Sagrantino, the thick-skinned, tannic grape that exists only ---(I actually have a suspicion it is the same grape as ximanavro from Macedonia) --in Montefalco, Umbria was one of those wines that made me stop. Then it made me scribble; find out what the hell this is and go to the source.
That first sag was made by Filippo Antonelli. I made good on my promise and visited the area in 2000, in March when the hills were a carpet of new spring green wheat. There were only 17 producers.
Last night I had dinner with Filippo. He brought news that there are now 50 producers.
"Filippo, are there any out of those 50 I would like?" I asked.
He laughed, or was that a wee smirk? He doesn't know me very well but he knows me well enough to know that. He answered, "Most of them are either from Tuscany or have winemakers from Tuscany." That's all the answer I needed. Montefalco is the new Napa. Too bad.
My favorite producers are still probably Antonelli, Napolini, Ruggiero, Bea and Antano. Isn't is sad? Can't there be a new producer who I can like? Or does this go back to the theory that new land in Montefalco is now very expensive. Only rich people can go in. Rich people bring Tuscan consultants.
These old favorites are the only ones not trying to strip the grape of its tongue ripping tannins by replacing it with wood tannin (to my palate hard and unyielding instead of rough and tumble) but instead, they provide a balanced wine base in which to carry off the sand papery effect.
Back to gossip. After ten years being Mr. Politic, Filippo he is no longer the president of the consorzio. The head of Terre di Trinci is but he had to fight off Caprai, the most notable producer in town.
He also told me that forever cooking up something new, the Caprais are busy promoting, after much clonal research---gasp--white Sagrantino. The ‘news’ seems to be raising the eyebrows of the locals with mostly, who cares?
He shocked me by telling me Ruggiero, has a new winery, ten years ago the winemaker was a farmer who never anticipated selling his wine anywhere except on the contadina. Bea has a sparkling new winery and finally so does Filippo. Filippo is also coming out with a special bottling that went through elevage in foudres made from oak found on the Antonelli property. He says this local oak seems to be extremely tightly grained and resists a charred flavor from the gentle toasting needed to bend the barrels.
Dinner at il Buco was yummy. Fantastic fava bean salad, which just needed a crunch of salt. There was porchetta on a bed of ramps so cute and fragrant they plunged me into momentary sadness, because this is the second year in a row I did not go foraging. The pain is deeper than you'd expect.
The 2001 Sagrantino for a full blooded tannic wine seemed to be a fine match with everything from fava to fish (halibut) and unfortunately Antonelli's sweet passito is not in this country yet...but we had glasses of the chestnut honied Ruggiero,passito, who knew? With the hazelnut cake? Spectacular.