Investing in Italian wine and earthquake relief

By Dr. Mike Rosenberg

Photo: Montefalco is best known for cultivating the Sagrantino grape

The good folks in Umbria must have had a couple of good recent harvests. I keep seeing more and more wine from there, specifically from the Montefalco area, showing up on my doorstep and in the wine stores I frequent.

While the harvests have been strong, Umbria also has some pretty serious issues of its own at the moment. Many of you have probably read about the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Italy that leveled hundreds of structures. The casualty numbers continue to climb. The epicenter of that earthquake was in Umbria, and many of these wines are produced scant kilometers from cities standing from medieval times, until last week.

Obviously, we’re limited in what we can do to help directly – although purchasing Umbrian wine is one indirect way. If you would like to make a contribution, you can donate directly to the Italian Red Cross or to the National Italian American Foundation – both of which are currently working on relief efforts.

To refresh your memory about the region, Montefalco is best known for cultivating the Sagrantino grape, which has been grown in Umbria at least as far back as the mid 1500s, with some scant records indicating it may have been grown as early as the turn of the millennium. This grape, grown primarily for sacramental and religious festival wines, was almost wiped out until the early 1990s, when growers were able to gain a classified status for the grape and expand the production.

On its own, Sagrantino creates enormous, tannic reds, which have the highest concentration of polyphenols, like resveratrol. These are the compounds that give red wine its health-related benefits. Sagrantino is also the most tooth-staining varietal I’ve ever happened across, just a warning.

In neighboring Tuscany, the winemakers blended native Sangiovese grapes with merlot, cabernet, and other red wines to create the now-ubiquitous Supertuscans. Borrowing from that model, the Umbrians created Montefalco Rosso, a lighter-styled red wine that features Sagrantino in the blend. Since Sagrantino itself makes for big, honkin’ wine – a little of it goes a long way in the blend, usually around 15 percent – with the rest from Sangiovese and other lighter grapes.

Also, Sagrantino tends to be fairly expensive to produce. Most Sagrantino Montefalco start at around $40 and go up from there. Montefalco Rosso can be had for $20-25. Here are a few:

Arnaldo Caprai 2012 Montefalco Rosso – Once this one got some air (which involved me pouring the wine through an aerator into a decanter, then funneling it back into the bottle after an hour), the Caprai opened right up into a very interesting, bold red. The tannins were considerably softer than many wines made with Sagrantino, and there wasn’t nearly as much heat and roughness as I’d run into previously. The nose is full of currants with a backdrop of menthol. The body is full and rich with red fruits and some firm but not overwhelming tannin. The finish is long with just a little bit of an alcoholic bite. It’s a bold red for any occasion with which you’d like a bold red. Go with grilled meats, nuts, and stinky cheeses.

Scacciadiavoli 2012 Montefalco Rosso

We found this one to be a little bolder than the Caprai. If you like your Italian wines a little on the rustic side, this would be a solid choice. Lots of depth of fruit at first taste up in the plum/blueberry range. That’s accompanied by some slightly rough tannins that remain so even after considerable air. They’re not overbearing, but you know you’ve got a wine with oomph. Finish is long, fruity, and dry. We had this with an eggplant parmesan – both out of the oven and a couple of days later with leftovers. Good pairing, and it would do well with roasts and such.

Perticaia 2013 Montefalco Rosso

By far the most mellow of the three, and the most pleasant just to drink. The tannins are smoother than in either of the other two, and it’s a little more fruit-forward. Nose is plums again, with a little bit of an herbal tinge. The body’s full, although not as “clingy” as the others. The fruit and tannins are both dark and relatively well balanced. The finish doesn’t have the length that the other two do, largely expected with the lighter tannins. I thought it worked well against a marinara-laced penne dish.

Umbria is best known, however, for white wines – and Montefalco produces a number, although they are lesser-known than the whites from neighboring Orvieto. Umbrian whites tend to be fruity and full-bodied, driven by the strong flavor from the locally indigenous grape Grechetto.  As an example:

Nido Del Falco 2015 Montefalco Bianco: This white, whose name translates as “Nest of the Hawk,” is made from a blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano, mingled with some Chardonnay for good measure.  After a sunshiny nose of pears and honey, the body is fairly round. There’s a little more tartness to the taste than the nose led me to believe, which is a similar sensation to many viognier. Lemon and peach roll into a finish that’s a bit creamy. I imagine it would be relatively flexible, food-wise – we actually had it with a pork roast that I’d marinated in vinegar, soy, honey, and the Korean spice paste “gochujang.” I was delighted at how well that worked.

I’ve learned that the winemakers of the area are also planning their own relief efforts on the ground, so watch this space for additional information as I
get it.

For more information on or to donate to the Italian Red Cross or Italian American Foundation earthquake relief efforts, please visit or, respectively.

Reach DCP freelance writer Dr. Mike Rosenberg at or visit his blog at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at or visit his blog at

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