A New Direction for Sagrantino

March 6, 2010 at 1:40 pm Leave a comment

Filippo Antonelli (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Sagrantino di Montefalco is a wonderfully distinct red wine from a small area in Umbria not far from the towns of Assisi and Spoleto. Designated as a DOCG wine, it is produced entirely from the Sagrantino grape, found only in this territory.

While the zone for Sagrantino may be modest in size, the wine is anything but diminutive. This is a robust red with plenty of spice and herbal notes along with big fruit concentration in most years. But what may be most distinct about this variety is the level of tannins, which is greater than Nebbiolo;  indeed, Sagrantino is probably the most tannic red variety in all of Italy.

The job then for local vintners is to tame these tannins and some do it better than others. One of the most successful producers of Sagrantino di Montefalco is Antonelli San Marco – usually known simply as Antonelli; its owner is the engaging and easy-going Filippo Antonelli.

Antonelli is a traditional producer, meaning his preferred method of wood aging is in large casks. This makes a great deal of sense when you have a very tannic variety, as small barrels actually increase tannins; as Sagrantino doesn’t need to be more tannic, why use barriques?

Since 1979, Antonelli has been producing some of the most traditional and elegant bottlings of Sagrantino di Montefalco (as well as a scrumptious Passito Sagrantino with delicious black raspberry fruit and a delicate sweetness). His versions emphasize the spice and richness of the variety without ever being out of balance or too intense. His wines never call attention to themselves; they are a wonderful reflection of the soil in which the grapes were grown.

Beginning with the 2003 vintage, Antonelli has released a single vineyard Sagrantino called Chiusa di Pannone. I didn’t get the opportunity to taste that initial bottling, but just last week, I sampled the most recent 2004 bottling. Offering notes of red cherry, sandalwood and cedar, this is medium-full with very good concentration. The oak – the wine was aged first in tonneuau and then in large casks – is quite subtle and the tannins are quite sleek. The acidity is ideal and there is excellent fruit persistence in the finish. 2004 was a wonderful year in Montefalco and Antonelli took advantage of the mild weather to craft one of the most complete and complex bottlings of Sagrantino di Montefalco I’ve tasted in a long, long time. Look for at least 10-12 years of cellaring potential with this wine – maybe more – and pair it with dishes ranging from roast pork to venison stew.

You too often associate Sagrantino di Montefalco with power and not with finesse. How nice that Antonelli is imbuing this wine with a new identity. Perhaps this 2004 bottling, which received a Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso will give Sagrantino di Montefalco a new-found respect among the great Italian red wines!

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