The Montefalco wine region is located in the province of Perugia, in Umbria, central Italy. This picture postcard hamlet named Montefalco, with its medieval rampart walls and architecturally detailed churches, is located 480 metres above sea level, approximately 50kms south-east of Perugia. The surrounding Colli Martani hills and gentle slops are covered with cordon-trained vines which enjoy soft regional breezes and long hot summers.
Montefalco was granted its DOC status back in 1979, though well before, this region is steeped in grape-growing and winemaking traditions, which were first established by the Benedictines. Montefalco then worked hard for the following years establishing the reputation of their Sagrantino di Montefalco which achieved DOCG recognition in 1992.
Two classic style wines are produced under the DOC regulations, a red and white wine, and both embrace the typical Umbrian grape varietals. According to regulations, Montefalco Bianco wines must contain a minimum of 50% Grechetto, and then 20% to 35% Trebbiano Toscano, and the winemaker’s own unique selection of other white grapes for the remainder (though no more than 30%).
Montefalco Rosso, which makes up the majority of the wines produced in the region, must contain between 60% to 70% Sangiovese, along with a requirement of 10% to 15% Sagrantino, and the selection of other varietals for the remainder (and also no more than 30%). This allowance of other red varietals allows many Umbrian winemakers the ability to fill out their Montefalco Rosso wines with interesting international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Montefalco Rosso must be aged a minimum of 18 months.
Montefalco Rosso ‘Riserva’ is still a relatively rare wine, because most winemakers in Montefalco will devote their extended barrel aging to the Sagrantino DOCG. Nevertheless, the quality of Montefalco Rosso Riserva can be very high in quality. The ‘Riserva’ must be aged for at least 30 months, with at least 12 months in oak barrel.
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wines are made with 100% Sagrantino grapes in the Province of Perugia, although not necessarily in the commune of Montefalco. The wines include Montefalco Sagrantino Secco, (a dry DOCG red wine) and Montefalco Sagrantino Passito (a sweet DOCG red wine).
This historical, though recently appreciated wine producing region in Umbria, Italy’s green heart, have been flying under the radar for a long time. Montefalco which has a local nickname of the ‘balcony of Umbria’ - due to its dramatic hilltop located - has only been respected and enjoyed by the locals until recently. As the more north-eastern parts of Umbria as a whole remains significantly less visited by tourists than its neighbour Tuscany. And unlike Chianti and Brunello, Umbrian wines have only just begun trickling into the mainstream wine enthusiast’s wine choices.
The recent interest can be attributed primarily to the recognition of the region’s signature Sagrantino wines, considered fairly new red wines despite their long history. Even though on a small-scale, the cultivation of Montefalco's indigenous grape dates back to 1549. As Benedictine monks used it to create a sacramental sweet wine - which all but disappeared and was nearly extinct by the 1960s. Only in the late 1970s was Sagrantino revived by a handful of passionate winemakers (like the Cecchi Family) who implemented extensive replanting and learnt to tame the grape’s natural aggressive tannins.
Today there is more than 1000 hectares of Sagrantino vines planted in the region, producing a bold, earthy style dry red wine, which makes for an ideal pairing with strong cheeses like Pecorino, black truffles and rich game based dishes.