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What our expert thought of Antonelli, Montefalco Rosso

about this wine About this wine
Landlocked Umbria in Central Italy lies southeast of Tuscany, and the two share a very similar landscape, cuisine and climate.  So it is perhaps surprising that its wines are so much less well-known.  The one Umbrian wine everyone has heard of is the white Orvieto, but that is hardly a standard-bearer.  It built its reputation as a semi-sweet, amabile  wine based on the characterful local Grechetto grape, but the shift to dryer wines in the Sixties and Seventies transformed it into yet another central Italian blend dominated by the dull Trebbiano Toscano, and the newly-introduced DOC rules codified that.
Umbrian reds remained of only local interest, apart from those produced by Lungarotti in Torgiano, which showed that Umbria could produce Sangiovese-based wines just as good as those from across the Tuscan border in Chianti.  Meanwhile, around the dramatic hilltop town of Montefalco, the local Sagrantino grape was headed for extinction.  It was traditionally made as a sweet, passito  red from part-dried grapes, which helped to offset its ferocious tannins, but this was falling victim to the same changing tastes that had transformed Orvieto.
The turnaround came at the end of the Eighties when one producer, Caprai, began to vinify Sagrantino as a powerful dry wine with lots of barrel aging.  The wine gained a cult following, especially in America, and sparked a revival in the fortunes of the grape and the region.  Sagrantino has some of the thickest skins and highest tannin levels of any variety, so even though these new dry wines are made with less skin contact than the traditional sweet ones they still take more than a decade to come round.
While most Montefalco Sagrantino gets exported, locals prefer to drink the more approachable Montefalco Rosso, a Chianti-style blend based on Sangiovese with some Sagrantino included.  This wine is one of those, and comes from highly-respected local producer Antonelli, often cited along with Caprai as the region’s best.
The whole Antonelli estate, including the olive trees, wheatfields and chickpeas, is organically farmed.  The 2012 vintage was the first to be organically certified, after the required three year transition period to allow any chemical residues to be eliminated from the soil.  All of the estate’s wines are hand-picked.
The Sangiovese for this wine was picked first, towards the end of September, with the later-ripening Sagrantino and Montepulciano following a couple of weeks later in October.  All three were separately fermented at 28°C for two to three weeks before being run off the skins.  That combination of warm temperature and longish skin contact should extract plenty of colour, flavour… and tannin.
After blending, the wine was aged in large 25hl oak barrels for 12 months.  Although the barrels were new they have more than ten times the capacity of a 225 litre Bordeaux barrique, so the oak influence is considerably reduced.  The wine was then aged a further six months in cement vats to clarify it, before being bottled without fining or filtration.  Each vintage is then aged in bottle for at least six months before release.
the tasting The Tasting
This 2012 has lost the purple tinge of youth and is now a still-deep garnet.  Prominent legs on the side of the glass hint at its 13.5% alcohol.
The appealing and quite complex nose leads off with ripe cherries, with some blackcurrant behind them.  There’s a distinct impression of tobacco, with some sage and perhaps rosemary too, along with subtle tarry oak.
Dry and only medium-bodied despite the highish alcohol, this tastes very Italian with sour cherry, bramble, plum and leather, framed by juicy acidity and chewy tannins.
There’s bitter dark chocolate on the finish, where the drying tannins eventually win out after a pleasingly extended battle with the mouthwatering acidity.
There’s nothing international about this one!  I’ve never tasted a Montefalco before, but I can tell this is Italian even without seeing the classically stylish label.  With its tobacco and herb nose, sour cherry palate, grippy tannic finish and clear focus on food, this tastes like a really good Chianti Classico, albeit in a slightly rustic style.
Those rough edges have needed time to soften, and this 2012 is just old enough for all that barrel and bottle aging to have worked their magic, integrating the component flavours and adding some of the complexity of maturity.  Yes, it needs food – but food needs wines like this.  Whenever I want a red to go with a meal I usually find myself opening something Italian.  This is precisely the sort of wine that I reach for when the food, rather than the wine, is to take centre stage.

Tasting notes

clear medium+ garnet, with prominent legs

Intensity medium

Aromas ripe red and black cherries, blackcurrant, tobacco, herbs (sage, rosemary), subtle tarry oak

Development developing

Sweetness fully dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium(+, just), despite 13.5%

Tannins medium++, chewy but ripe

Intensity medium+

Flavours sour cherry, bramble, plum, leather

Length medium+

Flavours bitter dark chocolate, juicy acidity vs. drying tannins, finishes dry
Other notes
Very Italian. Just old enough, but needs food. Like a good Chianti Classico.

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