Antonelli San Marco: Umbria’s Wine History in a Glass

The Italian Food Wine & Travel Group is starting 2019 off with a bang. Instead of sipping cuddly red wines by the fire, watching the snow frost our windowpanes, we’re turning the volume up with Italy’s biggest, baddest grape, Sagrantino. Put away the dainty hors d’oeuvres and cocktail napkins in favor of a fatty hunk of meat cooking low and slow in the oven, and prepare to surrender. We’re going to blow your tastebuds to smithereens!

Jeff from FoodWineClick is our host this month and he’s given us an excellent primer on Sagrantino and the other wines of Umbria in his invitation post. I recommend giving it a read if (like me) you don’t know much about this landlocked region of Italy.

Have I piqued your curiosity? Join our Twitter chat this Saturday, February 2nd at 11 am ET. Just show up at the appointed time and follow #ItalianFWT to see the thread. And be sure to add the hashtag to your tweets so we’ll see them in real time. Our discussions are always lively and engaging, with plenty of food, wine, and travel advice (hence our name.)

Here’s a sample of what each of the bloggers will contribute to the chat:

Antonelli MS Bottle Shot and Steak
My first foray into Montefalco Sagrantino: Antonelli San Marco 2009.

Sagrantino has a reputation as Italy’s biggest, most tannic red wine, relegating bruisers like Nebbiolo and Aglianico (no slouches in the big tannin department) to the also-ran category. Why is it so powerful? The grape is exceedingly rich in polyphenols such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and tannins which come from the skin, seeds, pulp, and stems. Each grape is different with respect to the composition and concentration of these compounds. Sagrantino has copious amounts of all of them!

For the winemaker that means ensuring that the vines get plenty of sunshine: if the tannins are to ripen (and mellow a bit) the grapes need lots of hang time. And while those grapes continue to ripen, they continue to accumulate sugar, leading to a wine with potentially high levels of alcohol. The one I tasted for this post weighed in at 15% abv.

Historically Sagrantino was made into a passito-style sweet wine, made with grapes that have been allowed to dry out a bit, thus concentrating the sugars and other flavors. Dry table wines are a relatively new venture, with an initial DOC approval around 1980 followed by the designation of the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG in 1992.

Antonelli San Marco

Sagrantino Vineyard Slope website
Grapes are planted at an average of 350 meters above sea level. (photo: Antonelli San Marco)

Located just outside of Spoleto, Antonelli San Marco’s vineyards date back to the 13th century when they comprised part of the Bishopric of Spoleto. The Antonelli family bought the land in 1881, championing modern planting and farming methods and creating a mutually beneficial working relationship with the tenant farmers who worked the vineyards.

Antonelli Gate Photo website
The famous gate which graces the Antonelli labels and corks. (photo: Antonelli San Marco)

In 1979, the family decided to make and bottle wines under their own name and today farm 40 hectares of vines which, as of March 2017, are certified organic. (Wines dating from the 2012 vintage may be labeled as such.) Among their offerings are Grechetto, Trebbiano, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Sagrantino. In addition to wine and grappa, Antonelli cultivates organic olive oil, garbanzo beans, farro, and field beans. They have recently launched an oenotravel experience that includes a culinary school and winery tours.

MS Label
The label gives no hint of the (beautiful) beast within!

2009 Antonelli San Marco Montefalco Sagrantino

15% abv; $52 retail

Color: Medium garnet, paler at the rim with a decidedly more orange tint.

Nose: Medium-minus intensity aromas of dried cherry, fresh porcini mushroom, and a hint of oregano-rosemary-thyme. Notes of damp earth. I decanted this wine and left it for several hours. That said, it was still evolving the next day. Slow to awaken.

Palate: Huge tannins! This wine was chewy and gritty on the tongue, with more concentrated flavors of sour cherry, licorice root, dried mushroom, and herbs. Much more lively than the nose would indicate, it had medium+ acidity and a full body. A lot of licorice and herbs on the finish, which lingered for several minutes. Again, the flavors took a long time to come to the forefront. But once the beast began to stir, it came on like a freight train!

Dinner Plated with MS Bottle
My wimpy steak was no match for the wine – not even close!

Context: This was my first experience with Sagrantino and it came on the heels of a month in which I gave up alcohol and meat. So maybe my palate was a little unprepared for the sheer force of this wine. Maybe I should have eased into things with a glass of Beaujolais or Chinon, you know, to temper the tastebuds so they wouldn’t go into shock at the first sip of Sagrantino.

That said, I am a lover of tannic wine; I enjoy the interplay of astringency and ripe fruit, and the multiple textures that underscore the complex flavors. And I think I could have done better with my food pairing – a simply grilled strip steak. As a matter of fact, I think I heard the wine snicker at that little slice of meat as I went to take a sip. Or maybe it was scoffing at me? In any case, next time I will seriously up my pairing game with a plate of herb-infused Porchetta or slow-roasted lamb shoulder. Or maybe a cross-cultural challenge featuring cassoulet.

This month’s Italian Food Wine & Travel adventure with Montefalco Sagrantino has spurred my curiosity about Italy’s version of the Notorious BIG. I look forward to trying more of the wines and experimenting with appropriately bold food pairings. And my palate will be ready for a rematch!

22 comments

  1. Half of the sagrantino I tasted were big, big, big. The other half substantial yet approachable. Antonelli is new for me. Will have to locate some and add a tick to the big side. Perfect excuse to make Cassoulet 😉 Thanks for an info packed article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve struggled to find the right food to pair with Sagrantino – so I’ve ended up not drinking much of it at all. If you find something that works well (your cassoulet sounds intriguing!), please let me know!

    Liked by 1 person

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