Wine from Sagrantino
The Montefalco region of Umbria is the origin of a very unique wine called Sagrantino. Its production is highly limited and there are only thirty licensed producers, these being restricted by a Government Decree to the Comuni of Montefalco, Castel Ritaldi, Bevagna, Giano dell'Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo. While another vineyard may produce an apparently similar wine, and even use the same grapes, only those chosen few vineyards may actually label theirs Sagrantino.
It is easy to discern the genuine article since true Sagrantino bears the DOCG mark (Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) which, since 1992, has guaranteed the pedigree of the wine. Perhaps ironically, 1992 is considered by connoisseurs to be a poor vintage.
The wine is not just remarkable for its taste. The grapes are thought to contain the highest recorded levels of polyphenols which are naturally-occurring anti-oxidants. These scavenge the free radicals in the blood system and, in doing so, help prevent diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Sagrantino wine appears to have been in production since the Middle Ages although its exact origin has never been agreed upon. One theory is that it first came to Umbria with the early Franciscan Friars. The name itself does suggest a religious influence - it was possibly even the wine of choice for the holy sacrament. Certainly the Benedictine order of monks was keen on transforming unused land into highly-productive vineyards and Sagrantino was being made by this time. It was also these monks who established Umbria's viticulture which exists to this day and which plays such an important part in the local economy.
Two types of Sagrantino wine
The more commonly known of the two is a typically full-bodied dry wine possessing a dark ruby or deep garnet coloration. Its bouquet is particularly fruity, like a blackberry, some say, and its aroma have been described as 'like violets'. The wine is a popular, if expensive, accompaniment to red meat or game dishes and, despite being red, often eaten with the locally-caught wild boar. At up to forty times the cost of the cheapest Italian red wine, it is a drink to be savoured.
The other Sagrantino wine is called 'Passito' in reference to the extreme ripeness of the grapes when they are picked - much like the German Spätlese. After the grapes have been harvested, they are then spread out on wooden trays where they must remain drying for at least two months. The grapes' storage conditions are critical otherwise they could quickly go mouldy and become unusable.
The finished wine is, as might be expected, very sweet and aromatic. It is also intoxicating, having an alcohol content of 15% or even higher. It is used mainly as a wine to be drunk alongside sweet desserts such as the Italian staple favourite, tiramisu (which means literally'pick me up').
Both wines improve with keeping and it is a condition of their production that they be matured in cellars for a minimum of thirty months. Passito must also spend over a third of this time in a wooden cask.
Wine connoisseurs have agreed that the best vintages in recent years have been 1985, 1990, 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2004.
The wine and its associated vineyards have become a popular tourist attraction for a less well-trodden part of Italy. Travellers to Umbria looking to learn more about this world-famous wine should look out for the road signs declaring 'Strada del Sagrantino' (Sagrantino Wine Route).
29 December 2011 Moira G Gallaga©
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