One Umbrian bows to another

Lungarotti, the first producer most of us ever associated with Umbria ('the new Tuscany' TM) via his Torgiano red, has now bought vineyard land in the Montefalco DOCG zone, made famous and desirable by the talented newer wave Arnaldo Caprai and his son Marco who have done so much to establish Sagrantino, this tannic local speciality, as one of the great grapes of Italy. (It is now being planted in Tuscany, Sicily, Australia and even – I assume under Bonny Doon auspices, Mr Grahm? – in California.)

It was the Caprais, a family well plugged in to Italy's high fashion business crowd, who instituted a major research project in Milan into 64 different clones of Sagrantino and came up with four good enough to plant in their new vineyards. According to Marco, Sagrantino has even more phenolics (colour, tannin and flavour compounds) than the Tannat of Madiran. Only if yields are really low can these phenolics ripen sufficiently to make wines gentle enough to drink with pleasure. Marco started working in the family firm in the late 1980s when he remembers harvesting at the end of October and sometimes even early November. Today they sometimes pick grapes with ripe phenolics in the second week of September, so effective has their vineyard work been. One vineyard is even planted so densely that there are 13,000 vines per hectare (more than 5000 per acre).

Needless to say, Lungarotti will shortly be planting their own Sagrantino, having played around with it experimentally. According to Daniel Thomases of Florence their consulting oenologist, Lorenzo Landi, who works together with Denis Dubourdieu on various Italian project, has already made some very good wines in the zone at the Colpetrone estate. About another 18 producers are experimenting with Sangrantino round the little village of Montefalco, its heartland.

He also reports that Masi of Valpolicella fame [see your turn on purple pages for recent correspondence about their 1985 Amarone] has a property in Argentina and is now making dried-grape wine in the Andes! Is Italy taking over the controls?

See my tasting notes on some recent Caprai wines.