The Vendemmia is upon us!!
We are very fortunate to live right smack bang in the middle of the Sagrantino area in and around Montefalco.
Wine-lovers who take a Gusto Wine Tour at this time of year (September/October) are often lucky enough to see part of the vendemmia (grape harvest).
Sometimes, they might even be able to pick a bunch of grapes or two!
When do you get to see Sagrantino being harvested?
The Sagrantino grape is one of the last of the grapes to be harvested, usually around the middle of October.
The bunches are carefully picked by hand, and brought to the winery in crates before being destemmed and destalked in a special machine.
The same machine then crushes the grapes to release the juice and everything then goes on to ferment and macerate.
Some of the Sagrantino bunches are placed in a single layer on racks to dry out and become raisins in cool airy rooms for two to three months.
The grapes will lose about 70% of their liquid before being pressed to make the delicious Sagrantino Passito.
What about the Passito?
Sagrantino was, until very recently, only used to make raisin wine. (Since at least 1545 – the 1st time it’s mentioned in local historical documents)
The only way to tame this extremely tannic grape was to leave the bunches to become raisins before pressing.
It was a local wine for the farmers of the area, believed to be mainly used for religious occasions.
Still made today, it constantly surprises people who try it, expecting it to be sweet.
However, unlike other dessert wines, the intensity of flavours and the body of Sagrantino grapes balance the sweetness perfectly.
How did it all start?
In 1975 a group of local wine-makers including Arnaldo Caprai, started experimenting with different wine-making and ageing techniques with the help of the University of Milan.
The aim: to produce a dry (Secco) version of Sagrantino.
The first vintage of this was in 1979, and as Sagrantino must be aged a minimum of three years (now 37 months) it wasn’t released on the market till 1982.
In 1992 it attained the prestigious DOCG rating. Both the Secco (dry) and Passito (dessert) Sagrantino have the DOCG status.
There is only one other wine in Umbria to have achieved this – the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG.
At that time (1975) there were only about twelve people growing this tiny, thick-skinned grape. (The most tannic in the world, with 50% more tannins than #2, Cabernet Sauvignon).
Even now, there are only around 65 producers, who between them only produce about 1.5 million bottles a year.
How’s it going now?
These family concerns took a long time to get noticed by the wider world, but started attracting the attention of the wine world by winning
a host of medals and awards in international competitions and expos around the year 2000.
This led to a handful of Italy’s largest producers moving into the area and starting to grow this incredible grape.
Sagrantino is now exported around the world and ever more frequent articles are appearing on the internet and in prestigious wine magazines.
Not for the faint-hearted, it often boasts 16 degrees alcohol content. However, judicious ageing in oak and bottle tames the powerful tannins.
What’s the best food pairing for Sagrantino?
A perfect pairing for game like guinea fowl, the Umbrian favourite, wild boar or well seasoned roast leg of lamb, aged cheeses or even a bar of rich, dark chocolate.
Mouth watering yet?