Sometimes things just happen – and it’s not necessary to ask why. That was the case the other day when a bottle of Perticaia was given to me. No presentation, no explanation, no sales pitch; just the bottle deposited on the counter. It wasn’t even full; someone had opened it earlier for another to taste (which probably was a benefit given what I was to taste).
I didn’t know the wine, or the producer. I did know that it was a Sagrantino from Montefalco. Well, I’ve heard of Montefalco (in the center of Umbria in the center of Italy), and have seen plenty of pictures of the historic and delightful walled town. And I’ve tasted Sagrantino, but it’s typically not top of mind. But the wine was so delightful, and so different than the reds that I’ve been currently been drinking, that I couldn’t wait to pair it with whatever I was having for dinner that night. I was certainly not disappointed, and greatly enjoyed this serendipitous discovery.
So, being a very modern person, I turned first to that pillar of instantly-gratifying research, Wikipedia:
“Sagrantino is an Italian grape variety that is indigenous to the region of Umbria in Central Italy. It is grown primarily in the village of Montefalco and its surrounding areas, with only 250 acres dedicated to the grape in the hands of about 25 producers. With such small production, the wine is not widely known outside of Italy, even though it was granted DOCG status in 1991. The grape is one of the most tannic varieties in the world, and creates wines that are inky purple with an almost-black center. The bouquet is one of dark, brooding red fruits with hints of plum, cinnamon, and earth. The Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG requires 100 percent Sagrantino used, with a required at least 29 months aging before release…. The origins of the grape are widely disputed, but what is known is that it was used primarily for dessert wines for many years, the grape being dried in the passito style, much like a Recioto di Valpolicella. Beginning in 1976, however, the wines were made in a dry style, and that is how they are primarily produced today. Under Italian law, the term “Montefalco Sagrantino Secco” defines a wine obtained exclusively from Sagrantino grapes, produced exclusively in the Province of Perugia, in the Umbria region of central Italy (although not necessarily in the comune of Montefalco). The word “secco” in the name is Italian for “dry“. The wine is aged for 30 months, of which at least 12 months must be in oak barrels. The wine is a DOCG, the highest-ranking category of Italian wine denominations. The Montefalco Sagrantino secco has excellent storage characteristics.”
Here’s a good story to entice us. This one’s directly from the wine region’s own website (The Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco www.consorziomontefalco.it/en)
“Sagrantino, Umbria’s Jewels
How old and how native Sagrantino actually is has always been subject to debate. But there are also numerous testimonies previous to these. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (Naturalis Historia) reminds us that that Itriolan grape was cultivated in the Mevania area (in Roman times Montefalco was part of the Municipality of Bevagna), and in the Piceno area: “Itriola Umbriae Mevanatique et Piceno agro peculiaris est.” Some sources suggest that this grape variety was imported from Asia Minor by followers of St. Francis returning from their missionary trips sometime during the 14th-15th centuries. Other theories about the origins of Sagrantino claim that the grape is native to Spain and that it was the Saracens who first brought it to the area. However, as the Sagrantino variety does not seem to show any similarity to other grape varieties, it can be considered a local grape variety (Commission for the Ampelographic Study of Principal Wine Grape Varieties Cultivated in Italy – Italian Ministry of Agriculture). There is thus no relationship between Sagrantino and other known grape varieties cultivated in Central Italy as well, contrary to what is often believed (back in 1596 Andrea Bacci already identified the ancient Itriola variety with Passerina).
The name can be traced to the Sacraments (from the Latin “Sacer”- Sacred), since the grape was cultivated by monks to produce a raisin wine used for religious rites. It was also the wine that farmers drank on the occasion of the religious feasts and festivals that articulated the life of the time, such as Easter and Christmas.
After almost completely disappearing from Umbrian vineyards in the 1960s, this grape variety was revived thanks to the dedication of a few courageous wine producers, who obtained the D.O.C. label in 1979, followed by the D.O.C.G. label in 1992, putting the official seal to a long and important local tradition. In 1998, the few Sagrantino vines still flourishing within the city walls of Montefalco were labeled and classified. Some of them have been found to date back to between 1700 and 1800. Some of these vines grow in the ancient monasteries of St. Claire and St. Leonard, attesting to the sacred nature and lineage of this wine.”
Which brings us back, thankfully, to the wine, Perticaia. According to the producer, Perticaia means “plow” in Etruscan, a fitting nod to the past, with a flourish. Here’s some technical stuff (from the producer):
GRAPE VARIETY: Sagrantino 100%.
HARVEST TIME: Second ten days of October
VINIFICATION: Long skin contact maceration (for at least three weeks);
AGING: Aging for total of 36 months, as set by the wine producers’ regulations and divided as follows: 12 months in small oak barrels – barriques or tonneaux; 12 months in steel vats; 12 months in the bottle.
COLOR: Intense ruby red with hues of garnet (typical of Sagrantino varietal).
BOUQUET: Spicy, there is a scent of cinnamon that doesn’t overpower the aroma of red fruit, cherry or black cherry; with aging and refinement in the bottle an aroma of dried prunes will evolve.
TASTE: Very full and persistent, quite tannic with an agreeable touch of bitterness.
IDEAL WITH: With red meat dishes, game and mature cheeses.
EVOLUTION: This is a wine that will evolve in the bottle so if it is stored properly it will mature for at least 10 years.
And the wine itself: firm, silky and deep, with dark blackberry and plum fruit with a touch of licorice, and a smoky long finish. A big wine that improves over time in the glass.