Taming the Sagrantino Grape in Umbria (A Legend Reborn)

The Joys and Trials

“It is thought that the Sagrantino grape was brought from the Middle East to Italy after the Crusades and was planted near church monasteries around this part of Umbria to make a sweet red passito wine for mass,” states Chiara Lungarotti. CEO of Lungarotti.

But legend states that it was two falcons that really made the Sagrantino grape famous. “Emperor Frederick II used to visit this region of Umbria to go falcon hunting in the hills”.

Today the Montefalco DOCG is known for its powerful red wines made from 100% Sagrantino grapes. Though some local wineries still make a traditional sweet passito Sagrantino wine, the majority produce a dry complex red wine. These dry Montefalco Sagrantino wines usually have flavors of black plum, licorice, tea, olives, and pepper, along with massive tannins, high acidity, and the ability to age for decades. The wines pair well with hard cheeses, mushrooms, and wild game dishes.

It is because of Sagrantino’s thick skin, massive tannins and high astringency, that it is said to have twice the level of polyphenols (antioxidants) as Cabernet Sauvignon. In parts of Italy, it is considered healthy to drink Sagrantino wine.

At Lungarotti the winemaking process follows a specific philosophy, “Sagrantino is like a wild horse, and it needs to be tamed in both the vineyard and cellar,” states Chiara, “but 40% of the quality comes from good vineyard management, 20% from quality cellar management, and 40% depends on harvesting the grapes at the perfect time.”

For her signature wine, the Lungarotti Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, Lungarotti harvests the grapes at the peak of perfection – usually around the first week of October, and then ferments for 25 to 27 days in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. From there the wine ages 50% in large neutral French oak cask and 50% in small French oak barrels (20% new) for 12 months. Then it goes through bottle aging for another year and a half, resulting in just over 3 years before release. The resulting wine exudes rich plum, allspice, and walnut husk, all wrapped around powerful yet elegant tannins.

Going back to the legend of the Sagrantino grape, Chiara adds, “They say that Emperor Frederick II favorite falcons - called Sakar falcons - got sick, and a doctor gave the falcons a medicine made from the local passito wine. The falcons recovered, and the Emperor was very happy. It is for this reason that the local wine grape was then called Sagrantino, from the name of the Sakar falcons, and the local village was re-named Montefalco (mountain of the falcon).”