Montechiara Sagrantino di Montefalco
Those obsessed with (or perhaps mildly interested in) rare, unique or different grape varieties should take particular note of Sagrantino. Almost exclusively grown in a small area of Umbria – hardly the most heralded wine region in Italy – the dry form of this juice is a relatively new addition to the fine wine world. Because of the grape’s thick skin and thus intense tannins, for many years it was only used to make passito (sweet wine made from dried grapes). In the 1970s, however, several Umbrian producers brought it back from near extinction and proved it could make a hearty, unique dry wine. Sagrantino di Montefalco gained DOC status in 1980, followed by the coveted DOCG status in 1992.
Because of the aforementioned thick skin, Sagrantino contains the highest levels of polyphenols (such as tannins) of any grape, which adds both intense flavor and the potential risk of overwhelming bitterness and acidity. As such, it’s a difficult grape to work with, but can yield exciting results when handled properly. Well-made Sagrantinos feature pronounced earthy and vegetal aromas along with rich, inky color and flavor that develops with bottle age.
Because Sagrantino is both rare and difficult, it’s almost unheard of to find a bottle for less than $30, so I took immediate note of this Montechiara Chairman’s Selection in Pennsylvania, newly available for just $19.99. It’s hard to imagine any Sagrantino that wouldn’t, at the very least, be worth a try for less than $20. As an added bonus, the modest bottle age here means the wine is probably ready to enjoy right away.
This particular wine isn’t the best Sagrantino out there, but it’s quite good and certainly a worthy purchase. The aroma starts out quite vegetal, but over time (be sure to give this puppy at least 60 minutes in the decanter!) develops earthy and warm spice aromas. (All Sagrantino di Montefalcos must age for at least 12 months in oak.) On the palate, it features rich dark cherries, with an almost medicinal heat on the finish. The tannins are certainly there, but alongside a dish with meat, they are well-integrated.
All in all, an enjoyable experience at a great price.