A few weeks before Christmas I decided against driving from Melbourne to Geelong to taste a bunch of Australian sagrantino. I have tasted quite a few and the truth is that most fail to please. Most, however, also deserve the latitude I’m happy to give them as their makers learn to deal with this powerfully flavoured and impressively structured obscure red variety from Montefalco in Umbria, Italy. It’s still very early days for sagrantino, and it typically takes about 25 years for any new variety to build up any critical mass.
At its best, sagrantino is heady and floral, packed with brambly, cherry-like fruit and framed by the impressively proportioned cut of tannin that for many is the variety’s signature. For winemakers, perhaps, their biggest challenge is to deliver the grape’s anticipated firmness and grip, but in a way that doesn’t leave the drinker feeling like an experiment in a bad science fiction movie.
That said, there’s unquestionably an opportunity for Australian growers and makers to do something with this variety, simply because when we get it right, it really sings. And no wine from French grape varieties will ever go as well with Italian cuisine as a good wine from Italian grapes. Ever.
So, who do I turn to for Australian sagrantino? Mitolo. This McLaren Vale maker crushes the fruit gently, before leaving the wine to settle in older French oak for 18 months. The result is structured but approachable – but a wine that definitely needs a minimum of at least one pizza. It’s absolutely delicious and can handle food much more serious than that if the occasion demands.
The current release of Mitolo’s Ourea Sagrantino is a slow-maturing wine from 2018. Meaty and bloody, this Old World-inspired red reveals an earthy, floral bouquet of red plums, cranberries and redcurrants with minty undertones of Italian herbs. It's long and generous, with true depth and drive of intense black and red cherry/plum fruit down a firm, bony spine that retains just enough hardness. It finishes with charming shape, freshness and focus with lingering faintly earthy and tobaccoey notes.
But for heaven’s sake, make sure there’s no pineapple on that pizza!!!