and it is good to remember - at the beginning of the 1970's, many people thought it would have been better to uproot Sagrantino from their vineyards and to replace it with other famous and profitable grape varieties, capable of ensuring a better selling. Only thanks to the obstinacy and commitment of some producers - convinced of the huge potentialities of their grape - that Sagrantino succeeded not only in saving itself, but also to reach the top of the worldwide enology. A long and difficult path of more than thirty years, which today it is repaying back the efforts of all producers - in particular of those who was the first ones to invest on Sagrantino grape, offering a great wine, a unique wine of its kind, to wine lovers. If only one thinks that at the beginning Sagrantino was only used for the production of a sweet and robust wine, strong in tannins, capable of being matched with succulent and tasty roast lambs typical of Easter lunch. In the course of the years, Sagrantino made its own way and the same is true for Montefalco as well - its land - thanks to a past and a tradition made not only by art and history, but also of wine.


The production area of Montefalco
Sagrantino
The production area of Montefalco Sagrantino

 Montefalco - suggestive city in the province of Perugia, also well known as the “railing of Umbria” - is the center of the wine production with Sagrantino grapes. Montefalco is encircled by its city walls of the 1300's, and besides of offering excellent wines, is rich in history, culture and art, such as the renowned and extraordinary Benozzo Gozzoli's frescoes in the church of Saint Francis - where today is found the Civic Museum - pieces of arts which are certainly worth of a visit to this Umbrian city, even better, while drinking a glass of a good Sagrantino. Montefalco is one of the few Italian cities in which the cultivation of vines was practiced inside the city walls, a tradition dating back to medieval times. Anyway, wine production in Montefalco dates back to even more ancient times. Pliny The Elder, in his monumental Naturalis Historia remembered that Itriola grape variety was cultivated in the areas of Mevania (the present city of Bevagna, located in the Sagrantino di Montefalco production's area) and Piceno: «Itriola Umbriae Mevanatique et Piceno agro peculiaris est».

 However, the ancient Itriola grape has no connection with Sagrantino, in fact in 1596 Andrea Bacci identified it with Passerina grape. The origin of Sagrantino grape is quite uncertain and there are many suppositions. Today, Sagrantino is however considered a local grape variety of Montefalco, it is said it was introduced in the fourteenth or fifteenth century by monks of the Franciscan order coming back from their preaching journeys in Asia Minor. Other theories about the origins of Sagrantino suggest this grape came from Spain or that was introduced by Arabs. No matter its origin, genetic researches on Sagrantino have not discovered analogies with other grape varieties. Thanks to the rich documentation in the historical archives of Montefalco, it can be said the Umbrian city has always had a special connection with the cultivation of grape and the production of wine. In fact, there are many documents which refers to vineyards sold or given to others - especially in form of wills - and there are many proves about the care and dedication of the vintners of those times for their vineyards, as well as specific laws about the safeguarding of the enological production.


 

 The most famous of them dates back to the fifteenth century - period in which the cultivation of the grapes was already practiced inside the city walls - in which was set that Whoever will be found to steal immature or ripe grapes and does not own a vineyard or has rent one, will be punished as he was entered in a vineyard of someone else and has gathered grapes». Vineyards and grapes were also safeguarded by specific laws which forbade - for example - non authorized extirpation. At that time, the production of wine played a fundamental role in the economy and culture of the city, in fact since 1540, the date of the beginning of harvesting was set by a proper town law. Still today, this event is alive thanks to Confraternita del Sagrantino (Confraternity of Sagrantino), which, in a specific date of September, publicly announces in a square the beginning of harvesting. The quality of Montefalco wine was also praised by Cipriano Piccolpasso - superintendent of the fortress of Perugia - during the writing of his work «Maps and descriptions of the city and lands subordinated to Perugia Government» in 1565. In this work - commissioned by the Papal State with the aim of drawing maps and “descriptions” of the preservation conditions of the fortresses in the province of Perugia - he wrote that in Montefalco were cultivated good vineyards from which were produced excellent wines.

 In the following centuries, Montefalco and its Sagrantino are frequently mentioned in other documents, always praising their enological qualities. In the occasion of “Umbrian Exhibition”, which took place in Perugia in 1899, Montefalco Sagrantino obtained an important award which was useful to its commercial revitalization. However, Sagrantino had - in the decades ahead - a substantial decline, so that in 1960's it was almost disappeared from Montefalco's vineyards. Other famous grapes, capable of promising success were taking the place in Montefalco's vineyards. It was thanks to the experiments done in 1970's by few and tenacious producers, which determined the triumphal return of Sagrantino grape in Montefalco. After many efforts and an endless passion, Montefalco traditional wines were radically changed, from a sweet wine - produced with the most traditional methods - it changed into a dry, robust and impressive wine; an enological innovation which gave Sagrantino a new role, which allowed it to reach the top of worldwide enology. Today, although the most famous Montefalco wine is produced in the dry style, Sagrantino also keeps intact its origin expressed by the robust and sweet wine, in which the tradition meets the modern enology for a new success, which seems to be almost unstoppable.

 

The Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino

 Montefalco Sagrantino - or Sagrantino di Montefalco - is recognized by the Italian quality system as DOCG wine (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata e Garantita, Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), obtained in 1992. According to the production's disciplinary, the wine can be produced exclusively with 100% Sagrantino grapes. Montefalco Sagrantino can be produced uniquely in the commune of Montefalco - from which the DOCG is named after - and part of the territory in the communes of Bevagna, Gualdo Cattaneo, Castel Ritaldi and Giano dell'Umbria, in the province of Perugia. Montefalco Sagrantino is produced in the styles secco (dry) - whose history is of 30 years - and passito (sweet wine), belonging to the enological tradition of the area. According to the disciplinary, the maximum yield in vineyards must not exceed 80 quintals per hectare, the maximum yield of the grape must not to be lesser than 65% for the dry style, lesser than 45% for the sweet style.

 Dry Sagrantino must have - according to the disciplinary - an alcoholic volume of at least 13%, and of 14.5% for the sweet style. As for aging periods, these are set according to the kind of wine. Dry Montefalco Sagrantino can be sold only after a period of almost 30 months of aging, 12 of which in cask. Montefalco Sagrantino Passito must be aged for at least 30 months. The period of aging begins - in both cases - from the first of December following harvesting. Because of the characteristics of Sagrantino grape - having one of the highest concentration of polyphenols among the grapes in the world - a period of at least 30 months allow tannins to properly mature, while giving a better balance to the wine, therefore becoming less aggressive. In the same production area of DOCG is also defined the area of Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Bianco wines (Red Montefalco and White Montefalco), both recognized as DOC (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata, Denomination of Controlled Origin).

 

From the Great Sagrantino, a Great Wine

 Sagrantino is a unique grape of this kind. It is unique not only because it is cultivated in a pretty small territory, but it is especially unique for the wine which is capable of producing, which is unique, too. The connection between Sagrantino and its territory - which is also responsible for this enological masterpiece - gives a great, strong and powerful wine to the palates of wine lovers, and it may surprise such a wine can be produced in the mild and quiet Umbria. Thanks to its thick skin rich in tannins - Sagrantino is among the grapes having the highest concentration of polyphenols - mould and the attack of parasites are limited, however it is this high quantity of tannins to make Sagrantino an invincible and rebel grape in the cellar. It is only through the complete maturation of tannins, in the vineyard first and then in the cellar - also responsible for Sagrantino's robust body and strength - that the wine will lose its remarkable astringency, while getting a smoother and velvety character.

 However a glass of good Sagrantino begins to fascinate the taster with its dark and deep red color and, after passing it under the nose, it is pretty hard to be indifferent to its strong aromas of black fruits, especially blackberry, the characteristic fruity aroma identifying this grape. Sagrantino's characteristics also allow its clusters to be left for months to dry without getting spoiled: it is thanks to this important operation are being obtained the grapes for the production of the passito style (sweet), the most traditional and ancient wine of the area. Sagrantino Passito - frequently considered a dessert wine because of its sweetness - was indeed used by the people of these lands as a wine to be matched to robust roast lamb in occasion of Easter lunch. Sagrantino Passito - which is certainly good to be matched to desserts, included the ones made of chocolate - is also good for the matching with mature pecorino cheeses produced in Umbria.

 Since 1981, the producers of Montefalco have established “Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco” (Consortium for the Safeguarding of Montefalco Wines), with the aim of coordinating the wineries in researching quality and in the valuation of the wines of the territory. Moreover, the Consortium is involved in the safeguarding of the viticulture and wine production of this area, the safeguarding and promotion of Montefalco's wines, supervise the respect of the production disciplinary, as well as providing agronomic and enological technical assistance its members. In the same territory of Motefalco Sagrantino production area is also defined the production area of Montefalco DOC (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata, Denomination of Controlled Origin), which shares most of its area with the one of Denominazione d'Origine Controllata Colli Martani. Montefalco DOC is produced in three styles: White, Red and Red Reserve.

 Montefalco Bianco is produced with at least 50% of Grechetto grape - autochthonous white grape variety of Umbria - 20-35% of Trebbiano Toscano and the remaining part of authorized white grapes. Although the most famous grape of Montefalco is Sagrantino, the main protagonist in DOC red wines is Sangiovese. Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Rosso Riserva are in fact produced with 70% of Sangiovese grape, 10-15% of Sagrantino grape and the remaining part with authorized red grapes. As for aging periods, Montefalco Rosso must age for a minimum of 18 months, while for Montefalco Rosso Riserva the minimum period is 30 months, of which 12 in cask.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 39, March 2006   
Montefalco SagrantinoMontefalco Sagrantino  Contents 
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