Sagrantino, Montefalco wineries and wines
Part 1 of this article told the story of dry Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG in Umbria and its rise to become an iconic Italian red wine.
This Part 2 has a dozen wineries, most with wines available in the UK. You can click on the map embedded below to view these wineries and find out more. They represent some of the best producers of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG in the dry Secco style. There is considerable diversity among these; whether modern, traditional, small or large. There is a brief pen picture of each winery; each has a review of one Montefalco Sagrantino Secco (MSS) wine. Finally, there are some food matching suggestions.
A typical description
The DOCG rules (yes, I read them), provide a general taste profile of Montefalco Sagrantino Secco. The wine is dry, with a deep colour ranging from ruby red with purple hints to deep garnet after ageing. Typical aromatics are of blackberry, reprised on the palate alongside plums and leather. Tannins should be velvety in texture when ready to drink. The rules stipulate dark glass bottles and cork closures for longevity. While the minimum alcohol is 13.5%, the wines are generally more powerful, with those below 14.5-15%. This general description leaves room for a good deal of diversity in style.
Settimio Spacchetti established this farm in 1935, though the wine cellars are some 200 years old. Today it is run by his sons Lamberto and Eliseo. It covers 25 ha, with 11 ha of vines and 9 ha of olive groves. The farm lies 400 metres above sea level and produces 55,000 bottles each year. The winemaker here also makes the wines at Antonelli San Marco (see below).
MSS 2010, 14.5%.
Fermented in stainless steel, matured in 25hl old oak barrels for 18 months, then two years in the bottle. Deep garnet. Mellow, balanced fruit and fresh acidity with the alcohol and smoothed tannins. Plum, cherry and iodine. Balsamic note as it opens up in the glass. Decanting recommended. Super example and excellent value, newbies start here. Winebuyers, £19.60
Antonelli San Marco
This Estate of 175 hectares is mentioned in several medieval documents and was bought by the Antonelli family in 1883. There is 50 ha of vineyards and ten of olives. The underground gravity-fed winery is from the late 1990s. There is a superb range of wines here, with 300,000 bottles in total. They are now experimenting with amphora and concrete egg fermenters, so there’s a mix of tradition and innovation here.
MSS “Chiusa di Pannone”, 2010, 14.5%.
The flagship wine. A 2.7 ha single vineyard planted in 1995. This wine was made while in organic conversion. Organic certification came in 2012. Maturation is complex; first in 500l barrels for 12 months, then 25 hl barrels for six months. After that, 12 months in cement tanks. Low sulphur and bottled under nitrogen to ensure no oxidation. Deep ruby red, silky tannins. Dark fruit aromas with something attractively animal. Blackberry, cherry and plum fruit. One of the best I’ve tried. Drinking well and will still improve. A superb wine. Jeroboams, £39.95
This winery was established by the Lunelli family, in 2001. They own the brilliant Ferrari sparkling winery in Trentino. The winery building is called Carapace, being a massive sculpture by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro. Fortunately, the wines here live up to Ferrari’s reputation. Thirty-two ha of vineyards make 125,000 bottles of red wine each year, with capacity for more. Organically certified, there are also experiments with Amphora based maturation.
MSS “Carapace”, 2014, 15%.
Twenty-four months in large oak barrels, then thirteen months in bottle. Deep ruby, highly aromatic, with violets, herbs and blackberry. The plummy palate has a Christmas cake richness, with an enveloping texture. Some liquorice, coffee and chocolate on a long finish. Still young, another year or so will see it improve but already lovely. Tannico, £29.08
Perticaia means “Plough”. It’s a small farm with 16 ha of vines, half of that Sagrantino, at 300m altitude. It was established in 2000 by Guido Guardigli. After his retirement in 2018, the Becca family now own it. There are 120,000 bottles each year in total.
MSS 2011, 14.5%.
This wine matures in untoasted French oak barriques for 12 months, then in stainless steel vats for 12 months. Finally, it gets 12 months in the bottle. Impenetrable ruby coloured, this has scents of blackberry and cinnamon. There’s also a menthol note, perhaps eucalyptus. The plummy palate has an attractive sun-dried tomato flavour mixed in. Good length and, thanks to the fresh acidity it feels lighter than some examples. Stellar drinking and one of my favourites, it’ll be my centrepiece on Christmas Day. La Vino, Halifax £29.50
Montefalco’s oldest wine estate, established in 1884 and totalling 120 ha. It has been in the Pambuffetti family since 1954. The name means “chase away the devil” because a local Exorcist used their Sagrantino. With what success I don’t know! There are 250,000 bottles per year from their 40 ha of vineyards. Unusually, this includes a Método Classico sparkling wine made with Sagrantino vinified as a white wine; unusual, intriguing and delicious.
MSS 2011, 14.5%.
All maturation is in oak. Dark ruby, plummy. The palate feels particularly weighty and powerful. It benefits from decanting and time in the glass. Tannins are polished to a dense but still impenetrable sheen. It still feels youthful, as tastings of the 2008 and 1998 proved. Not for drinking for another five years, so be patient! N/A UK, €25 in Italy
Giampaolo Tabarrini is a force of nature. Extrovert, expert and thoughtful. Full of ideas and delightful company. The question is, have his wines adopted his personality or has he adopted theirs? Either way, the link is inextricable. Giampaolo credits his success to what he learnt from his Grandfather. His winery is from 1998. It’s colossal, especially for 18 ha of vines and 70,000 bottles per year. But Tabarrini is still young, so doubtless that space will fill up. All the wines are “natural” and low sulphur, though there is no certification. There’s also an obsession with cleanliness and precision. All the wines here are magnificent. There are three terroir-based Montefalco Sagrantino’s to choose, all bottled under DIAM cork.
MSS “Colle alla Macchie” 2006, 14.5%.
This single vineyard wine is on the highest hill in Montefalco. For me, it narrowly outshines the two others (Colle Grimaldesco and Campo alla Cerqua), though frankly, your mileage may vary. There are 3,000 bottles made. The wine spends three years in big oak and then two years in bottle. It’s a bold statement in every way, yet at this age, softer, elegant, and joyous. That old cliche about iron fist/velvet glove is still the best descriptor I know. New nuances emerge with each sip, blackberry and damson, kirsch, intriguing orange and citrus, tobacco and cocoa. There are decades of evolution left. Raeburn Fine Wines, Edinburgh, £42.50
Georgio Lungarotti was famous for inventing the nearby Torgiano DOCG in Umbria with the fabulous Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio. In 2001, his family bought 20 ha in Montefalco, primarily for Sagrantino.
MSS 2012, 14.5%.
Fermented in stainless steel, this then spends one year in barrique before three years in bottle. It’s a delicious example with a lighter feel thanks to red berry, cherry and raspberry notes. Then add in black pepper and spices, forest floor and fungi. A final reprise brings some tobacco on a long, satisfying length. Tannins have a velvet balance, yet it’s nicely chewy at this age. Secret Cellar, £31.99
Tenuta Alzatura is owned by the Cecci family, of Chianti Classico fame. They expanded from Tuscany into Montefalco in the late 1990s. There’s 28 ha of vineyards in organic conversion.
MSS “Uno”, 2010, 14.5%.
Fermented in stainless steel, this gets 16 months in small French barriques and then 18 months in the bottle. Ruby red with scents of violets. There are notes of vanilla, smoke and coffee, which reflect the barrel ageing. However, the dominant flavours are blackberry, plum and a delightful leather touch. Good long finish and a creamy texture. No hard edges. A bottle of 2002 had truffles, liquorice and a terrific autumnal character with delicious freshness. Good value too. Valvona & Crolla, £25.99
Benedetti & Grigi
Umberto Benedetti and Daniele Grigi established B&G in 2014 with a €2m investment in a 68 ha farm. This new venture is part of the larger Grigi agricultural group, which produces animal feed, cereals, beer and more besides. The winery makes two versions of MSS; B&G and La Gaita del Falco. There are stocks of unreleased wines from the previous ownership. There are 400,000 bottles per year. Judging by the quality of the white wines here which fully reflect their new ownership, B&G is a winery to watch closely.
MSS “B&G” 201o, 15%.
B&G is the top line MSS. After fermentation in stainless steel vats; the wine matures in Slavonian oak barrels for 26 months. Then it ages for 12 months in the bottle before release. The newly released 2014 is a terrific violet-tinged example but too young to be ready to drink yet. Meanwhile, this 2010 is ready but will improve. It’s deep garnet with a lighter red-brick edge, so there are signs of ageing. A perfume of violets is alluring, while the palate has silky tannins showing plums and figs. Tannico, £24.80
Bocale di Valentini
The Valentini family set up Bocale in 2002, though the family’s wine heritage goes back much further. Their solar-powered winery overlooks just 5 ha of vines. It’s a small artisanal business making 30,000 bottles each year. They are not certified organic, but there are no chemicals used here.
MSS 2013, 14.5%. Only available in small quantities, each bottle is numbered. After fermenting with natural yeasts, the wine matures in 10 hl French oak barrels for 24 months. Twelve months in the bottle follows that. There is no filtration, so expect sediment to form and therefore decanting is essential. Ruby with violet tinges, blackberry scented with a herbal, possibly eucalypt note. With plenty of tannins evident at this stage, it will benefit from further bottle age. Older examples show the development of polished elegance: plums, vanilla and leather flavours before a slow fade to finish. All the signs are that this will become a beautiful and elegant classic over the next few years. Hedonism Wines, £38.90
There are millions of words about Caprai because it was significant in putting Sagrantino on the map. It was started by textile businessman Arnaldo Caprai in 1971, with 5 ha. However, full flowering came when his son Marco took over in 1988. Today it has 136 ha of vines, including various red and white native and international varieties. There are four MSS wines; Collepiano, Valdimaggio, 25 Anni and Spinning Beauty. Spinning Beauty is a super-luxury cuvée that matures for eight years, with just 800 bottles and an eye-watering price.
MSS “25 Anni”, 2011. 14.5%. The most famous Montefalco wine, so expectations are naturally high. It was first made to celebrate 25 years of production in 1993 and became a permanent fixture in the range. There are 15,000 bottles per year. It’s a selection of grapes given 24 months in all-new French oak, with the remaining period in the bottle. Blackberry and cherry scented with an underlying whiff of roses. The palate has high viscosity, with plums, spices and nutmeg. Tannins are polished. The barrique influence comes at the end, with cocoa, coffee and cloves. Undeniably excellent, though the barrel work adds a little too much “international” character for me. That’s undoubtedly part of the appeal though. Mondial Wines £72.80
Tudernum is a cooperative formed in 1958 with 130 members. They are outside of the Montefalco DOCG at Todi. However, they own 7 ha of Sagrantino vines in the DOCG and are also members of the Consorzio. Like so many Italian coops, quality is now the watchword. Consequently, this is a great source of Umbrian wines, such as the white Grechetto di Todi and also Montefalco Sagrantino.
MSS “Fidenzio”, 2012, 15%. Matured for 18 months in big oak before 18 months in the bottle. Massive, brooding purplish colour. Aromatic herbs, blackberry and plum. Big alcohol here, and so just a hint of warmth, though grace in style. Sweet plum and fig fruit and a long length. Excellent wine and great value. This wine won Tre Biccheri from Gambero Rosso for the first time in 2018. Tudernum is, therefore, the first Umbrian coop to receive this. What a way to celebrate your 60th birthday! N/A UK, €15 in Italy.
Pairing up Montefalco Sagrantino with food doesn’t require you be a carnivore, but it sure helps! And because it’s also wine for feasting, then big meats make natural partners. Hence roasts of Beef, Lamb, Pork, Venison and Wild Boar are all brilliant. So is Turkey and game birds. If you’re a Steak or Chateaubriand fan, you’ll find Sagrantino hits the spot.
For vegetarians, Aubergine and Mushroom dishes will work brilliantly, and anything with truffles will match the wine flavours. Hard cheeses are excellent. If you’d like something typically Italian, then Amatriciana is a classic.
This year, I’ll be serving this wine at Christmas Dinner because this wine will easily stand up to all those strong flavours. In the depths of winter and with Christmas approaching, it’ll be a perfect time to drink Montefalco Sagrantino!
These wineries were visited courtesy of the Montefalco Consorzio, in Autumn 2018. I look forward to returning, with other Montefalco wineries like Adanti, Paolo Bea, Còlpetrone and Bellafonte on my must-visit list!