I once heard the quote that the Italians have too many varieties to know what to do with, and the hundreds of different grape varieties indigenous to Italy have certainly led to a great deal of confusion among both producers and drinkers. Some are famous and the backbone to great wines (Nebbiolo for Barolo, Sangiovese for Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino). Others are overly planted and forgettable (Trebbiano, for instance). There are those which give their name to wine regions (Barbera d'Alba). To add to the confusion, there are grapes which share their name with towns which they have no connection with (the grape variety Montepulciano has nothing to do with the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano). And then there are many which are obscure and overlooked despite their quality, probably because of the sheer number of grape varieties around
Sagrantino is one such variety, but one which has undergone a small fashionable revival as winemakers and consumers look to the unknown rather than the familiar. It's grown in Umbria, north of Rome and south of Florence, and was traditionally made into a sweet red wine - the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOC was created in 1977 for passito wines made from air-dried grapes, Montefalco being the most important area for the grape. However, it's the relatively recent phenomenon (1970s onwards) of dry red wines which have captured people's attention, and the region was upgraded to a DOCG in the 1990s. These wines are herbal with prickly black fruit aromas; they're also hugely tannic and long-lived. Ian d'Agata, in his indispensable book Native Wine Grapes of Italy, says that, "Sagrantino is Italy's most tannic red wine, by far." In a land of tannins, that's quite a statement. There is also a Montefalco Rosso DOC for fruity Sangiovese wines blended with Sagrantino.
Several producers led the move towards dry red wines from Sagrantino in the 1970s, and Arnaldo Caprai was one of them. Although there are now many quality producers in the Montefalco DOCG, Caprai is still one of the most prestigious. Arnaldo Caprai himself was a textile producer, who bought a vineyard on the Montefalco hillside in 1971 where he discovered the Sagrantino grape. His son Marco joined in 1987, expanding the vineyard holdings, modernising the winery, and recently moving towards sustainable farming.
I tasted two Arnold Caprai wines, the producer's two best known, and both from 2009.
Aged for around two years in barriques, the Collepiano was fruity and spicy, quite a forward wine, its tannins much softer than I had been expecting - tasting Sagrantino with a little bit of age certainly helps. ✪✪✪✪✪
25 anni 2009
First made to celebrate the winery's twenty-fifth anniversary back in the mid-1990s, the 25 anni is exceptional. Although the wine is aged for the same amount of time as the Collepiano, the oak felt slightly more integrated. Likewise, it had the same black fruits (blueberries and brambles) as the Collepiano but they weren't quite as jammy. There was also a wonderful, almost undefinable prickly intensity to the wine. Again, the tannins were softer than I was expecting, but this could certainly age for another ten years. ✪✪✪✪✪✪
Both these wines were excellent, with an intense fruitiness and integrated tannins and acidity. I'd recommend drinking them with beef or game dishes, rather than traditional pasta fare. I'll certainly be looking to drink more Sagrantino in the future.