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Bold and Beautiful

by Eunice Fried

Jan 9, 2020

Peter Heilbron at Tenuta Bellafonte
PHOTO: © EMPSON USA

January 2019

THE REGION OF UMBRIA lies in the center of Italy, sheltered on all sides by other Italian regions, including Tuscany on the northwest. As well as medieval hilltop villages and historic towns such as Assisi and Spoletto, Umbria is known for its white truffles in the fall and for its wines, particularly those made of Sagrantino. It is, in fact, the only wine region in Italy that grows the red Sagrantino grape.

Sagrantino’s arrival in Umbria is a mystery, with some sources claiming Franciscan monks brought it back from the East centuries ago and other sources claiming it is an Umbrian original. However Sagrantino came to Umbria, it does particularly well in that region’s clay, limestone and sandy soils, especially in the area around Montefalco, southeast of the region’s capital, Perugia.

These mystery vines produce deeply colored grapes that in turn make an especially dark, intense wine, with many wine professionals claiming it the most tannic of Italian reds.

One of Sagrantino’s true believers is Peter Heilbron. An Italian who spent most of his professional life as an executive in food and beverage companies, he decided some years ago to follow his true passion. He began Tenuta Bellafonte, his Umbrian winery, in Montefalco, where he dedicated 17 acres to Sagrantino vineyards. Like most Umbrian winemakers, he uses Sagrantino both in blends and as the primary grape in his wines.

Tasting his wines was to experience the full qualities of Sagrantino. Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Rosso Pomontino 2016 ($28–30), a blend of 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent Sagrantino, is a deep-colored, warm, inviting, extremely flavorful wine which owes its prominent body to the addition of Sagrantino.

We also tasted his Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino Collenottolo 2013 ($50), deep-flavored, dark-shaded, intense, spicy and muscular with a smooth, forward taste. Collenottolo is the name of the vineyard where the Sagrantino grapes grow. This superb, full-bodied wine quite unlike other Italian wines offers an excellent introduction to the wines of Sagrantino.

Considering Sagrantino’s bold characteristics, it proves a perfect accompaniment to the highly flavorful winter dishes we tend to eat in the chills of January.

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