Letter from Europe: Beauty in the Beast

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Coaxing Elegance from an Italian Monster

"The trouble with Sagrantino is to understand Sagrantino," says Giampaolo Tabarrini, who grows the indigenous red grape in Montefalco, in Italy's Umbria region. "It's much easier to make a Sangiovese, Cabernet or Merlot than Sagrantino."

Why?

"Because Sagrantino has too much of everything!" He seems to shout with his whole body, from his skinny torso to the standout ears on his near-shaven head. "There are a lot of polyphenols. A lot of tannins. A lot of sugar. It is many times over: A lot! A lot! A lot! So how do you balance it?"

Tabarrini, 40, knows Sagrantino. He is a fourth-generation winemaker whose father and grandfather sold their Sagrantino wines in bulk to French and Luxembourg merchants who said they were supplying "taverns"—though nobody actually checked that. (I suspect they were "improving" the lighter wines from those more northerly regions, a long if now ill-favored tradition.) He still lives on the family farm in a rural hamlet outside Montefalco, with his wife, son, parents and assorted other Tabarrini, who cultivate their own vegetables, olives, grain and livestock....Read my full blog @ Wine Spectator Letter from Europe.