We are now in early September and summer is turning into harvest time, but it seems like only yesterday that I was at the Anteprima Sagrantino in Montefalco. During this short period since early June, some changes have happened also within the Consortium of Montefalco Sagrantino. In June, at the preview event, Filippo Antonelli was still the president but Giampaolo Tabarrini is the new president since a couple of weeks. In the press release from early August, it says that Giampaolo Tabarrini, even more than before, wants to make sure all the producers feel they are an important part of the consortium and its activities and to open up the consortium towards the world at large. Tabarrini, furthermore, stresses that focus needs to be on promoting the local excellences regarding viticulture and winemaking traditions.
The Anteprima Sagrantino is indeed one of those events that mark a yearly highlight for wine professionals, at least in my opinion. The Sagrantino preview event takes place in Montefalco, which is a lovely little medieval commune or village. It all feels a bit like a home away from home because everything is within walking distance and the main piazza is the meeting spot when going to visit wineries. It is like a mini-campus where you meet your fellow tasters/writers at any of the local bars or restaurants. The Anteprima Sagrantino in 2020 was more or less the last wine event before the big Covid lockdown last year, and this year it was one of the first wine events when the restrictions eased up in early June.
The Anteprima Sagrantino is, of course, above all, important for the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. The Sagrantino is a wine that has made big leaps forward in its development during the last few years. As I mentioned in an article back in 2019, it is true that Sagrantino is one of the most tannic wines but, as Devis Romanelli told me then, the tannins are actually quite soft when you learn to find a balance in the vineyard. Read more in my article A New Face of the Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Sagrantino Montefalco 2017 – A Difficult Vintage
Overall, 2017 was a difficult vintage because it was a very warm year and in Tuscany, for example, there was up to a 30% loss of production. In Montefalco in Umbria, they report that there was a loss of production with up to 40% in relation to the 2016 vintage. This was due to the frost in April as well as the scorching hot and dry summer. However, the precipitations just before harvest time made it possible to still have healthy grapes giving rise to quite well-balanced wines even though a bit more concentrated and intense the usual.
I agree that many of the Montefalco Sagrantino 2017 wines that I tasted were quite balanced, smooth though often with ripe and intense fruit. they do not have the freshness, elegance, or balance of 2015 or 2016 but still an overall good level. The rating of the Consortium Montefalco Sagrantino themselves was 88/100, or three stars, and defined as a fine (pregevole) vintage.
Luca di Tomaso – A Young Winemaker in Montefalco
Let me start with Luca di Tomaso who is a fairly recent addition to the wine producer scene in Montefalco in Umbria. In February 2020, a few days before the officially declared pandemic and pre-lockdown, I was walking around the Saint Augustine cloister tasting my way through the Montefalco Sagrantino 2016 vintage when I saw a young guy I did not recognize. I asked a bit distractedly to taste both his Rosso di Montalcino and his Montefalco Sagrantino 2016, and on the first sip, I was hooked. I stood up straighter, took a closer look at the bottles, and started asking some questions to Luca di Tomaso while snapping some photos. I wanted to know more about who he was as I had never seen him before. Where did this Montefalco Sagrantino pop up from? His Montefalco Sagrantino 2016 was fresh, elegant, balanced with lovely smooth tannins. I tasted it again this year in June, and after another year in the bottle, it was even better.
Montefalco Sagrantino 2016 was Luca di Tomaso’s first vintage produced and what a way to start, right? Luca is an electronic engineer from Lombardy who used to spend time during the summers in Umbria and thanks to his passion for wine, he recently decided to give it a try. Thanks to his friendship with Luca Capaldini, the estate manager of Tenuta Castelbuono, he got valuable help to get started. He has 2-3 hectares at 300 meters altitude on the hills close to Tenuta Castelbuono and then another two hectares close to his own house and small garage winery. The soil in the vineyard plots close to Tenuta Castelbuono is mainly clay while the vineyard plots around his house are on lower altitude and on mainly rocky soil.
As I mentioned above, the 2017 vintage was a bit more complicated than 2015 and 2016 and so also the Montefalco Sagrantino 2017 of Luca di Tomaso. It is still a very interesting Montefalco Sagrantino wine but, as Luca himself also hinted at, it is more concentrated with ripe fruit, a bit less balanced, a bit more aggressive tannins, and the quantity was lower than in 2016. The problems in 2017 were the excessive heat and the draught, but Luca says that he also had problems with managing bottling and other work processes during the pandemic.
Luca di Tomaso is definitely a winemaker to look out for. In fact, I cannot wait to taste his next 2018 vintage.
Other Highlights at Anteprima Sagrantino
Azienda Agricola Mevante
The first winery that I visited at the Anteprima Sagrantino this year was Mevante winery that is also a fairly new winery. The siblings Antonella and Paolo Presciutti are the owners of Mevante winery. They are passionate about wine and wanted to try and produce wine in the Montefalco area in Umbria where their parents are originally from. They all live in Rome where they have a transport company but spend a lot of time also in Umbria.
We had a nice tour of the winery followed by a lunch where we, for example, tasted Trebbiano Spoletino 2018 and 2019, their Montefalco Rosso 2016, and their Montefalco Sagrantino 2016. The Trebbiano Spoletino wines are monovarietal but still IGT Umbria because Mevante has the vineyards outside the Trebbiano Spoletino DOC area. I liked the 2018 that has done only steel for its freshness and because the grape variety shines through in a beautiful way. The 2019 is interesting because it has done fermentation in oak barrels and has a more creamy and smokey touch. I liked both even though I must confess I am not often a fan of white wines fermented or matured in oak. The Montefalco Rosso 2016 I enjoyed for its freshness, structure, and overall smooth character, while the Montefalco Sagrantino 2016 had the acidity and elegance that is often a signature for the 2016 vintage.
One of the evenings, we had a memorable dinner at Scacciadiavoli winery, with the owners Liu and Iacopo Pambuffetti, where their wines were paired with the ingenious dishes of Chef Giulio Gigli. He is a young Chef that is about to open his own restaurant – Capodacqua – close to Foligno. His dishes at the dinner were a revisitation of local dishes from Umbria and we enjoyed them very much while learning more about Scacciadiavoli winery.
My first encounter with Scacciadiavoli winery was some years ago when I went to Perugia to hang out with my American friends Stephanie Davis and her husband for a couple of days during their holiday. Stephanie was the host of the Wine two Five podcast in that period together with Valerie Caruso in Colorado. Stephanie and her husband were to visit Scacciadiavoli after their stay in Perugia and were very fascinated by the story of an exorcism of a young woman possessed by the devil in the Middle Ages that ought to have taken place where the winery is located today. During the last few years, it has become a winery I often visit during the Anteprima Sagrantino and it is always a pleasure.
During the dinner, I, for example, found their monovarietal Trebbiano Spoletino DOC 2019 very interesting even if, as mentioned above, I am usually not that into white wines matured in oak. This wine does time in both amphora and oak as well as 9 months in the bottle, at least. With its freshness combined with fruity, spicy, and herby notes, among others, it is a compelling wine that suited Giulio Gigli’s fusion food well. We also got to taste both their Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2017 and 2016. As mentioned earlier, 2017 was a difficult vintage but still, it has nice freshness, ripe fruit, and green, herby notes. When it comes to 2016, it was a great vintage and the elegance and potential for longevity shine through.
Tenuta Bellafonte is a winery I have already written about a couple of times before. I visited back in 2019 and also this year when the owner, Peter Heilbron himself, was there and showed us around. We were invited for a nice lunch in the garden at Tenuta Bellafonte with an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. Peter Heilbron comes from the corporate world where he for some time was the CEO of Heineken Italy and later of Perugina in Umbria. That is how he got to know Umbria better and discovered the potential of the Sagrantino wines. Read more about Tenuta Bellafonte in my previous article 3 Wines To Help You Celebrate Easter.
Peter says that he wanted to challenge the Sagrantino by producing more elegant and refined Sagrantino wines. At the same time, he wanted to grow grapes with a respect for the surrounding nature and focus on agriculture with as low intervention as possible. Even in the winery, he wanted to intervene as little as possible, and, in fact, at Tenuta Bellafonte they do wild fermentation with indigenous yeast and no filtration.
During the lunch in June, for example, I had the opportunity to taste Arneto Umbria Bianco IGT 2017 and also 2015 again. The 2017 was an even warmer year than 2015 and this is reflected in the Arneto 2017 that is more aromatic at the moment but perhaps will have a bit less longevity. Back in 2019, I tasted Arneto 2016 and 2015 and to experience the 2015 again two years later was very interesting. It had a more intense and darker golden color followed by deeper notes of ripe and candied fruit, honey, a more intense herby touch but still with good acidity and balance.
When it comes to the red wines, I also got to taste Collenottolo Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2014 again after two years. 2014 was a very problematic year in many parts of Italy because it was cold and rained a lot during the summer. Two years ago, when I tasted the 2014 I liked it a lot even though it was quite green and it gave off an almost “wet” feeling. This year, it had evolved into an even more structured and well-balanced wine with a great minerality and the acidity still going strong as well as the notes of orange peel. The tannins are present but smooth and elegant. The “wet” character had matured into a touch of intense herby notes that are in harmony.
Tabarrini is one of those historical wineries in Montefalco that speaks for itself and, of course, also through the passion and energy of Giampaolo Tabarrini himself. Even though they are vintners and wine producers going back four generations, it was only in the late 1990s that the Tabarrini family, thanks to Giampaolo Tabarrini, started to bottle their wines and focus on quality.
When I visited the winery during the Anteprima Sagrantino this year, I got a tour of the fairly newly built winery followed by a quick tasting. I was intrigued by the Trebbiano Spoletino that Giampaolo says came about in 2001 when he was playing around with what would become Adarmando Umbria IGT of today. He says that it was very difficult in the beginning to get the Trebbiano Spoletino taken seriously in those years because Trebbiano was not a highly viewed grape variety. Giampaolo continued to say that he was convinced of its value and started distributing the wine in 2004 and in 2007 they won a 3 Bicchieri award by Gambero Rosso for Adarmando. A success story for this fresh white wine with an intense and complex nose with a mix of citrusy and floral notes feeling like a summer day.
Regarding the red wines, it was interesting to hear that they do not use international grapes in their Montefalco Rosso wines as they believe in valorizing local grapes. Therefore, their Montefalco Rosso is a blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. Giampaolo argues that Barbera gives fruit and crunchiness to the wine and pairs well with the elegance of the Sangiovese in the Montefalco Rosso. Up until the 1980s, Barbera was still used in the Montefalco Rosso but then it was put aside in favor of international grapes, says Giampaolo. At Tabarrini winery, they decided to return to blending the Sangiovese with Barbera again in the Montefalco Rosso in 2006. The DOC Montefalco Rosso 2016 that I tasted earlier in June, was fresh and smooth, fruit-forward with lovely green and herby notes.
Do any other wineries in Montefalco still grow Barbera? I asked Giampaolo Tabarrini.
He answered that he thought not many still grow any Barbera in their vineyards. I continued my quest for finding wineries that still have Barbera in their vineyards and I found that, for example, Adanti, Di Filippo winery, and Plani Arche use Barbera in their Montefalco Rosso.
Another fascinating thing with Tabarrini is how they have worked to define three cru vineyards leading to three cru Sagrantino wines with distinct characters. This is for another article though as this is already too long.
The Anteprima Sagrantino is, as you might have understood, one of those yearly preview events where you not only get a feeling for the newly released vintages but also learn a #shitton about Umbria wine. What could be better than that…?