America is a nation of immigrants, the saying goes. And so is much of our nation’s wine.
The French origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir in California and elsewhere are well known. There’s Finger Lakes Riesling and its German connection. Spanish and Italian varieties are not uncommon; you can find Tempranillo in Arizona and Nebbiolo in Virginia, among many other transplants.
Six years ago, Messina Hof Winery became one of the first in Texas to produce Sagrantino, the brawny red variety from Umbria. It now offers several Sagrantinos, including the outstanding 2018 Sagrantino Reserva from the Texas High Plains AVA, the second largest in Texas.
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Messina Hof’s co-founders, Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, became smitten with the grape on a trip to Umbria and found a source for Sagrantino vines in this country. They supplied them to growers from which they source grapes and also planted them in their estate vineyard in Bryan, Texas, where they founded the winery in 1977 (it is now one of the biggest wineries in the state).
While Sagrantino from Umbria — including the most famous appellation, Sagrantino di Montefalco — is known for its aggressive tannins and benefits from a good deal of aging, Messina Hof’s $35 wine is gentler. While it does have a firm tannic structure, it doesn’t have that cotton-in-the-mouth dryness. The fruit is in the starring role here, and it shows beautifully right now.
Notes of black cherry give way to darker fruit tastes as the wine opens up. Secondary notes of coffee, leather, milk chocolate, and black licorice appear on the long finish. The wine is aged for 20 months in oak barrels, and the wood is seamlessly integrated. Alcohol is a not-over-the-top 13.9 percent.
It’s available from the winery and can be shipped to most states, along with dozens of other wines in Messina Hof’s lineup. You may not have realized it, but Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state, with at least 400 wineries in its eight AVAs. I’ve tasted a number of the wines in recent years, including some that really stand out. Messina Hof’s 2018 Sagrantino Reserva is one of them.