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Where Tannin is a Tradition
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 31, 2011
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Fongoli, Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) Rosso Riserva DOC 2006 (Massanois Imports LLC, $30):  Italy has so many wines classified as DOC or DOCG -- 342 and 65 respectively as I write this -- and those ranks are swelling so quickly that it is near impossible to stay on top of the action.  Even those wines that enjoy a solid reputation within Italy can elude wine lovers here.  That’s the case with Montefalco.

The territory of Montefalco lies in the center of the Umbria region which itself lies in the center of Italy.  Montefalco has been a DOC production area for red and white wine since 1992; in 1992, the area also earned DOCG status for the production of Montefalco Sagrantino, a red wine made entirely from the local Sagrantino variety, which had been a DOC wine since 1977.  The DOCG wine is a dark, powerful red that must age for two and a half years before it can be sold, and even then is extremely tannic.  Montefalco Rosso DOC is what the locals actually drink while waiting for their Sagrantino to come around.

Fongoli, the producer of this 2006 Montefalco Rosso Riserva, is an estate winery that farms 65 acres of vineyards in Montefalco and produces about 100 thousand bottles of wine annually -- “medium-sized for Umbria,” according to winemaker Angelo Fongoli.  The Fongoli family have owned the estate for 80 years and are thus veterans in the zone, where the number of growers has expanded from about ten to 70 since 2000.

Montefalco Rosso is a blended wine that by regulations must contain 60 to 70 percent Sangiovese and 10 to 15 percent Sagrantino, with additional grapes of the producer’s choosing.  It comes as a young wine or an aged, Riserva version. Fongoli applies a different grape blend to each style, using Montepulciano and Merlot as the optional grapes in the younger wine and Barbera and Merlot in the Riserva.

This 2006 Riserva is a dry, spicy red with vibrant fruit character and a considerable amount of tannin.  In weight it’s on the full end of medium-bodied.  This wine successfully combines divergent personalities, for an intriguing effect: its aromas and flavors are fresh, youthful and enticing, with notes of red berries and tart cherry along with some dusty-earth Sangiovese character, but its tannin takes the wine into a more serious direction than the vibrant, juicy flavors do.  In fact, the wine is no fresh-faced kid, having aged for 30 months in large barrels of Slavonian oak and already almost five years old.  I am excited by this wine because it is so different from most of the Italian red wines that are well-known here.

The 2008 Fongoli Montefalco Rosso ($20) is similar in style but a bit less vibrant and it has less weight and concentration.  Even that wine is tannic: “Tannin is a tradition in our zone,” Angelo Fongoli told me.  The 2006 Montefalco Sagrantino ($40) is huge in weight, fruit concentration and tannin, and needs quite a lot of aeration -- but it, too, has freshness and is far from a monolithic powerhouse red.

My favorite, the Riserva, is a fine match for roasts, earthy bean dishes or grilled meats, especially sausages. But because of its vibrant red fruit character I’d be inclined to try it with lighter dishes as well.

91 Points