Welcome to Montefalco, “the balcony of Umbria” in the backyard of Tuscany. Montefalco is a relatively little-known wine region in the U.S., known primarily as the birthplace and home of Sagrantino, a grape that thrives in the hills of this area. Sagrantino (from “sacrament,” called thusly because dried Sagrantino grapes have been used by monks to produce raisin-based wines for centuries) makes for a massive, classically Italian wine. It is said that Sagrantino wines have some of the highest levels of tannins in any commercially produced wine in the world, so feel free to open these well before you drink them and watch them evolve in the glass.
A recent virtual tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco and broadcast from the heart of Montefalco let us Americans sample a collection of eight recent vintages — four pure Sagrantino bottlings and four Montefalco Rosso bottlings. (Montefalco Rosso is a blend that typically includes heavy Sangiovese and a smaller proportion of Sagrantino, among other international varietals.)
Thoughts on the eight wines — exhibiting some remarkably similar DNA while showing off unique flourishes here and there — which were sampled follow.
2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC – 60% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A touch of barnyard on the nose doesn’t mar an otherwise fun, fruity Rosso. Bright cherry and strawberry notes attack up front, with more earthy elements taking hold on the back end. Shortish, drying finish. B / $20
2010 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Merlot. Firing on all cylinders, this Rosso features a well-balanced body that keeps baking spices, dried fruits, tobacco, and fresh cherries all in check. Long finish, with the herbal notes rising to the top. Quite food friendly. A- / $22
2010 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC – 65% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sedate and undemanding, this lightly vegetal Rosso drinks without much fuss, a steady wine that brings fennel, licorice, rosemary, and thyme to the forefront. Very compacted fruit on the back end, as the wine plays everything close to the vest. B / $18
2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso DOC – 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Cabernet/Merlot. Dry but balanced with fruit, this wine features notes of violet mingled with its blackberry core. Vanilla and strawberry notes emerge over time. This one’s well balanced and easy to enjoy either on its own or with a meal. A- / $15
2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Initially very austere and restrained. Intense herbal character, almost bitter with tree bark and root notes. Given significant time the wine opens up to reveal blackberry notes, plums, and a little brown sugar — but its huge bramble and balsamic character dominates through the finish. Hearty as all get out. B+ / $40
2009 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Immediately more fruit up front, with some barnyard notes in the background. In the glass, the wine develops more of a fruit punch character to it, with plum and cran-apple flavors evolving. The finish shows tannin, but is nowhere near as overwhelming as the Scacciadiavoli. B / $50
2010 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Quite an enchanting nose — floral and fruity. Clear floral notes on the palate, with notes of violets and strawberry. The chewy, tannic finish takes things more to licorice than balsamic. B+ / $37
2009 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Heady aromas of blueberry and some baking spice. The sweetest wine of the bunch by a longshot, which is a huge help in cutting through the tannin, which grows on the back end as the wine develops on the palate. Notes of eucalyptus leaf and menthol find their way into the finish. B+ / $40