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Beyond Sagrantino: Exploring AMontefalco’s Multidimensional Wine Event

The Anteprima Sagrantino took place at the end of April and this year it changed its name to #AMontefalco as a way of including all the wines produced within the Montefalco appellation. It was a good move to draw more attention to other Montefalco wines as well. It is, furthermore, a sign of how the Montefalco consortium and its wines have evolved during the last few years. The consortium tries to be in line with the times, and the evolving wine style, at the same time as they are preserving their important wine heritage. The search for fresher, more varietal, elegant, and drinkable wines without forsaking complexity and structure goes hand in hand with history and tradition.

What about the history of Sagrantino?

Sagrantino is an ancient grape many claims, but still, its origin is quite uncertain. It is believed that the Hirtiola grape mentioned by Pliny the Elder as being cultivated in the area around today’s Bevagna was Sagrantino. The name Sagrantino flew in on the wings of falcons, so to say. Recent research by archeologist Stefano del Lungo shows how the name of Sagrantino is closely connected to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, and his passion for falconry.

In the early middle ages, in 1240, the Emperor’s falcons apparently attracted a disease in the village of Coccorone in Umbria that threatened to take out all his falcons. The only cure was “an infusion of sugar, alcohol, and violet petals,” according to Theodore of Antioch, a Syrian philosopher, naturalist, and interpreter who had translated an Arabic treatise on falconry. Time was of the essence though, so they decided to add violet petals to the local sweet wine which worked its wonders. The falcons recovered and the wine was given the name Sagrantino from ‘saqar’ in Arabic which means falcon, sacred falcon. Furthermore, the name of the village changed its name from Coccorone to Montefalco, the mountain of the falcons.

This explanation of the origin of the name Sagrantino seems the most plausible for the moment.

The 2019 Vintage of Sagrantino and Trebbiano Spoletino

The 2019 vintage has been defined as outstanding and was awarded 5 stars – 95/100 – by the tasting committee that consisted of wine journalist Alessandra Piubello and sommelier Gianpiero Compare. At the presentation in Montefalco, Piubello said that Sagrantino di Montefalco 2019 has an elegant profile, notes of juicy red fruit, intense aromas overall, and a long aging potential. She, furthermore, stressed that she finds Sagrantino di Montefalco to be a very fascinating wine thanks to its uniqueness as a native grape to Umbria.

If we look at the weather conditions, the winter lasted until mid-March followed by continuous rain and cooler temperatures during April and May. The summer heat reached its peak at the end of June and the beginning of July, even though the warm and dry weather continued up through August. Some storms occurred at the beginning of September helping the grapes to ripen and the dry climate in the second half of September resulted in a very good harvest that lasted until the end of October. The harvest of both Sagrantino and Trebbiano Spoletino started a bit late.

A Consortium in Constant Movement…

Last year, when I visited Montefalco both for the Anteprima and later in the autumn on a really fun tour with the Vinitaly International Academy (VIA), I already started thinking about how the feeling of community and inclusion had become stronger and stronger every year. Community and inclusion are, in general, buzzwords that I try not to use too much but here they are really spot on, not only as regards Montefalco, but the entire Umbria.

Change

The change has been constant during the last decade almost arriving at a kind of Sagrantino that is different, yet without forsaking the typical and traditional traits of Sagrantino wines. The freshness and elegance in combination with very much present tannins but without being too “heavy” or aggressive. Rather they are showing how Sagrantino wines can have distinct varietal characteristics, freshness, and fruit-forwardness that blend together with complexity, structure, and elegance in a beautiful harmony. The aging in oak barrels has also become much more subtle, often favoring large casks or a combination of large and small barrels.

The change from a preview tasting of Sagrantino wines to an “A Montefalco” event is yet another step to better show what the Montefalco appellations have to offer. The “A” in “A Montefalco” does not only mean going “to Montefalco”, but the “A” can have several different meanings other than “Anteprima”.

The consortium underlines how the “A” can mean

  • Annate – vintages
  • Autoctono – indigenous varieties
  • Amore – love, as in passion for everything they do
  • Allegria – joy, the Montefalco producers do indeed transmit lots of joy
  • Agricoltura – agriculture, because farming is at the heart of grape growing and winemaking
  • …and much more.

Community

When you visit Montefalco and its wine producers, you really do feel that they have become a community that is trying to work together as far as possible. Giampaolo Tabarrini, the president of the Montefalco consortium, told me that, in his opinion, it is only by working together in a synergy that you can go further and reach common goals.

When I visited last autumn with the VIA Academy, it was a very concentrated tour where we visited 6 wineries per day for a couple of days and in total about 12 or 14 wineries. As I had the advantage over most of the others in the VIA group to already know all the wine producers we visited, I took a step back to reflect on the interaction and the larger picture. I thought about how Montefalco during every event or visit always feels like a home away from home.

The wine producers are accessible and down to earth, also the larger ones, all available with love (Amore) and joy (Allegria) to explain their territory.

The wine producers are generous and always try to give by sharing, teaching you something new or different about their territory, making it into a continuous learning process. They are generous in everything they do.

The wine producers are interactive both among themselves and with you as a visitor. It is almost never a one-sided monologue about how things are, but a dialogue.

They have that special ability to know how to mix seriousness with fun, communicating important information in a generous and joyful way. And, knowing when and how to party.

Inclusion

The Montefalco consortium, as mentioned earlier, has taken the step to talk about “A Montefalco” instead of “Anteprima Sagrantino” to include the different appellations that are a part of the consortium. This means that other than Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG the “A Montefalco” also includes wines such as Montefalco Bianco DOC, Montefalco Grechetto DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Superiore DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Passito DOC, Montefalco Rosso DOC, Montefalco Rosso Riserva DOC, and Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG.

In this sense, the consortium has made the big event of the year inclusive of all the different wines, not only the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG.

In 2019, DOC Spoleto was included in the Montefalco consortium and has since then become an important part of the yearly Anteprima Sagrantino even before it became “A Montefalco”.

If we look at Umbria as a whole, the green region, or the green heart of Italy, the Montefalco consortium is a leading force of the association “I Consorzi del Vino per l’Umbria” (the wine consortiums of Umbria). In 2021, the association that is made up of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco, the Consorzio di Tutela dei Vini di Torgiano, the Consorzio Tutela Vini di Orvieto, and the Consorzio Tutela Vini Doc Trasimeno started its activity to promote Umbria as a joint effort.

The work has so far mainly been aimed at the international market with USA, England, and Switzerland in focus. It is proof of how the region of Umbria is trying to step by step be more inclusive and promote its wine tradition and culture in a more unified manner.

We can also talk about inclusion when it comes to the wine producers themselves. If we extend the talk about “community” above to “inclusion”, I believe there is a clear sign not only of creating community but of being inclusive of each other. The Montefalco producers are inclusive of the Trebbiano Spoletino producers, the larger producers are inclusive of the smaller ones, and vice versa. Community and inclusion are in this context intertwined as concepts.

Now, of course, my positive recounting here might make it seem like all the work is already done. Everything is not perfect, there is still surely work to do to better unify and build community among producers and consortiums in Umbria. Perhaps, I need a bit of ironic input in Voltaire’s style as in his Candide with “the best of all possible worlds”. Joking, I do believe that the consortium of Montefalco has come a long way in its development in the last few years.

Something About the Wines from the AMontefalco Tasting

Another change was that from this year – 2023 – no barrel samples will be allowed to be presented at the general tasting, only bottled wine ready for the market. Therefore, there were just a couple of Sagrantino di Montefalco 2019 to taste actually, as many wineries were not ready to bottle their wine yet. I think, in general, tasting vintages from 2019 back to 2015 that the Sagrantino wines show elegance, fruit more or less mature, intense aromas, and more and more well-integrated tannins. I especially liked the following

  • Bocale Sagrantino di Montefalco 2018 had beautiful red fruit and present yet nicely integrated tannins
  • La Fonte Collepoppo Sagrantino di Montefalco 2018 had nice fruit in combination with herbal notes, good acidity, a quite biting grip from the tannins still, length
  • Tabarrini, we tasted their three cru wines – Campo alla Cerqua (clay, pebbles, southeastern exposition), Colle Grimaldesco, and Colle alle Macchie (clay soil, southern exposition) Sagrantino di Montefalco 2018 at the winery. Each one has its very own expression of the micro-terroir, Colle alle Macchie is the more powerful and complex, yet all of them have elegance, freshness, well-integrated tannins, and drinkability overall in common.
  • Moretti Omero Sagrantino di Montefalco 2018 had very lovely red and dark fruit such as blackberry and mulberry, forest floor, spices, leaves, earthiness, very good grip from the tannins, yet well incorporated on the palate, elegant, persistent
  • Ilaria Cocco Phonsano Sagrantino di Montefalco 2016 came with a nice backbone of acidity, fruit, a hint of vanilla still on the nose, smooth tannins, and a nice persistence
  • Tenuta Bellafonte Sagrantino di Montefalco 2016 had an amazing expression of red and dark fruit, a touch of citrusy notes such as orange peel, tobacco, maquis, leather, and a balanced and elegant taste. A wine with longevity.

Read more about Trebbiano Spoletino in the article How Aging Maximises the Unique Characters of Trebbiano Spoletino.

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.

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