Domenico Winery + Osteria

a tasting of Sagrantino

Famous Italian Wines 101: Sagrantino

There are many spectacular Italian red wines out there, but there is nothing quite like Sagrantino – from its history to its gorgeous color to its complexity. This Umbrian grape may not be as famous as its neighbor Sangiovese. Still, it is one to try, with thousands of years of history in every sip.

Let’s dive into the story of Sagrantino!

This is a very ancient holy grape

While the exact origins of the Sagrantino grape variety are not fully documented, it is believed to have ancient roots dating back to Roman times or even earlier. Historians suggest that Sagrantino may have been introduced to Umbria by Franciscan monks during the Middle Ages. The name “Sagrantino” is thought to be derived from the Italian word “sacro,” meaning sacred or holy, indicating its historical use in religious ceremonies. Sagrantino grapes were traditionally grown in Umbrian vineyards tended by monks and used to produce wine for sacramental purposes.

Over the centuries, Sagrantino wine evolved from its ceremonial role into a premium wine appreciated for its unique qualities. The cultivation of Sagrantino grapes expanded beyond monastery vineyards to include private estates and small family-owned vineyards.

Sagrantino used to be only a sweet wine

The wine the Church and wealthy landowners sipped was not the dry elegant Sagrantino we know today. In fact, it was a sweet wine, made in the passito method (drying the grapes on mats to concentrate their sugars and flavors.) Why? Because Sagrantino has a lot of tannins, making the wine very dry, bitter, and intense. The additional sweetness in the wine helped to calm these tannins and make for something much more pleasurable to sip.

sagrantino vineyards in Umbria, Italy

This grape comes from a very unique region

Sagrantino’s home is Umbria – Italy’s only landlocked region! Umbria is an Italian breadbasket of all fine things, like incredible vegetables, beans (particularly lentils), meats, and truffles! Umbria is the place for some of the best black truffles in Italy. It is also the place for salami and top-quality pork products. The Norcia area of Umbria is internationally recognized for its sausage, cured meats, and other pork products. Sagrantino is more commonly found in its hometown of Montefalco and in surrounding villages, not too far from Norcia.

Sagrantino goes exceptionally well with pasta

Sipping Sagrantino with a good plate of strangozzi alla norcina (a pasta dish with sausage, cream, and truffle made with local handmade pasta like a long thick spaghetti) is one of the most spectacular experiences. The intensity of the Sagrantino cuts through all the richness of the dish. Plus, pasta and wine just make us so happy!

This grape was almost forgotten about

Moving into the 20th century, priorities on other grapes – along with the devastating effects of World War I and World War II – led to many pulling out their Sagrantion vines. The result was a loss of vigorous grape vines holding years of history. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, efforts to revive Sagrantino began to gain momentum, thanks to the passion and dedication of local winemakers. Today, Sagrantino is one of the most beloved and highly-regarded red wines in Italy.

Sagrantino is one of the healthiest wines

Remember the tannins we were talking about earlier? Well, these tannins are filled with antioxidants that help support many functions in our body and protect us from disease. Due to Sagrantino’s thick skins, it has a large amount of tannin, thus resulting in a wine that is noticeably darker, drier, and more bitter, but in a good way. It also results in one of the ‘healthiest’ red wines. The antioxidants in these tannins help to naturally preserve the wine, making Sagrantino an excellent wine for aging. During the aging process, the tannins soften and the wine evolves into something truly divine.

a tasting of Sagrantino

Sagrantino holds a special status

In 1979, Sagrantino wine received DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status, recognizing its unique regional identity and quality. Then, in 1992, the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) was established, providing further recognition for the wine’s exceptional characteristics. This is also the Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG – protecting the lengthy ancient history of Sagrantino sweet winemaking.

This grape has even traveled outside of Umbria

Sagrantino’s alluring character has led it outside of Umbria and even Italy, all the way to places as far as California. Wineries like Domenico Winery grow Sagrantino and turn it into fascinating wines that are exciting to drink, especially alongside an Umbrian Sagrantino. A fun party idea? Do a vertical tasting with a bottle of classic Umbrian Sagrantino and a California Sagrantino from Domenico Winery!