The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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64 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 { varietals } WHEN MARCO CAPRAI WELCOMES VISITORS to his family's Arnaldo Caprai wine estate in Montefalco, he often pulls out a chart illustrating levels of tannins and other polyphenols present in a number of red grape varieties, with each grape having a vertical bar of its robustness. The shortest bar, to the far right of the graphic, is Syrah, one of the mildest of red grapes. To the far left, its bar almost soaring off the top of the page, is Sagrantino, perhaps the most- tannic, puckery red wine on the globe. For the past two decades, Caprai and his winemak - ing colleagues have worked hard to make Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG a lovable renegade, trying to tame its sometimes harshness while showing pride in its distinctive nature. It is a challenge they have mostly met, offering Sagrantino as a great alternative to wine drinkers who complain they are "tired of the same old red wine." And if polyphenols really are great for our health, then drinking Sagrantino must be a vinous fountain of youth. To be truthful, until recently Sagrantino wasn't a big deal even in its native Umbria. Its dried grapes made a passito, a traditional sweet wine, and its other role was as a blending grape to add color and backbone to what otherwise would have been wimpy wines. But the young Caprai, a cheerleader for landlocked Umbria, was dissatisfied with just making Umbrian wines using a Tuscan grape—the ubiquitous Sangiovese. In the early 1990s he started doing clonal research on Sagrantino in conjunction with the University of Milan. Sagrantino di Montefalco earned its DOCG in 1992, and, by the turn of the century, Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantinos were winning top awards in Italy and abroad. Today, about 55 wineries in Montefalco and a few neighboring towns produce Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, generally a 100 percent varietal, from 1,600 acres of vines. About 45 percent of production is exported, with Germany and the U.S. the primary markets. Production climbed to more than two million bottles in 2008, a significant amount for an orphan grape, but fell off drasti - cally the following year due to world economics and a reduction of yields. It has been growing back steadily since. Passito is still made, but, as Alessandro Meniconi of Perticaia concedes, "It is the wine that every- Cozying Up to Umbria's Cantankerous Red PUCKERY SAGRANTINO REFUSES TO BE KISSED OFF by Roger Morris Marco Caprai, of Arnaldo Caprai, the Umbrian winery that put Sagrantino di Montefalco on the map. PHOTO COURTESY OF ARNALDO CAPRAI

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