A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria

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A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria

Umbria is a region that is a bit tucked away between Tuscany, Marche, and Lazio and often it has gotten less attention and recognition than it deserves when it comes to wine production. Umbria is not only the land of Sagrantino but also of white grapes such as Grechetto in the form of Grechetto Colli Martani DOC among others.

This theme falls also within the month of the Anteprima del Sagrantino which is on 18-20 February. I will be there for four days as part of the Anteprima tour and I am really looking forward to learning more about the Sagrantino wines.

When the Sagrantino theme came up in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel (#ItalianFWT) group, it was very easy for me to know who I would write about, namely Roberto Di Filippo of Di Filippo winery.

I met Roberto back in early 2016 when I went to visit his winery together with a group of journalists as part of a two-day tour of Umbria. Di Filippo winery was the first visit of the weekend and I remember that I was hooked immediately thinking, this is the type of stories I want to tell on my blog. I will elaborate on this more below.

Di Filippo is a winery that is organic and biodynamic but above all, it is a winery that put ethics in the center of its activities. Di Filippo is in reality made up of three different wineries; Di Filippo winery that Roberto has together with his sister, Plani Arche winery that he manages together with his wife, and La Sapata which is a winery he has set up in Romania.

La Sapata is where the ethical side becomes very clear because Roberto has made an ethical investment building a winery from scratch in the Romanian countryside employing local people. In that way, he is trying to give back by helping the locals to develop and construct something viable in a very poor environment.

In this article, I will talk more about his wine production below and then, of course, focus on his Sagrantino wines.

February with #Italianfwt

The theme this month, February 2019, will be Sagrantino: The Enforcer of Umbria in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel (#ItalianFWT) group. As I mentioned above, I will be focusing on the Sagrantino wines of Di Filippo winery in Cannara, in Umbria.

On Saturday, February 2nd you can join us on Twitter at 11amEDT / 17.00 CEST to learn more about food, wine, and travel in relation to the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG wines. Just type in the hashtag #ItalianFWT in the search field and click Enter, thereafter, you click Latest which will show you all the live tweets.

Montefalco, the heart of Sagrantino

Montefalco is a small town in Umbria located on the top of a hill surrounded by the Umbrian Valley and the rivers Topino and Clitunno. From Montefalco, you have an amazing view of the Martani mountains, the Apennines, the towns of Spoleto, Foligno, Trevi, Assisi, among others. It is a town with a long history dating to antiquity. It is rich with art (for ex. the Museum of Saint Francis with fresco paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli), literature, saints, and much more. The Montefalco area is indeed also the center in Umbria for the production of Sagrantino wines.

Sagrantino
Source: www.vinostore.it
Sagrantino

Sagrantino is a very old grape variety and it is said to have been described already by Pliny the Elder under the name Hirtiola in reference to an area that is very close to today’s Montefalco. However, the origins of the grape variety are not very clear as the earliest documentation that mention the Sagrantino wine dates to 1598. According to Ian D’Agata, a wine that was a blend of Sagrantino and Trebbiano Spoletino was very popular in the 19th century.

There are two different theories though regarding the origin of this grape. On the one hand, the Sagrantino is considered to have been brought back to Umbria from the Middle East by Franciscan monks while it, on the other hand, is said to be of Greek origin and thus imported by Byzantine monks. The name, Sagrantino, is considered to refer to ‘Sacramento’ and had a “sacred” use during religious rites as it was, indeed, cultivated by the monks. Others believe that it derives from the word sagra, i.e. feast, referring to the festive celebrations of the monks.

The Sagrantino of older days was a sweet wine and not a dry red wine. In fact, the DOC Montefalco Sagrantino that was instituted in 1977 regarded only the Sagrantino passito. It was first in 1979, that the DOC for the dry Sagrantino was established. In 1992, both dry Sagrantino and passito were turned into the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.

Sagrantino is a grape with a thick skin that is very rich in polyphenols and it gives very tannic wines. Therefore, it is often a very difficult grape to tame into a pleasant wine. It takes time for the tannins to settle down. Roberto Di Filippo says that often the tannins in the Sagrantino is a question of equilibrium. Sagrantino contains a lot of tannins but it also gives a great body to the wine. It is thus a matter of managing to keep these two in equilibrium.

The tannins of the Sagrantino are furthemore to be tended to and matured in the vineyard, says Roberto Di Filippo, with the help of equilibrated organic farming methods. He continues by saying that it is not possible to adjust the tannins in the wine cellar when it comes to Sagrantino.

Sagrantino

An Organic and Biodynamic Farmer in Cannara

Why this sub-header referring to Roberto as a farmer and not a wine producer you might think, right?

Well, Roberto himself says time and time again that he is first and foremost a farmer. A farmer that is intent on how he uses and farms his land and the environment around him. Here, his ethical mindset and the practicing of organic and biodynamic farming and viticulture fit the overall picture well.

They are not only applying biodynamic methods in the form of substances to treat the vines and cow manure, and similar things. About ten years ago, they reintroduced the use of horses to work the vineyards (they are experimenting this on 5 hectares of vineyard). The horses are not used as a decoration or for visitors to look at, rather they are actually using them for work in the vineyards. They have developed a set of customized and modern tools to use with the horses to as easy as possible be able to rationalize the work.

The concept that I found very interesting is the agroforestry side that is a way to reach a synergy. In the past, it meant that you brought together trees, plants, flowers, crop, legumes, etc. into a whole. Roberto Di Filippo has introduced the breeding of geese at their farm. The geese are let into the vineyard in order to clean and fertilize the soil. This leads to a double production of meat and grapes. It also results in the saving of energy, up to 40% so far. They believe it looks very promising for the future. (See Exploring the Treasures of Umbria: Grechetto, Sagrantino & Olive Oil.)

Di Filippo winery is working together with the University of Perugia to further research the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming.

Sagrantino Wines of Di Filippo Winery

Here, I will not describe a specific vintage I tasted as I have tasted all of the Di Filippo wines and different vintages by now. At Di Filippo winery they produce the Montefalco Sagrantino Etico DOCG and the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. The Montefalco Sagrantino Etnico DOCG is a wine that undergoes a shorter maceration period and is then aged in wood casks for 12 months. It is a softer wine that is more accessible as a Sagrantino to the general consumer. The more classic Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is aged in barrique and tonneau for 18-24 months.

Depending on the vintage in question, both of the Sagrantino wines have intense yet smooth tannins and notes of red fruit, spices (such as black pepper), a green undertone that can be more or less balsamic. They are fresh and elegant wines with a very good aging potential.

Sagrantino

For this article, I asked Roberto if he could tell me a bit more about the latest vintages. He says that 2014 was a fresh year with a lot of rain. Even though it was a difficult year in Italy, he says that the Sagrantino 2014 is very elegant.

The Sagrantino 2015 has more complexity and body and the quantity is higher than in 2014. He says that the 2015 is still to bottle but that it looks very good even though it has less elegance than 2014. Roberto has more doubts about the 2016 as it looks weaker so far but it is, of course, still too early to determine.

This month, our group of bloggers have been wrestling with Sagrantino, take a look at their posts below. This Saturday Feb. 2, our posts will all be live and we’ll be chatting about our discoveries. Join us on Twitter at 10am CST at #ItalianFWT, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with Sagrantino! Take a look at all the great ideas our group will be posting:
  • Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Buridda for Befana + Còlpetrone 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino”
  • Marcia from Joy of Wine shares “The Power of Sagrantino”
  • Jill from L’Occasion shares “Azienda Agricola Fongoli: Making Natural Wine In Umbria
  • Katarina from Grapevine Adventures shares “A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria”
  • Susannah Gold from Avvinare shares XXX
  • Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Antonelli San Marco: Umbria’s Wine History in a Glass”
  • Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Italy’s Finest Wine At A Great Price
  • Giselle from Gusto Wine Tours (in Umbria!) shares “#ItalianFWT – Sagrantino For The Win(e)”
  • Gwen from Wine Predator shares her thoughts on a recently found bottle of wine
  • Jennifer from Vino Travels Italy shares “Lawyers to Winemaking with Antonelli San Marco”
  • Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Montefalco Sagrantino on a Cold Winter’s Night”
Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

8 thoughts on “A Biodynamic Expression of Sagrantino in Umbria”

  1. Your posts always have an insider’s point of view and I love that! I’d be very interested in hearing more about the La Sapata winery in Romania. What a way to engage the local community and help create a sustainable economy. Thanks for another fascinating read!

    Reply
    • Thanks Lauren 🙂 I am sure we can arrange another live stream perhaps with Roberto where he talks about that. He was one of the firsts guests at my live stream back in early 2016. He also told me the other day that they are working with recipes and sustainable food to pair with their wines etc.

      Reply
  2. It’s nice to hear Roberto invested in local people and the environment really with his synergistic approach. I’m rather smitten by what you share he’s doing! And the more approachable sagrantino he produces seems it could be a hit for those wanting to dip their toes in this grape.

    Reply
  3. Hurray for Sagrantino!
    Entusiastic article,
    This article convinced me
    to taste them all soon as possible !
    Pierfrancesco.

    Reply

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