07/10/2012 08:26 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2012

Marco Caprai & Sagrantino Lead Umbria From Obscurity

Marco Caprai has taken on the work originated by his father, Arnaldo Caprai, in the beautiful Central Italian winemaking region of Umbria, and followed a very conscious path to work with the grapes that are unique to Umbria, and more specifically, the sub-region of Montefalco. Umbria, famous for its stunning art, and beautiful landscape is considered the "Green Heart" of Italy. Internationally, little attention was paid to the wines of a region that was subjugated to the shadows of Tuscany, but much is changing due to the efforts of producers such as Paolo Bea and Arnaldo Caprai's work with indigenous grapes.

Marco Caprai states:

My family is from Umbria originally. I was born here with a great sense of passion for this land and its tradition. My father started with the textile company in 1955 and in 1971 he decided to rediscover an ancient grape from Montefalco; Sagrantino. Thanks to his intuition, Arnaldo Caprai achieved his goal of becoming the leading producer of Sagrantino. Today, the estate runs 150 hectares with an average of 750,000 bottles produced and sold around the world.

The Grapes of Umbria

Grechetto, a white grape, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Sangratino, and blends of the reds are from this region, and used in the center of Italy, except for Sagrantino, that is native to Montefalco. This grape fares well in all types of terrains, yielding wines of different characteristics, but always of excellent quality. The best results are obtained from clay-calcerous soils. Because it is susceptible to magnesium deficiencies, or to excess amounts of potassium, it is best grown with compacted cultivation techniques with high to very high density (Spur Cordon or Guyot).

Sagrantino is definitely the most famous and appreciated wine from Umbria, and considered one of the best Italian reds. The Sagrantino grape has the highest content of polyphenols, compared to any grape. For this reason, it's very important the grape matures slowly in the vineyards, and the harvest has to be executed much later. Alone, the grape produces Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. Blended with other grapes it produces Rosso di Montefalco DOC.

Marco describes the flavor profile of Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG as;

...Very intense ruby with purple reflections. The aroma is very persistent with typical accents of blackberries, plum and earth that are perfectly bound to the vanilla given by the wood. The taste is potent, smooth and velvety. Sagrantino is a wine that should be aged at least 10 to 15 years. It can also be made into a dessert wine after the grapes wither.

Sagrantino is THE grape that is to Montefalco, what Nebbiolo is to Piedmont, Brunello clone is to Montalcino, and Aglianico is to the southern regions of Vulture in Basilicata and Taurasi in Avellino Campania. Sagrantino is the grape that shapes a wine identity for Montefalco and Umbria.

Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution

The beauty of the Caprai's work, is not only a revival of great and indigenous grapes to the region, but a very strong philosophical effort to respect the land.

Marco explains,

We focus our attention on every sustainable viticultural model. In the latest years we have developed a project called 'Montefalco 2015: The New Green Revolution'. This study started in 2010 in collaboration with the University of Milan, with the aim of creating a sustainable viticultural protocol specific to the Montefalco wine region. The project calls for the adoption of management techniques for the soil and vines, and in some cases, they're utilized also in biodynamic and organic farming.

Regional Wines of Italy

Marco Caprai has helped lead the Montefalco region to an international following for wines that were once thought of as local with little international interest. I don't think there will be a huge surge in the plantings of Sagrantino around the world, but in this one special town of Montefalco, Sagrantino is king.