Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Italian Wine Flows Sagrantino

Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, Ontario was the site of the 13th Annual Italian Wine and Grappa Tasting. Italian wine flowed freely with over 110 of Italy's top wine producers showing their wares to an admiring public.
Italy is Ontario's number one foreign wine supplier. This isn't surprising when one considers that 15 percent of Italy's exports is wine---59 percent being in the DOC category. In Ontario, the gross sales of Italian wines represent some some 19.9 million litres at $253.5 million dollars. The country that produces over one fifth of the worlds wine is well represented here!
Italian wine has been going through something like an evolution or maybe some would say de-evolution since there is a trend to going back to the classical grapes.
We are hearing more of varieties such as Aglianco, Arnesis, Pigato, Nuragus, Pignolo, Nero d'Avola, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Grechetto, Cortese, Corvina, Gaglioppo, Refosco and also more about the making of more traditional Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Now, a variety that was almost extinct at the beginning of the Twentieth Century is getting a new and powerful lease on life in the Twenty First.
Sagrantino di Montefalco
The Sagrantino grape is reputed to have been brought to its present site by Franciscan Monks returning from Spain. The grape however does not seem to have any DNA relationship to any other variety.
The name of the town which the grape is associated with goes back to the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick the Second of Sevevia who had a penchant for Falconry among many other things such as exotic animals (Cheetahs and Giraffes to name a few). It is said that he kept a large number of Falconers handy and imported Falcons from around the globe! His love of Falconry (He wrote a book about it) is now present in the name of the town. Fredrick was baptised in Assisi which was the main habitat of St. Francis.
Sagrantino, was made in a sweet "Passito" style whereby the grapes are dried on straw tiers prior to vinification. For many years though the wine has been vinified dry producing a very dark and tannic wine (though the Passito is still made). Ancient two to three hundred year old vines are still found in the area. This grape became seriously neglected in the 20th Century and nearly became extinct but was "brought back" through the tremendous efforts of local producers who labeled and classified them as well as obtained the DOC (1972) and DOCG (1992).
Montefalco produces a wine "Montefalco Rosso" which is a blend of Sangiovese (70%), Sagrantino (15%) and other grapes (15%). The Sagrantino Dry and Passito wines are 100% of that variety.
Tasting Sagrantino!
The wine tasting held at the Roy Thompson Hall was directed by Mr. Paolo Ponti, Commissioner of Trade for the Italian Trade Commission, Mr. Luigi Bonifazi, Director of the Cosortium of Mentefalco wines, Mr. Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viniviticulture in Siena and Mr. David Lawrason, Wine Educator and Writer. Together, they produced a first class and informative tasting of six Sagrantino wines.
The Wines!
Sagrantino di Montefalco 2004 Az. Agr. Tiburzi Gustuvo
This wine was found to be immediately pleasing with a good tannin structure. On the nose it initially had a medicinal quality that I associated with minerality with some black fruit and cherry with a touch of anise. On the palate there seemed to be ripe cherry with a smooth acidity and tannin. Pleasant long finish. This wine proved to be the lightest of the six wines tasted.
S.d. M. Madonna Alta
Heavier in both nose and taste, this wine did have ripe red fruit on the nose though I kept on getting a whiff of "straw'---the kind of whiff one gets when sitting on a bale of straw that has been drying quite awhile. I asked Alex Eberspaecher who was next to me and he commented that the smell was probably Cocoa and Eucalyptus which was confirmed later by Professor Scienza. I kept on smelling the straw.
On the palate the tannins were prominent with plum and red fruit and a great mouth feel. Again, long finish.
S.d.M. Azienda Agraria Fratelli Tocchi
Richer still than the previous with good berry and spice nuances. The palate had a wealth of red and black fruit with the usual high tannins that were prevalent prior. Reminded me of a Mourvedre.
S.dM. Villa Mongalli
This wine was spicier than the previous. Vanilla wood on the nose with some anise. On the palate was a mixture of ripe berry and plum with anise on a lengthy finish.
S.d.M. Azienda Agraria Perticaia
Cinnamon intertwined with ripe red fruit (cherry, raspberry)---again some straw but not as predominant as the second wine. The wine was very tannic and had a slight bitter almond finish. Again, good length.
S.d.M. Colpetrone
Very fruity wine with "in your face" ripe red cherry with a smattering of vanilla and pepper spice. The wine was the most powerful of the six with very powerful tannins. Black cherry flavours with a huge, mouth feel and concentration. It had a taste that would not go away.
In general, the wines tasted were indicative of the power that this Sagrantino grape has and the amazing capability it seems to have in cellaring over a long period of time.

The General Tasting
Over 110 producers gathered to show their wines. The wines were cornucopia of all varieties and blends though as I said before, there seems to be a strong trend in the return to traditional wine making in Italy.
I visited just a few of the producers and was impressed with the following.

Stroppiana Oreste di Strippian a Dario:
(Represented by Hobbs & Co. email
Barolo DOCG Vigna San Giacomo
On the nose, a very pleasant tobacco and wood with an elegant and harmonious integrated flavour of black fruit and plum.
Barolo DOCG Gabutti Bussia
Old style Barolo with a big mouth feel and intense bouquet. Complex notes of tobacco and spice with very powerful tannins that impress that this is a wine to develop over the next fifteen years and last well into its "thirties". Remarkable.

Fazio Wines from Sicilia:
(Charton Hobbs email
I am amazed that these wines are not available in Vintages yet!
Made with mostly traditional varieties such as Catarratto, Asonica, Nero D'Avola and Grillo, they offer great value and interest in traditional grapes of Italy.

(Charton Hobbs email
Ruffino Fonte Al Sole IGT
A very pleasant every day wine with a stelvin cap. Fresh acidity and pleasant fruity aftertaste.
Ruffino Lodola Nuova 2005
A Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG with pleasant black fruit and spice. Cherry flavours and coffee notes complete a long finish on the palate.
Ruffino Reserva Ducale, Oro
Big Chianti Classico, with complex notes of cherry, violets and plums. Cherry and raspberry give way to varous spice nuances with forward tannins. Very long smoky, pronounced nutty finish.
The whole Italian experience was one that could have lasted two to three days and not the two to four hours that I had allotted that event. Next year I will make sure that I regulate more time to it!