Sagrantino - Your Italian Staycation Red

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

I don’t know about you, but come August, I need a change of scene, and so does my palate. I get pretty tired of drinking rosé and white wines. I’m craving something deeper and richer, even if the hot weather still demands refreshment.

Since I can’t escape the city this year, I’ve been making the most of my time at home, entertaining with friends. We shut out the hectic, acrid landscape of the steamy metropolitan streets, and safely tucked away, prepare a mostly Mediterranean and Italian countryside style menu - grilled meats, whole fishes with herbs, cheeses, fresh veggies, maybe some charcuterie, a loaf or two of good crusty bread. As we sit down to feast, we pop open the wine, which has been given a slight chill (give it about ½ an hour in the fridge). Purists might find this practice sacrilege, but considering "room temperature" is often at 80 degrees this time of year, this brings a red wine down to a temperature that will revive its flavors. One of my favorite things to serve for occasions like these is a Sagrantino.

Sagrantino di Montefalco is a DOCG from the Umbria region of Italy. “Sagrantino” refers to the grape which grows in the countryside surrounding the town of Montefalco, which must comprise 100% of the wine. There is also a Montefalco Rosso, in which there is less Sagrantino in the wine, with allowable amounts of Sangiovese and other grapes. Considering how utterly delicious it is, it’s shocking to note that the varietal fell out of favor for a while in the 1960s, relegated to sweet passito style wines, in which grapes are dried on straw mats before being pressed. Luckily for the world’s taste buds, local growers championed the grape, and by 1979, Sagrantino di Montefalco became an official DOC, then a DOCG in 1992.

What was once a tannic, rather austere wine is now produced as an elegant, velvety and full bodied red. Because many of the styles available now have some age on them upon release, the fruit is softened just enough to make them the perfect late summer red. Averaging around 13% ABV, you get the full flavor of fruit without the alcoholic bop on the noggin.

I recently served two different Sagrantinos, and both were a huge hit and terrific match with the food we served.

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

The first was Perticaia  2009 - the name translates to “the plow,” in honor of this family farmed winery - aged 30 months (12 in oak, 12 in stainless steel, 6 in bottle) upon release. This one was the darker, bigger and more tannic of the two. Lots of black and purple berry fruits and a subtle accent of oaky spice on the finish.

The other was Scacciadiavoli 2008, which is produced at a historic regional estate, the name of which translates to “drives away devils,” because one of the original owners was believed to be an exorcist! This one is aged for slightly less time, in new barrels for 16 months and at least 9 months in the bottle before release. Considering what the name means, it’s an absolutely heavenly wine. A little softer on the palate, with intense plummy, jammy fruit and soft floral notes.

Of course, Sagrantino could easily be enjoyed as a cool weather wine too. But if you’re like me and crave a little summer escape to the Italian countryside, you can at least capture those flavors by opening a bottle.

Cin cin!

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated the town as Sagrantino and not Montefalco, as well as a larger percentage of Sagrantino grapes allowable in Montefalco Rosso. Apologies for the errors. The author stands by her decision to chill the wine slightly (1/2 an hour barely brings it to cellar temperature!) before serving considering how warm the room often is when serving this time of year. Drinking a red when it's too warm can kill all the things that give it character. Do a taste test if you don't believe me! Sometimes the best part of drinking is experimentation, after all. Right?