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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sagrantino, Montefalco, to Tracy Hills

     Sagrantino is one of the new "in" grapes like Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner. There is a lot of hubbub over this grape and only about twelve acres are planted in the California. Ridgely Evers has a little a bit planted in Dry Creek Valley that famed nut ball Alice Feiring made lots of videos of herself slipping and sliding around a bin filled with a couple of hundred pounds of fruit in an attempt to stomp out a "natural wine" masterpiece. The other bit we know of (where Jacuzzi gets theirs) is from Tracy Hills AVA.

     Sagrantino is native to Umbria and twenty years ago it had dwindled to a paltry 250 acres. It was used in either Montefalco Rosso which is mostly Sangiovese and up to 15% Sagrantino blended in (which has a remarkable structuring effect) or it was made into a very wonderful but very limited sweet passito wine. Sagrantino is very tannic (at least in Italy - it is the inverse of our Aglianico problem in which all California Aglianicos tend to be even more tannic than the Italian ones) and is famed as having the highest phenolic content of any grape - which may or may not translate directly into tannin. It likes clay soils, handles heat well, and is a lighter cropper unlike neighboring Sangiovese's excessiveness.

     Stylistically it is quite interesting and clearly belonging to the "noble" class. Despite its stature it, like Nebbiolo, generally does not make a really dark wine (though Colpetrone's is pretty roasty). It has an almost ruby Bordeauxish color but with great clarity. The stunning thing is that like the other noble Italian reds it is FLORAL at the same moment it is dense, earthy and jammy. Know how Nebbiolo is split into high tone floral beauty and dark tarry reductive stank? Sagrantino does that same schtick but on a warmer climate blackberry fruit core. The wines tend to ripen in the 13.5 - 14.5% range and there is a bit of sun-ripened jamminess. Acidity is moderate. Though big and burly it is also elegant and light toned like Nebbiolo over all that rich earth and mineral. It does not have the reductive character but it is capable of great mineral length and a similar clarity and concission of flavor and top to bottom depth.

    The leading producers are Caprai and Paolo Bea and these two are the benchmarks and pricey. Bea pulls out ridiculous 50-day macerations while Caprai is a little cleaner and more updated without being "New World." Antonelli is an effective bargain at around $35 (it is a good clean option with no new oak) and is available. If you pick up a bottle, go for age and decant. Our four barrels finished up fermentation a week ago and are now doing extended maceration in the traditional mold. It keeps changing a little bit the same way that Nebbiolo tastes different from day to day and hour to hour. In Umbria it can not be released for 30 months after harvest, and that amount of time is probably just about right, unfortunately.

     If Sagrantino sounds interesting to you Gary Vaynerchuk devoted a Wine Library TV episode to it HERE - the ending when he tastes the Paolo Bea is one of the funnier things I have seen...


wineworker said...

Benessere Vineyards just north of St. Helena, CA has Sagrantino. They have their own fruit. You should try it, if you can find any. Call the winery - 707.963.5853

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell where in California I can buy sagrantino vines either barerooted or green potted

Pietro Buttitta said...

Thanks - I actually have a business card and a name on it as Benessere to talk to, jusr have not made it by yet - thanks for the reminder.

As for Sagrantino vines the first grafted vines will be available next year - try Novavine in Sata Roso for these. We will be putting our order in with them this winter. Sagrantino just passed Foundation Plant Services certification two years ago, so last year the first budwood was planted and next spring the first grafted vines will be available. The guys that have some growing is from imported cuttings that did not go through Davis, so no virus control or checking was done. I know the Sagrantino (which we have in barrel) from Tracy Hills is pretty badly virused. Don't know about the stuff Ridgely has in Dry Creek or what Benessere has. Some things, like Nero d'Avola have been nearly impossible to culture virus free - everything has leaf roll. Anyway, if you want anything Italian, go to Novavine. Thanks for reading!