With the holidays upon us, allow me the gift of sharing two stories, one about a little known wine from central Italy, the other regarding a rum from Martinique. Both could be that discovery that keeps on giving throughout the year.
Central to the Umbria region that borders Tuscany to the East lies the hill town of Montefalco, home of magnificent views, olive groves and vineyards that feature sagrantino, an indigenous grape that has tripled its plantings since the beginning of the 21st Century. Montefalco Sagrantino (Sagrantino di Montefalco) is grown exclusively in vineyards that surround the picturesque Perugia province.
Throughout history, sagrantino, the most tannic red grape in Italy, was used primarily for blending or for the “passito” sweet wine that is made from dried grapes. Only in the last 25 years has it been harvested to produce the dry red Montefalco Sagrantino wine.
Although Arnaldo-Caprai purchased the original acreage in 1971, it wasn’t until son Marco took the reins of the family business in the late-1980s that the true Sagrantino Montefalco began its journey to fruition. He believed in the obscure grape that had been growing locally for more than 400 years and determined that it was time to showcase it as a single varietal dry wine. It was Arnaldo-Caprai that lifted the grape from near extinction to the powerful Italian wine it is today.
Aside from producing many fine wines, Arnaldo-Caprai has been consistently recognized for their work in environmental sustainability and have been intricately involved in elevating the status of Umbrian wines in the global marketplace.
I read somewhere that the aromas and flavors of Montefalco Sagrantino drive consumers to smile and simply say, “Italy!” Celebrating the 25th harvest, the Arnaldo-Caprai 25 Anni Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG ($100), exclusively sagrantino, ages 24 months in french oak barrels and a minimum of six additional months in the bottle. Because of the natural tannins in the grape, winemakers are required by law to allow at least two-and-half years between harvest and release. Those who can wait may easily put them down for up to 20 years. For those of us who cannot, decanting for up to 10 hours is essential.
The complexity of this wine is profuse with everything from jam, rose petals and black pepper on the nose to balanced flavors, persistent tannins and a lingering finish. It is a natural pair with a holiday lamb roast.
Arnaldo-Caprai produces several other wines including it’s flagship Arnaldo-Caprai ‘Spinning Beauty’ Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG ($200-300), and all are accessible in wine shops and online.
Rhum Clément Martinique
Established in 1887 and set in an ancient Créole sugarcane plantation in Le Francois, Martinique, Rhum Clément is the standard for Rhum Agricole, which is distilled from sugarcane juice instead of traditional molasses. They introduced Rhum Agricole to U.S. markets and the flagship Rhum Clément V.S.O.P. Rhum Agricole Vieux ($39.95) is seen by many as the gold standard of those from Martinique.
Aged a minimum of four years in new Limousin barriques (small oak barrels) and re-charred Bourbon casks, it is said that the sugarcane juice combined with fine oak gives the rum its exceptional mahogany color and cocoa bean aroma. Rich in texture and soft on the palate, the complex flavors led the Wall Street Journal to describe “A subtle and light Scotch-like smokiness” and Wine Enthusiast magazine to proclaim the V.S.O.P. “Best of the Year.”
In contrast to the V.S.O.P., the clear Clément Canne Bleue ($39.95) is made solely from the surprisingly aromatic juice of blue sugar cane. The unique characteristics and body of this rum are derived from the use of stainless steel vats and distilled volcanic spring water. Vanilla and baking spice aromas of the full-bodied white Rhum Agricole are followed by mineral and spice elements on the palate and throughout the finish.
The Clément portfolio offers other releases of Rhum Agricole meant to appeal to connoisseurs including a six-year-old X.O. Rhum ($70), an oak-driven Select Barrel (39.99) and a 10-year- old Grande Reserve ($90), Double Gold Medal winner at the Concours International de Bruxelles. They are all fiercely aromatic with a smooth, lush mouthfeel that lingers.
For that special person who is impossible to shop for, a relatively obscure, but superb Italian wine or an aged Rhum Agricole from Martinique may be the best solution for a memorable gift.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.comor email firstname.lastname@example.org