Category Archives: Wine and wineries

Only Wine Festival – Città di Castello

Every year we have meant to go to the Only Wine Festival in the town just north of us. This year we did. The purpose of the festival is to promote young winemakers around Italy. The winemakers must be under 40 years of age. It helps them get publicity and visibility they may not have gotten elsewhere. The festival has a website and we checked it out. There were many special tastings such as a Whisky tasting, Sparkling wine tasting, Cigar tasting, beer tastings, regional wines such as Umbrian, Tuscan. These had to be reserved and had a fee. We decided to go for a targeted wine tasting of wines grown in volcanic soils around Italy. We really didn’t know what to expect so this was an exploratory mission. entrance_to_fest

wine_tent
We arrived around 5:15 and our tasting was at 6PM. This left time to do some of the regular tastings. There were many different venues. There also were two full floors of a palazzo that had numerous wine stations for tastings. Ostensibly you paid 15 Euro and that entitled you to five “Free” tastings of the wines. Only in Italy would they say you were getting free tastings but you had to pay the 15 Euro for them. Anyway, since we were going to the Volcano tasting we decided to just get one “Free” tasting for the 15 Euro and we’d share it. They give you a nice glass with a little sack you put around your neck to hold the glass and five tickets for the tastings. Turns out no one takes your tickets so you go in and it’s unlimited tastings for as long as you can stand up! It wasn’t too crowded because it was early. We enjoyed all the young winemakers who were eager to talk about their wines.

tastings
Then we went upstairs to the Volcano tasting. We didn’t know where it was and there were no signs. Typical. We asked but no one knew. Finally we found the room way back in a corner. We went in and there were tables set up with six glasses at each setting. The room was hushed. We sat at a table in the front and after we sat down three other single men came in one after the other and joined us. A sommelier came and introduced each wine as they were poured by numerous pourers throughout the room. Of course I didn’t understand everything he said . But I did manage to catch the grapes for each, whether they were aged in oak and for how long, and the region they came from. The first one came from Lazio, north of Rome. Next two from Orvietto. Then one from the Veneto and finally two from Sicily on Mt. Etna. All were white except for the last one, a light red. It was quite interesting. One of our table-mates asked if I could understand it and I said, maybe 30%. Turns out hes a vintner from near Orvietto and one of the wines was his. It is also a vineyard we tried to visit once and were turned away. We will try again soon. One amusing aside, they had a signer for the deaf. She had both Luther and I suppressing giggles every time we looked at her. Signers have the most expressive faces and she was one of the best with rolling eyes, smacking lips, pursing lips and bulging cheeks. I wondered if the sign language in Italy was the same as in the US…

volcano_wine_tasting
The sun was setting when we left and walked through this park to our car park. Beautiful!
CdC_park

We will go back next year but this time we’ll stick to the regular “Free” tastings.

White Roads…and wine!

We are just back from a fun quick trip to Montalcino in Toscana. This town/area is famous for the Brunello di Montalcino, a wine from just this small area of the world. And, of course, very famous and it draws many visitors. That said, the town of Montalcino was a nice hill-town. It had its share of tourists (mostly American) but seemed to have it’s own life and locals living their lives within the walls. I read a book called “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” about life in this town. Pretty good for Italy fans.

dsc06471

We visited two wineries on the way. Little did we know almost all the wineries in this area are on White Roads. These are gravel roads that are not meant for a car like ours. We also should have called for appointments. The first one, Innocenti the person was not there until afternoon. But along this White Road I snapped some spectacular pictures. The day was just perfect. Look at that sky!
img_0962

img_0964

img_0965

img_0966

We visited Sasso di Sole winery on the way back down the white road. Their wine was pretty good. We bought some. The nice woman there recommended a restaurant down the road a bit. It was in a spa, or hot spring town called Bagno Vingnoni. It was lovely. The main part of the little town surrounds the walled in spring which is where the main, hot spring surges up from underground. You can see the bubbles roiling the water. Surrounding this area are restaurants and spa buildings. We visited Il Loggiato and had a very tasty hamburger of Chianina beef, the famous white cattle of Tuscany. Perfect lunch outside under blue skies. Nice. I would never have known to go here! Very below the radar.

This is the penned up spring.
dsc06450 dsc06451

dsc06453

Water really bubbles up from below.dsc06452

My burger. Unconventional bun with olive oil, But why not!?  dsc06454
After the spring bubbles up it flows underground and out into spillways where people sun bathe and soak for free.  dsc06459

dsc06461

Finally flows into this river.
dsc06458

Water running down the wall for probably centuries has built up quite a mineral deposit.
dsc06462

We returned to Innocenti and this time we got to try their wines. Nice man. I was amused by the fact that he asked us after the wine tasting if we wanted to taste the olive oil. I said I preferred Umbrian oil so no thank you. Well after we had purchased some wine he brought out a bottle of the oil and gave it to me as a “gift”. Ha. I guess he was miffed at my comment and was going to try to get me to change my mind about my preference. Sweet.

fullsizerender

img_0970-1024x765

img_0969-624x466

We arrived in Montalcino in late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town which advertised “free parking”. We drove the Porsche and when the proprietor saw it he said maybe we shouldn’t try to drive to his parking. Turns out the road had been badly washed out and a car like ours had a VERY hard time getting down it. We did but it was not pretty. We did drag the undercarriage a few times. The hotel was quite nice called Vecchia Oliviera. The proprietor was nice. Rooms very spacious with really pretty views. Not many people were staying there. We could easily walk to everything in town.

Misty morning view from our room.
dsc06468 dsc06470

That evening we walked up into town to a restaurant called Drogheria Franci where we had a good meal which was not traditional Tuscan. A little more innovative than one would expect. The town of Montalcino is not very big but on a hill. At the top was the Fortress. We were near this.

Next day we were off on quests for more wine. We were off on yet another White Road! After 3 or 4 kilometers we finally got there. This one was called Fattoi. A nice young girl gave us a tasting (it was 10 am!). We bought some wine and headed out to find more. The countryside in this part of Tuscany is extremely diverse. It ranges from verdant wine areas to barren wasteland. I do not know why this is.

dsc06448

We were unsuccessful in finding our next winery. It seemed to be on a White Road that was impassable without a 4 wheel drive. Resigned, we returned to Montalcino. We visited an enoteca which was also a restaurant. It filled up quickly and I only heard American voices. The lunch was quite good and the views were killer across the valley. Back to our room for a nap.

Lunch.
dsc06474

That evening we had reservations at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was up near the Fortress. Food more traditional Tuscan. Very nice place.

All in all a nice getaway. I am a little tired of traveling and am looking forward to staying home for a couple of weeks.

Our company has gone :-(

Well we had a terrific visit with Lenny and Mary. They arrived a bit late for lunch and we had Pasta Amitriciana for dinner. Little did we know then that the small town, Amitrice, where that pasta was invented was to be mostly destroyed by an earthquake just a few days later. We were awakened by our beds shaking in the night.

On Sunday we had been invited to a pre-wedding celebration lunch at Calagrana and we figured Lenny and Mary, being fun-loving folks wouldn’t mind going. The day was beautiful and we drove up to Citta di Castello beforehand for some photos. There must have been 25 people there and Tom and Carol, the honorees, were late. By the time they arrived the Prosecco had been freely flowing and most were buzzed a bit. That was OK, it was a celebration. The food was good and the people nice and there was even dancing.

On Monday we went to Gubbio. It is such a gorgeous medieval city. One of the best in Italy.

DSC04753

It is difficult to reach by public transportation so not as crowded as most towns around. Lenny snapped away. He is a big photographer. We also both bought lovely Etruscan style pottery. Mary and Lenny got a pitcher with pretty gold etching. Very elegant. I went with more austere – I was drawn to the shape of this one.

IMG_0917

Afterwards we drove to Montone to Erbe Luna for lunch outside. It was very breezy all day and quite pleasant.

Tuesday we drove to Assisi. Of course it was very crowded, being August and such a sacred site. I tried to hurry us along to the Basilica because they now have a metal detector you have to go through. I knew the line could be long. We didn’t get there quite as fast as I tried to but it was only about a 20 minute wait. Next visit, if it’s in the summer, I will insist we walk quickly through town, see the Basilica and then shop and photo to our hearts content afterwards. That said, by the time we left the churches the line was amazing! It was probably at least an hour wait…and in the hot sun too. We had lunch at Piazetta del Erbe. We had been before and very much like it. They didn’t have our reservation for some reason, but were sweet and set up a table in the shade for us. Here is my food, grilled octopus in a lime mayo and seared tuna on a caviar base. The octopus was tender with the tips crunchy from the grill. Yum!

IMG_0180

IMG_0181

On Wednesday we visited our market and picked up stuff for dinner. Then headed to Tiberini for a wine tasting. We had to insert ourselves into a group of ten so it wasn’t as nice as usual. Then we headed to Montefalco for lunch at L’Alchemista. Good as always and sat outside in the Piazza. Next up shopping! We went to Deruta where we bought pottery. Here is my new bowl. I love the vibrant colors and the handles!
IMG_0915

Alas, Thursday arrived and we took our guests to the train station to head down to Rome. It had been a fun trip which could have turned out badly as JUST before they came we decided to get the car all cleaned up. Nice of us huh? But it turned into a fateful encounter with the washing machine which pulled the entire nose piece of our car off. One side hung down onto the floor. GEEZ. Well we tied it up with a bit of string and went to our auto-body guy. He proceeded to put in bigger screws and managed to secure it. All you could see were a couple of scratches. We did order a new part but this worked for taking the four of us around. We have no idea what we would have done if not for this quick fix. Thank you Senore Auto Body guy!

On Monday we are off to Portugal – Rome to Lisbon RyanAir – to re-connect with our Australian friends. We will drive to the villa they rented and spend three nights and then drive to Lisbon for three nights. We have never been to Portugal and it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Pasqua or Easter is a big deal here in Italy. They start on Palm Sunday with a Mass held outside with olive branches in lieu of palm fronds. Then on Good Friday they have a procession through town. They have a body representing Christ that they carry behind all the priests with big torches burning. The band plays a dirge and the faithful follow behind with candles. It is pretty moving to watch. I took a film which is below. It is from our third floor window down into the street below as the procession passed by. On Easter Sunday they have the traditional big lunch after Mass. Lamb is the tradition. Tomorrow is Pasquetta (also a holiday) and traditionally all the Italians go for a picnic but sometimes to a restaurant for ANOTHER big lunch! Their reward after Lent I guess.

We have been trying to get out and about more lately now that the weather is improving. We took a trip to Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame). We had been once before on a vacation and in all this time here we had not returned. It was a blustery day and the parking lots, normally full, were empty. The front of the theater has this cool lantern on it
DSC05312

We went to the Osteria del Teatre for lunch. It is a very old fashioned Tuscan place with friendly service and was pretty popular. Note the projector and retracted screen for presentations on the beamed ceiling.
DSC05315

I had the baccalà, or salt cod. It has to be soaked for days to go from it’s totally dried out state to something edible. It was good.
DSC05314

I don’t normally have dessert but my interest was piqued by this odd looking thing below. It had a handle inserted into the center which they turned and a blade shaved it into curls. It is made of white chocolate and ground pistachio nuts. I had it on homemade gelato and it was divine!
DSC05318

DSC05317

Our wine had the same name as the house from Under the Tuscan Sun. I don’t think they are related, but maybe?
DSC05322

View from the town. See Lago di Trasemeno in the distance? Also the town, named Terontola, on the flatlands has the main Rome to Florence rail line. You can see the straight arrow of the tracks. This is the station we use to go to either place. It has safe, free parking.
DSC05323

Then on Friday we drove down to DiFillipo winery in the Montefalco area to taste and buy some wine. They don’t call this the “Green heart of Italy” for nothing!
DSC05325

And continuing my food theme. Another of the odd differences between Italy and the US. This time of year there is a lot of lamb for sale. Not other times very much. It is hard to find. So I indulged in the lamb shoulder roast as I had a recipe. As I unwrapped it I noticed that it had the actual leg attached to the shoulder. And on the leg there was what looked like the hoof! Or what was left of the hoof. Note below. I am here to report the lamb was very good. I just ignored the hoof!
DSC05307

Goings On…

Spring has sprung when the Monk’s Beard shows up and here it is!
DSC05264

I also decided to ask our butcher for flank steak. I know it exists and I wanted to make fajitas. One of the butchers speaks some english so I asked him if he was familiar with them. He said yes and trotted off into the back. He brought out what is the most enormous flank steak I’ve ever seen. He held his knife on it to see how much I wanted. So what I ended up with was this.
DSC05268

As you can see it is a very thick steak and I got a chunk of it. I grilled it in the fireplace without marinating it or anything else. It was a tasty bit of meat and worked fine in the fajitas. Always something new!

Our weather has been unrelentingly gray and wet but not particularly cold. The Tiber overflowed its banks again but not as bad as last year. All the little rivers were roaring torrents! And we’ve had some storms. This one loomed up over the mountains with the sun still shining in the foreground.
DSC05270

This week we finally saw some relief…So when we saw the sun was going to be out we planned a trip to a winery in the Montefalco area. We head for one in particular but as often happens ended up at another because we couldn’t find the first one. We ended up at Antonelli. This is a very big operation for that area. They were very nice and poured generously for the tasting.

DSC05273

Nina the dog liked attention.
DSC05275

Packing up the purchases.
DSC05278

The tasting room.
DSC05280

DSC05285

They also produce olive oil and were pruning the trees back. See the piles of branches?
DSC05284

After the tasting we went into the town of Montefalco and tried to visit the museum but it was closed on Tuesdays. One of these days we’ll get to see the purportedly beautiful frescoes of the life of St. Francis. We chose a little enotecca with restaurant and had a pleasant lunch. There were even two brave tables of folks sitting outside in the sun.

Montefalco piazza.
DSC05289

DSC05298
View from Montefalco across the valley to Monte Subasio.
DSC05305

An artist paints stylized pictures of local scenes. Here is one that was hanging in the restaurant. I want to buy one of his paintings sometime. I’ve seen them in a shop in Assisi.DSC05301

Finally, I wanted to address something that I have been hearing over and over in the US press. And this is not a political opinion at all but it does have to do with the presidential election. It is the fact that many people are looking for so called “exit strategies” if Trump gets elected. Wanting to immigrate to Canada, or Mexico, or wherever to get away. Well, as an expat who has already exited let me tell you…you can run but you can’t hide.

As a US citizen anything that happens in the US affects all of us no matter where we live. We, as Americans, still have to file and pay US taxes every year. I was surprised to get a letter with an additional tax form I have to file this year to prove I have enough health insurance over and above my Medicare. This is a new one for me. It will be amusing to see how my accountant handles it! As most of you know we are in the Italian health care system.

We also have to comply with a lot of regulations that Uncle Sam creates just to keep tabs on us and on all our financial dealings. For instance, FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) and FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). Depending on our situation we must file these before June or face fines and possible criminal charges.

Yep, the long arm of Uncle Sam will always find you. You might as well forget that “exit strategy”.

My visit to the Italian Dottoressa

Well I couldn’t put off visiting my doctor any longer so I steeled myself to do it last week. The way the Italian health care works is like this. You go to the Sanitario office at the beginning of each year. I wrote about that experience earlier this year in this blog. At this time they assign a doctor. I was assigned to a woman doctor who was an OB/GYN as well but she would be my primary care doctor. I had gotten her name from friends who had been through a lot of health care issues and had finally found her. We all speak some Italian but when dealing with something like your health you want to get it right. You don’t want to misunderstand.

I had looked my Dottoressa up on the internet and had her hours. Off I went. After a little trouble I found her office but her hours were completely different than the site said. Dutifully I wrote down the hours that were posted on the door. Rats. So yesterday I went back arriving just before the opening time to find several people there ahead of me. I noted my place and after about 30 minutes I went in. I introduced myself in my best Italian and then politely asked if she spoke English. And she did, and it was good. I had checked my blood pressure myself and it was somewhat high so this was my primary reason to go. She agreed to put me on some medicine for it. She commented that she had not seen me in any of the bars and did I only associate with other English speakers. I got the feeling she didn’t like the expat community. She said she would speak to me in English but if she met me somewhere else she would speak to me in Italian. Fair enough!

As we talked I was surprised at how, how to say it…maybe unprofessional… she was at least when compared to a US doctor. She asked if my husband came to her and I said no he went to a different doctor. When I told her his name she snorted in derision. I asked her if she did not like him and she replied, “have you met him?”  I don’t think a US doctor would do that to a colleague. We talked about her daughter who has several degrees. I commented that she should be proud. She talked about the person who headed the Umbria Sanitario office who had “only a high school degree!!” and SHE was trying to tell the doctors what to do, how to save money… I commented she must know people in high places. She replied she was F***ing everyone! OKAY then. So this was my first visit to the Dottoressa.

Weather is a-changing
Fall is here. The temperatures have been quite cool but nice. The morning fog is again enveloping the big city. It usually burns off by mid-morning. The farmers are bringing in the biggest cash crop around here right now – tobacco. Everywhere are tractors with trailers full of the bright yellow leaves. Sprinkled throughout the countryside are tobacco drying buildings with ovens to partially dry the leaves before shipping to the big tobacco companies. Umbria is famous for it’s tobacco, primarily for cigarettes.

The sunflower fields are now just stubble. The corn is mostly harvested. And so are the grapes. It was purportedly a good year for the wine. Happy happy for the vintners after such a poor year in 2014. Next we hold our breath to see if the olive crop is OK this year. Last year it was devastated by an insect because the winter had been too warm to kill them off. Last year would have been my first olive harvest season. So I am eagerly looking forward to this years harvest and the production of the Olio Nuovo or New Oil. Umbrian oil is particularly peppery and grassy and brilliant green. So good on toasted bruschetta. Can’t wait.

Yesterday we had a gentleman named Marco come and take a look at our big fireplace in the kitchen. We are going to have him make glass and steel doors that fold back for it. He “said” he could get it to us by November. It is Italy after all…Our friend Vera just said to him “before Natale?” (Christmas) He laughed and said November! We shall see… Maybe I will be able to try it out this winter.

This week we have had a lot of storms rolling through. A lot of times they stay west of us, behind the mountains. The Tiber river tells the tale of what is happening up-stream. It is brown with mud and very high. I must have taken 100 pictures to get this one picture of the light show we were having.
IMG_0375

Another post from the Wine Guy! Romanelli Vineyards

Montepulciano was an interesting location, but it’s time to get back to Umbria. Today, we’re going to visit the Romanelli vineyards, which lies 1000 feet up on the Colle San Clemente, one of the northern slopes leading to Montefalco with a lovely view of Assisi and its surrounding hill towns in the distance.

Monte Subasio rising up behind Assisi.
IMG_0122

The cantina sits just above the vineyards abutting Montefalco in what appears on approach to be a neighborhood, but quickly turns into rolling fields of grapes and olive trees an you descend from the road into the property itself. For anyone wishing to follow our footsteps, I would recommend an excellent GPS–which we did not have–or good eyesight and luck. The signs to the vineyard are very small and seemingly placed at random. We required a quick trip into Montefalco for directions; fortunately the property is well known and we had no problems after that.

At the Romanelli cantina we were greeted by Devis(!), the Romanelli family member in charge of all matters related to wine. As you might imagine, we were rather struck by the name. It turns out that it was somewhat a fad in Montefalco some thirty years or so ago, and there are, in fact, three other men named Devis in Montefalco. Not bad for a town with 5,800 inhabitants!

IMG_0109

Having straightened out the matter of his name, Devis proceeded to give us an overview of the family and its property. The Romanellis have owned the property in Montefalco since 1978, when Davis’s father and grandfather purchased it and split it into olive trees (34 acres) and vines (16 acres). The vineyards themselves are somewhat sheltered from the prevailing winds by the hills themselves and are in a clay soil rich in lime. Today, the property is managed between Devis and Fabio, who handles the olive oil side of the business. Devis is quite the jack of all trades, handling the management of the vineyards, the winemaking tasks and sales.

We started our tasting with a Grechetto 2014. It was striking, exhibiting considerably more body and varietal character than we expected from the workhorse of the Umbrian whites. Its characteristic minerality was well balanced by a lightly floral bouquet and a touch of fruitiness that I found unusual. Given that 2014 was an unusually cool, wet year in Umbria, I was very interested in discussing the wine with Devis. He told me that the sheltered location of the vineyards protected them from the unusually wet weather last year and enabled him to harvest in late September, two to three weeks later than most vineyards bring in grechetto. In addition, the wine underwnt a long, slow fermentation at 15 degrees Centigrade followed by six months in stainless steel tanks. The wine undergoes a further two months of repose after bottling to bring out the maximum from the Grechetto. A hit, this one.

grechetto dei colli martani

Now it was time for the reds (Romanelli, like most producers around Montefalco, is largely dedicated to red wines). Devis first produced a Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2010. This Rosso, as with any DOCG Montefalco Rosso, is mostly Sangiovese (65%) and Sagrantino (15%), but also includes contributions of Merlot (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). As with all his wines, the grapes in this one were harvested relatively late (mid to late October), given 45 days of maceration on the skins and plenty of barrel aging in both small (225 liter) and large (2500 liter) French oak barrels. This produces a monster Montefalco Rosso, by far the biggest I’ve ever tried. The fruitiness of the Sangiovese and the Merlot is exquisitely balanced by the somewhat more austere and tannic Cabernet and Sagrantino. It was very full in the mouth, with cherry notes, with a long, very smooth finish. Devis told me that because he prefers to extensively age his Montefalco Rossos, he produces only a Riserva. Instead of producing a regular Montefalco Rosso, which would require less aging, he prefers to produce a non-oaked wine for everyday drinking, called Predara, Sangiovese (80%) with Sagrantino (12%) and Merlot (8%). It sounds intriguing, but it was all gone. Something for later.

montefalco rosso

This being Montefalco, the 2010 Sagrantino was rolled out with considerable ceremony including changing the glasses, pouring a small bit of wine in each glass and spinning it in order to coat the inside and a bit of inhaling and sighing (It’s great to see the winemakers doing what they like). The Sagrantino used in this wine is hand-selected from the entire crop, the rest going to the Montefalco Rosso (also hand-selected) and the Predara. As with his other wines, this one received extensive maceration (45-60 days) on the skins to extract the maximum character to the wine, and then spent 18 months in a variety of large and small French oak barrels. After this aging process, the wine spent 10 months in the bottle before being released to the public. This, too, was a blockbuster. Tremendously perfumed, with an earthy, tobacco-like character underneath. The tannins have been tamed and the wine is possessed of a full body and roundness with fruity notes. The finish here was also excellent. I’m sure it could go longer in the bottle, but it’s drinking fabulously now.

montefalco sagrantino

We followed the Sagrantino up with its passito version. As you probably remember, passito is the traditional style of winemaking in Montefalco, where the grapes are laid out in a sheltered area and allowed to dry for several months, the wine being produced normally around Easter time after a short stay in oak barrels. The wine is usually made very dry, as was this one, and I can only compare it to a vintage–not a ruby or a tawny–port. It has a strong character of the grape, but almost no sweetness. I find it a bit too subtle, but the Umbrians love it and almost every producer makes one. If you’re interested, you’ll definitely have to come to Umbria to try this one. I don’t think much gets past the Umbrian border.

Devis rounded the tasting out with Romanelli’s 2013 olive oil on slices of toasted bread. Heavenly. The oil was a greenish-gold with a strong hint of straw and a vegetal note that was just right. Although Romanelli is justifiably well known for its wines, it is also a major, prize-winning producer of olive oil. The weather last year was so bad that the entire crop was wiped out. Devis assured us that this year, which has been hot and very dry, the prospects of an successful season are very high. Nancy was very enthused. She has already planned a visit for us in November, when the new oil comes out. Details at that time.

Finally, a short note for my grappa-loving friends. Romanetti makes a Grappa di Sagrantino that is one of the best grappas I have ever tasted. It was unusually smooth with a magnificent finish, completely lacking the sometimes oily character and schnapps-like bite that grappas can have. Grappa production by vineyards was hampered for many years by Italian laws forbidding winemakers to sell distilled spirits, effectively separating the wine business from anything to do with grappa. Those days are fortunately over now, and vineyards such as Romanelli are working hard to produce grappas of an equal quality to the wines they make. Lucky for us!

Almost all gone…
grappa di sagrantino

Guess who is back?! The wine guy with a post about Montepulciano and the Vino Nobile

Nancy and I are travelling to the Tuscan town of Montepulciano to have lunch with friends at La Grotta, one of our favorite restaurants. Given that I have to go anyway–I’m hardly fighting it–I’ve decided to interrupt my researches here in Umbria and check out some Tuscan wine. No sense missing an opportunity to try something new. I’ve targeted the Tenute del Cerro, a well known produttore in the district of Acquaviva, a few kilometers east of Montalcino in the rolling Colli Senesi–the Sienese Hills.

We have decided to take the direct route, the Super Strada SS140 (take this description with a grain of salt) which winds back and forth across the Tuscan-Umbrian border, climbs to about 1800 feet and descends to the lovely town of Tuoro on Lake Trasimeno, Italy’s largest (outside of Guarda) and and one of its most beautiful lakes. From here, we follow the autostrada to Florence for a bit and then swing south-west on the SP10/SP8 through rolling hills and tidy, picturesque villages towards Montepulciano.

Time for some background: The Tuscans and the Umbrians don’t like each other very much. Throughout most of the middle ages and up to the establishment of united Italy in the 1870’s, Umbria belonged the Papal States: that is, it was a possession of the Catholic Church. Tuscany at the same time was the site of feuding dukedoms struggling to control the province. During this time, Tuscany played unwilling host to foreign armies from France, Spain, Germany and Austria as well as armies from “neighbors” such as Venice, Milan and Naples. History has definitely been a bit messier there. In any case, the Tuscans see the Umbrians as happy-go-lucky, rather simple peasant folk who have lived their lives as welfare kings and queens in the bosom of the Mother Church while they have always had to struggle for their existence. The Umbrians, on the other hand, see the Tuscans as crude money-grubbing materialists who have lost all touch with the virtues of the simple life and who take advantage of their cultural heritage to squeeze every nickle out of the hapless tourists who visit them.

Enough of these musings–back to wine. The odd thing to remember about the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is that it doesn’t have any Montepulciano grapes in it. The Montepulciano grape is the heavy hitter of the central Adriatic coast, appearing in excellent wines such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Rosso Piceno and Conero. The Vino Nobile, on the other hand, is, like most Tuscan wines, made primarily from Sangiovese. The town of Montepulciano, due to its fame, was granted a DOC of its own in spite of the confusion. In fact, the town of Montepulciano is so famous in winemaking that Il Vino Nobile di Montepulciano became the first DOCG created.
Although the winery, Tenute del Cerro uses the small town of Acquaviva di Montepulciano as its address, it is actually about 5 kilometers outside the town on a “white road”. “White Road” in Italiance parlance covers anything from a dirt road to a goat path. This one was on the finer side, being a dusty country gravel road just big enough for two cars to squeeze by. We tried ignore all the gravel banging the bottom of the car as we made our way gently through rolling fields of green grapes overlooked by gorgeously painted Italian country houses. At a small bend in the road, we spied our goal.

The Tenute del Cerro consists of an elegant, gated entrance forking in one direction to a truely elegant palazzo, the Villa Granzianella, an agriturismo with meals and rooms, on one side and the lovely cantina Tenute del Cerro on the other. We were greeted at the cantina by Giovanni, a tall young man in his mid twenties from Milan who is doing an internship here as part of his studies in Hospitality Management at the University. He is aiming to specialize as a sommelier–why didn’t I think of this instead of engineering? He gave us an interesting talk on the property, the Etruscan surroundings and the winemaking on the property. The winery is very proud of its ancient Etruscan heritage, and pays homage to it through the labels it uses for its wines.

Entrance.
DSC04415

Giovanni
DSC04414

Tasting room
DSC04408
Tasting room
DSC04405

Montepulciano on it’s hilltop nearby.
DSC04403

View across the vine-laden countryside.
DSC04401

Olive trees.
DSC04397

More olive trees
DSC04396

Seating on the lawn of the agriturismo. Beautiful views.
DSC04392

Our first tasting was a pleasant surprise: the Vermentino 2013. Vermentino is a white grape that I have always associated with Sardinia, although it does appear under various other names in the Piedmonte, Liguria and Corsica. I’ve always found it rather light and inoffensive, but unremarkable in character. If you can remember the days of Bolla Soave, you’ll have an idea where I’m coming from–it goes down nicely but makes hardly any impression. I was surprised to find that it is cultivated to a modest extent in Tuscany. This 100% Vermentino was big and fat in the mouth, unlike the rather thin impression that most Vermentinos have made on me it the past. It had a lovely straw color, with a fruity nose. I found it a bit mineral and steely on the tongue with a nice long finish. A definite keeper for a nice house wine and I’m sure it would go nicely with fish, pasta or light white meats. I’m going to have to extend my investigation of Vermintino to see if the Sardinians are keeping the good ones to themselves, or whether this is just a Tuscan terroir effect.

We followed the Vermintino with a Chianti Colli Senese 2012. Although the property specializes in Vino Nobile, the winemakers feel that there are many other varietals that blend extremely well with Sangiovese that produce lighter, more fragrant and more immediately drinkable reds than the Vino Nobile, which is a wine of considerable heft and requires aging. Because Montepulciano lies in the Colli Senesi (Sienese Hills) district of Chianti and these blends meet the requirements of the DOC Chianti Colli Senese they are sold as such. This chianti was a light cherry with ruby undertones. It was light and tingling on the tongue, with great fruit and a tiny touch of tannin from six months in large oak barrels. It had an excellent finish, leaving just a hint of jam. Given its character, I think it would make a great accompaniment for pasta, pork and grilled meats. We have enjoyed it several times with pastas with red sauce and chicken and it has been perfect.

These labels are using a text font reminiscent of the ancient Etruscan writing. This is the Chianti.
DSC04672

The Chianti was followed by the centerpiece, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012. This wine, 90% sangiovese and 10% mammolo, an antique tuscan grape that confers a vivid purple hue to the wine. (For trivia lovers: Mammolo is what the Italians call Bashful of the seven dwarfs.) The wine has an imposing color, the cherry red of the sangiovese darkened by the purple tint of the mammolo. The nose is floral, with a hint of vanilla. In the mouth it is very full, with a moderate touch of oak from 12 months in large slavonian oak barrels (botte). The wine sports a moderate touch of tannin that tells me it would be rewarding to lay this down for a while if you are capable–I am not. Giovanni is of the opinion that it could go about ten years. It is one of the best Vino Nobiles I have tried in a while.

The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
DSC04671

Although we begged for more, the top of the line Vino Nobile “Antica Chiusina” had been drunk up–damn you British or German tourists or whomever! Another reason to return for further investigation, so I’m not completely down about it. In place of the Antica Chiusina, Giovanni surprised us with an alternative offering he was very fond of, a Sagrantino from Umbria(!). It turns out that Tenute del Cerro is one of four autonomous wineries owned by Unipol, a large insurance agency. The other wineries are: la Poderina in Montalcino; Monterufoli, in the Val di Cornia outside Pisa; and Còlpetrone, near Montefalco. We decided to pass on the offer. There’s no sense getting ahead of ourselves in our investigations. Besides, lunch was calling in Montepulciano. Naturally with a nice bottle of the Vino Nobile. More on that later. Ciao!

[Nancy here. Luther did not include the fact that this cooperative of wineries also includes an olive oil producer that coincidentally is just outside of Umbertide! We had seen them but never visited before. They have labels much like the wine labels. I purchase one bottle.]

DSC04413

Some interesting weather and pictures

We have been having summery weather with some storms and pretty sunsets. I thought I’d share a couple of photos from the last week or so. This one is a gorgeous sunset.

DSC04365

Our weather comes from the west and our terrace faces that way so we are treated with seeing the storms approach. Oddly this one loomed up and over us and then disappeared. Here is one of the storm with the sun behind the cloud.

DSC04372

On Sunday we planned to meet Shirley and Frank over in Montepulciano for lunch at our favorite place, La Grotta. Before we left home however, I glanced out and there was a wedding in progress. They had four of the classic Fiat 500s with white bows on them awaiting the wedding party. (the fourth one got lost, was red, and showed up later) I wished I could have seen the bride, in her voluminous dress, get into one of these babys!
DSC04391

It was kind of cloudy and cool. We decided to visit a winery on the way to MonteP named Tenute del Cerro. I will only post one picture of the countryside from the winery here as we have to wait for the Wine Guy to write his post about it. It was a fantastic place.

Beautiful huh?
DSC04392

Lunch was great, and to make your mouth water, here is what I had. First an interesting salad with shaved, raw asparagus, shaved parmesan, and a poached egg.

DSC04416

Next Tagliatella with goose ragu. YUM!
DSC04417

New Wine Guy post – Visiting a winery – Villa Mongalli

brochure copyIt’s a gorgeous day, as we head south along the E45, once the old Roman road, Via Flavia, which two thousand years ago connected Rome, on the western side of Italy, with Rimini on the Adriatic coast. Because the weather is particularly fine today, we remain on the E45 past Perugia towards Ripabianca. From here, we can put the top down and take a leisurely cruise along the SP415 through the countryside towards Montefalco and Bevagna, the land of Sagrantino. The SP415 follows a valley cut by a small creek past the lovely hill town of Gualdo Cataneo and ends just before the the unfortunatelly named town of Bastardo–yes, it means the same thing in Italian. We take the SS316 towards Montefalco and Bevagna and enter the Via del Sagrantino, the Sagrantino Road.

I’ve taken the precaution of going to the winery’s website and printing out a map. This turns out to have been a smart move, as the navigation system in the car seems convinced that the road we’re looking for does not exist. This is not unusual in Italian winery hunting as most of the wineries are truly in the middle of nowhere. We have discovered many interesting places while trying to find a place we’re interested in, if you’ll pardon that. Anyway, after a little looking, we find the correct road, which is, thankfully, paved. We follow it up a fairly steep incline to a hilltop amid the trees and go looking for the address I got from the website.

As we approach Villa Mongalli, we have our doubts, even though we know the address is correct. The winery, a wooden, barn-like structure, is framed by areas of unmown grass at least three feet high. A look around one side is both assuring and offputting; what is clearly a lovely deck with chairs and tables (winery!) had grass growing up to its floor. (out of business winery?) We might have left at that point, had we not seen a slightly opened door and two cars parked in front. Pretentious the place is definitely not.

IMG_0085

Entering a large open unlit room, we again experience hopes and fears: Hope, because we are clearly in some sort of tasting room with medals and articles on the walls, tables and chairs, and stacks of wine guides and reviews. Fear, because it looks a bit like the aftermath of a fraternity party, with empty bottles and glasses on most of the tables.

IMG_0086

From a smaller, better lit office area, a slightly built fellow with curly brown hair and intriguing grey eyes emerged and introduced himself as Pierpaolo Menghini. He and his brother Tommasso, who is also in the office, handle the everyday operation of the winery under the overall supervision of the father, who founded the operation. Pierpaolo is in charge of all things associated with making the wine; Tomasso handles sales, marketing and all things associated with the business. Pierpaolo throws open the curtains, revealing the deck we saw earlier, which presents a magnificent view of the rolling vineyards outside, gets glasses and finds a clear table. It’s tasting time.

IMG_0096

IMG_0087

Our tasting begins with Calicanto, Villa Mongalli’s Trebbiano Spolentino 2013. As you probably know, I am a big fan of this grape. But, for me it is still a very satisfying surprise. The wine is big and fat in the mouth, with a substance and character that I rarely find in most white wines. It is 100% Trebbiano Spolentino grown on an a 4.4 acre segment of the winery’s 33 acres. What was particularly interesting was that the wine opened up over time: something I associate only with reds. Pierpaolo sets some aside and twenty minutes we compare it with a freshly opened bottle. The difference is impressive. The wine seemed to gain depth and strength. This is, to date, the best Trebbiano Spolentino I’ve tried. [Nancy here: Pierpaolo was clearly VERY proud of this wine. I was stunned as the aroma of the wine drastically changed as it opened up over a period of over thirty minutes. Agree with the Wine Guy, I’ve never seen a white wine do this, only the reds. Amazing]

IMG_0093

I noticed that many of the bottles we were tasting are unlabled. Welcome to Italy. Most of the wines made at Villa Mongalli are DOC or DOCG wines and receive the special DOC and DOCG label on the necks of the bottles. These labels are provided by the Government, which hasn’t gotten around to making them yet. Pierpaolo can’t run the bottles through the labelling machine twice, so he has to hold on to racks of unlabelled wine waiting for the labels. Ah well, as I’ve noted before: if you’re the impatient type, you better go to northern Europe. In Italy things get done when they get done.

Wine guy and Pierpaolo.
IMG_0095
The rest of Villa Mongalli’s vines are red. We continue with the La Grazie 2010, which is a DOC Rosso di Montefalco. Unlike most Rosso di Montefalco’s, which tend to be 15% Sagrantino and 75% Sangiovese. At Villa Mongalli, the wine is 15% Sagrantino, 50% Sangiovese and the remainder a blend of Cabernet and Merlot which Pierpaolo adjusts each year to produce a balanced, ruby wine with plenty of fruit up front. A year in large oak barrels followed by a year on the rack give the wine backbone. I imagine you could lay it down for a while, but Pierpaolo considers it his “everyday” wine and I have to agree that it’s drinking fabulously right now.

IMG_0091

Next, we passed to the main event, the Sagrantino. Villa Mongalli makes two Sagrantinos di Montefalco, Pozzo del Curato and Della Cima. The Pozzo del Curato is made from Sagrantino throughout the property, while the Della Cima (Italian for from the summit) comes from a 2 acre plot at the very top of the property that he points out to us from the deck. They are both prepared the same way, with three years in small oak barrels and a year in the bottle. With the air of a lion tamer demonstrating that he can keep the big cats under control, Pierpaolo pours the wines out. We let them breath for about ten minutes–always an excellent idea with Sagrantino–and taste. These are monsters. The wine is intensely ruby to purple, bursting with fruit and spices. We are drinking the 2005 vintage, but the tannic basis is still there. I daresay this wine could easily go another ten years. Pierpaolo thinks that the Della Cima has a bit more elegance and aging potential–it’s slightly more alcoholic at 14,5% as opposed to 14.0% for the Pozzo del Curato. It is hard to tell for sure. They are both fabulous. He calls these “occasion wines” and I have to agree. These are wines that are too commanding to drink as accompaniments to food. They deserve to be enjoyed by themselves. Perhaps chocolate, or very powerful cheese might work, but I think the wine demands your attention. Think port without the sweetness.

IMG_0094

Finally, we come to Pierpaolo’s surprise wine, the Col Cimino 2005. This is Pierpaolo’s single non-traditional wine, which he says is particularly loved by “the Anglo-Saxons”. It is a wine of equal parts Sangrantino, Cabernet and Merlot with three years of barrel age and, to me, it resembles a fine Bordeaux (please don’t tell the French I said this) with the tannins of the Sagrantino and Cabernet giving the wine a solid structure and the fruitiness of the Sagrantino and Merlot offsetting the more closed character of the Cabernet. We find it very satisfying. I’m not sure how much farther the 2005 can go, perhaps a few years, but I would say it is near perfect right now. Don’t expect any fancy labels on this wine. Because it’s not produced according to the DOC/DOCG standards it is labelled a humble IGT Rosso Umbria. It is most definitely a diamond in the rough.

After loading the car to bursting with wine, we asked if we could buy a bottle of wine and drink it with the picnic lunch we brought with us. “No problem” was the answer, and Pierpaolo fetched us a chilled bottle of Trebbiano Spoletino from the cellar. He than asked us if we’d like to take the bottles we had been tasting, most of which were not close to empty, with us! We gathered as many as we felt we could without looking too greedy. It was unbelievable.

Our table littered with half empty bottles.
IMG_0102

Our simple picnic of proscuitto crudo, pecorino cheeses and bread.
IMG_0100

For folks who are interested in this sort of thing, Via Mongalli exports solely to the Bay area in California. If you live there, lucky you. If not, it is an excellent excuse to take a jaunt to Umbria. On balance, Villa Mongalli is one of the best wineries we’ve visited here in Umbria.