The Arnaldo Caprai winery is located on the road from Montefalco to Bevagna: you come around a bend and notice the vineyards spreading around the central building, the red leaves of the Monteflaco vines burning in the sun. As you drive up the hill towards the winery buildings, on both sides of the road stretch vines and olive trees.
The modern and shiny tasting room surprises you at first. But as the bottles appear and Eleonora starts describing the wines, you make the connection between the vines outside and modern feel of the tasting room. The walls of the tasting room are lined with bottles of Caprai wine, books, brochures about the company and promotional materials. This is a company that understands the value of marketing and PR. It is one of few Montefalco wineries whose wines you consistently see on the shelves of U.S. wine stores.
We skip the white wines and go straight to the red. After all, we are in
Montefalco and Sagrantino reigns supreme here. Since we are already familiar
with the Montefalco Rosso, we go straight to the Riserva 2005. Eleonora tells us that Caprai made the Riserva for the first time in 1998/99. The wine is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Merlot and spends 24 months in barrique. It smells of leather and it has an almost viscous texture. It is rich, luscious, dark, concentrated. The characteristic aromas of Sagrantino come through as does so much more: vanilla, leather, rich forest fruits.
Next, we taste the Rosso Outsider 2005 (IGT), a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has the aroma of a well-made Cabernet: the fruit aromas are tempered by black tea and leather. It is a full-bodied wine, tannic, but the tannins are well-balanced and ripe. Also detectable are the aromas of vanilla and toast.
Next comes the Sagrantino Collepiano 2005 (DOCG). Now we are getting to my favorite part: wines made fully from Sagrantino. This particular wine is made from grapes grown in selected vineyards, so it is considered higher quality than the regular Caprai Sagrantino. It has the forest floor and forest fruit smells typical of the grape, but also the aromas on new oak, not surprising since it spends 22 months in barrique.
Caprai wines are modern international wines. They are bold, dark, and concentrated. They are also aged mostly in new French oak, which gives them a recognizable feel even when they are made with rare grapes, such as Sagrantino. They are made to appeal to the international market, not only to people who know and love Sagrantino.
As I am sipping the Sagrantino Collepiano and chatting with the other tasters, the anticipation is growing. I know that what comes will be one of the highest quality wines of this winery: Caprai Sagrantino 25 anni 2003. It’s a Sagrantino first made for the 25th anniversary of the company and it is made with carefully selected grapes and special aging techniques. Just by smelling the wine you can tell that it will outshine all the rest: it is a rich, luscious wine. The first sip confirms that: it is concentrated, bolder and bigger than the rest. It is rich, with well-rounded tannins, a real winter wine. I imagine a roast or lamb, a fireplace and this wine and I have to leave with a bottle.
After the tasting, Eleonora gives us a tour of the grounds and the vinification and aging facilities. It is getting dark and we can’t see well outside, but she points out the vineyeards and talks about the research and experimentation the company is famous for.
Arnaldo Caprai, the father of Marco, who currently runs the winery, planted the first batch
of Sagrantino vines in 1973. In 1989, Marco started working for the winery and making significant changes both in the vineyard and in the wine-making process. He goes about innovation in a systematic and scientific way: in 1993, he planted 6 plots of vines with different densities in order to determine which density works best. The company is also experimenting with various clones and also with grape varieties and soil types. One of their experimental wines is a Pinot Nero, which sounded very intriguing. However, since it only comes in magnum size bottles, it is not usually available for tastings.
As we leave, our only regret is that we were not able to try the Pinot Nero. Maybe next time….