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arnold caprai sagrantinoMy recent visit to Umbria was in part devoted to discovering the best example of Montefalco Sagrantino I could find. Perhaps it’s no accident that my favorite was from the winery that first gave birth to Sagrantino as a dry wine.

Sagrantino is little known here in the U.S. but it is the most important premium red grape in Umbria, a region in Central Italy that shares a long border with Tuscany. The region surrounding the hilltop village of Montefalco earned its DOCG designation in 1992 in part because of its commitment to Sagrantino, which as far as I know is not grown in any quantity anywhere else in the world. The grape suffers from low yields in the vineyard and enormous tannins that are difficult to control, but when made well it is a rich, soulful wine with substantial appeal and aging potential. Until the 1970’s it made a sweet, sacramental wine via the passito method (hence the name Sagrantino). But Marco Caprai recognized its potential as a dry wine and was instrumental in improving quality in the region.

This is their flagship wine. The nose shows blackberry with some red plum notes, porcini mushroom, and violets; it is still youthful eight years after vintage date. The rich, full bodied palate contributes dark chocolate and leather along with its dark fruit, yet despite a brooding aspect, it shows surprising freshness and zest. This life on the palate is a quality I did not always find in Montefalco as there is a tendency toward stewed fruit flavors if the grapes are allowed to get too ripe. But there is none of that here and that precision is what really attracted my attention. A mineral seam at midpalate draws your attention before the prominent, powdery tannins bully everything else off the stage. This is a demonic, fantastical beast of a wine but with a sparkling, magical element.

Aged for 22 months in French Oak barrique with at least 6 months in the bottle before release.

Score: 92

Price: $50 (available in the U.S.)

Alc: 14.5