Monthly Archives: September 2017

Vendemmia 2017 Festa in Montefalco

Sunday was the last day for the Montefalco Wine Harvest festival. It’s a four day event to celebrate the harvest of the famed Sagrantino grapes among others. We had made reservations for lunch in L’Alchemista for lunch and invited new friends to join us. The weather was perfect. Very fall-like, a bit cool at lunch as we were seated next to a downward tiny street up which a strong, cool breeze was blowing. montefalco_street

Lunch at L’Alchemista was good, as always. They were packed so service was a bit slow. As we sat there crowds started gathering in the piazza and announcements were made from an upper balcony on the Comune building. And a group of costumed women sang folk songs. There was to be a parade of floats pulled by tractors. I love stuff like this. No pretensions.montefalco1

Down the main street we found the building where they were holding the wine tastings. This was our main reason for going. You pay 10 Euro per person and you get a glass and a little bag to wear around your neck to hold it. Then you can do unlimited tastings. There were a LOT of tables with a LOT of wine. One of our friends concentrated on the Sagrantino while I tried the Montefalco Rosso as well as the Sagrantino and a white made from Grechetto, Vigonier, and Chardonnay. All were very good. The Sagrantini were very dry to the point you felt all your saliva disappear.

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Once we’d gotten our fill we headed back up the hill to the piazza where the parade was in full swing. They drive the tractors up another street into the piazza and park them around the edges. The floats, of course are wine oriented and lots of fun to see. Here are some pictures.

I love how this guy had put a yoke and harness on the front of his tractor, like it’s a horse…I guess it is, more or less.
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And these folks are sitting on the float “a tavola” enjoying wine and a repast! parade2

Loved this giatantic wine bottle on one float.
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It was one of the best Sagre I’ve ever been too. I’d go back!

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Storms over Umbertide

A couple of pictures of the major storms we woke up to on Saturday morning. The storms here generally come from the west. Our view is West/Northwest. These storms relentlessly moved from left to right and ever so slowly got closer and closer. Finally they got here but we were spared the brunt of the rain. Later in the day I noticed the Tiber river was swollen with rainwater and brown with mud. All came from up-stream where these massive storms must have dumped copious water!

Pigeons fighting the winds.
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storm_castle
storm

Guess who’s back?

Yes! It’s the Wine Guy with a new guest blog article for us.
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Harvest Predictions and Two Interesting Recommendations
Like the cooling northern winds that are finally driving out the last of four hellish heat waves from north Africa, I’m back to talk a bit about the upcoming harvest and to tell you about two white wines I think you’ll find very interesting.

First, though, let’s talk about the weather: For those of you who haven’t been reading Nancy’s blog, and she knows who you are, we’ve been in the grips of an incredible drought here in central Italy. Until yesterday, September 1, we had not seen a substantial rainfall since April. Meanwhile, as I mentioned earlier, the country has been lashed by waves of heat from the north African desert sending temperatures above the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark for literally weeks at a time. The situation became so bad that the reservoirs around Rome were reduced to literal mud flats, resulting in water rationing and shutting down of many of Rome’s fountains. On a recent trip to Sienna, we were shocked by the tilled-over fields, which had turned grey under the heat and resembled a moonscape. It is quite shocking to see a normally green landscape transformed so completely.

Normally, a long, dry summer would be desirable for the vintners, since the aridity and heat, concentrate the juice and produce a wine with amplified varietal character. There is usually a reduction in quantity, but it is offset by the increase in quality. Here, we may have had a little too much of a good thing; in fact, the latest estimates put the yield Umbria at around 60% of last year’s harvest, with Tuscany and the other central regions at about 70%. At these levels the juice produced may be so desiccated that the quality as well as the quantity of the wine produced could be seriously affected.

The first harvests in Umbria, sauvignon and chardonnay, have already started to come in and the results have been cautiously positive. In Orvieto, the yields have fallen by almost 50%(!), but the overall quality of the juice has been exceptional. The grechetto harvest took place last week with reports that there was little evidence of desiccation and that the bunches looked exceptionally healthy. Some growers in Orvieto are optimistically discussing a “vintage of the decade”, on a par with 2007, the last truly great vintage in Umbria. This may be a bit premature, as a key component of most wines from Orvieto, does not usually come in until early October. Time will tell.

The harvest here seems to move from the west to the east as the percentage of late ripening grapes is concentrated in the eastern areas around Montefalco. In between, we find Lago di Trasimeno, with a concentrations of both white and red wines. The whites, chardonnay and pinot bianco, are used to make a particularly fine metodo classico bollicine (can’t use that cham***ne word) that is treasured by the locals. There was considerable anxiety in July that the continuing heat wave could result in appassimento, the wilting of the vines in the heat. The white wine harvest, which began here August 18, turned out happily however, with expectations of grande qualità and reasonable yields. The early arriving red wines, gamay (yes, as in Beaujolais) and pinot noir, came in immediately after the whites. Again, the yield is down, although not so drastically as in Orvieto, and the quality is quite high. Perhaps the lake, second largest in Italy, exercised a moderating influence on the climate.

Finally, let’s turn to the Montefalco area. Here, the bunches are hanging heavily on the vines and the intense heat has caused the red wine grapes to change color early, which would usually indicate an early harvest, but appearances are misleading. In reality, the sugar content of the grapes is too low and the acidity is very high. This has producers looking at a more “usual” harvest in late September for the merlot and the sangiovese and October for the sagrantino and the trebbiano spoletino. The vintage is looking a little more promising as the heat has finally given way to cooler weather and thunderstorms and small rains have given the grapes a respite. I think that the words “cautiously optimistic” sum up the general situation. As I’m typing this, Nancy tells me there’s a whopper storm on the way. As long as it doesn’t turn into Harvey or Irma, that’s good news.

Just to round out the rest of the predictions: Tuscany is looking a lot like us, with limited yields and good quality. A little rain now would be a plus and it appears that they’re getting it. The Veneto, where most prosecco comes from, has been a disaster, with mudslides throughout the spring and alternating rain and high heat. The mudslides appear to have been made worse by overplanting. Prosecco is the drink du jour in Europe right now, so the wine producers are planting like mad. I have a bad feeling that by the time the vines really begin to produce, the world will have moved on, and the Veneto will find itself with tons of unsellable prosecco. Maybe not, such is the life of the producer.

The rest of Italy is looking at a nice harvest. The kind of hot weather we’ve been experiencing is par for the course in the south with the exception of western Sicily, known for a grape called grillo not seen very much in the USA, but the main component of Marsala wine. Keep your eyes out for nero d’avola (red) from Sicily, Fiano di Avellino and Grecho di Tufa (whites) from Campania and primitivo and aglianico from Puglia. They should be great and the costs, even with the dollar down almost 20%, should be good.

A Couple of Interesting White Wines
Finally, I’d like to tell you about two white Italian wines I’ve discovered with these interesting characteristics: (1) You can find them in the US; and (2) They exhibit a good aging(!) potential.

tabarrini
The first wine is from a local Umbrian grape, trebbiano spoletino. It’s a low-yielding local variant of trebbiano that, in its native state, grows in trees. It is well known as a “neighborhood” wine: that is, its only production was by families willing to invest the labor necessary to cultivate the vines. Real winemaking businesses were not particularly interested for many years and it remained a local curiosity. Trebbiano spoletino has become a sort of boutique wine in recent years and there are now several relatively large producers who cultivate it in the standard posts and wire method. However, there is one winemaker, Tabarrini, who produces trebbiano spoletino from 60 year old vines in the traditional way, cultivating the grapes in trees. They do this today as an homage to one of the original founders of the vineyards, Armando, who was one of the first to recognize the value of the grape here and, according to his grandson, took a particular delight in going up and down the ladders at harvest time. The wine, Adarmando (to Armando) preserves his name. I’ve included a couple of photos to give you a feel for what the grapes and the harvesting process look like.

Tabarrini-maple
Photo courtesy of Tabarrini vineyards

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Photo courtesy of Tabarrini vineyards

At our last visit to Tabarrini, we were offered several older vintages, 2009 and 2010, and invited to compare them against the current 2015 release. We were pleasantly surprised. The 2015 vintage is quite good, with good minerality and overtones of fresh fruit. In the mouth, it has a distinctive character, unlike many whites, which just come across as a bit liquid. The previous vintages exhibited these qualities, but in a rarefied way, with a softness and additional depth of character that was quite surprising. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wants to drink the 2015 now, it’s delicious, but the aging did seem to transform it to a higher plane. I decided to play my cards straight down the middle and bought a batch for now and a batch to go down. I don’t see it going more than five or six years, but I think those who wait will be rewarded. You can order the wine from www.tabarrini.us at $19.43 a bottle plus shipping. It’s available at some restaurants in the Washington, New York and San Francisco areas and at some specialty wine stores, but with a production of only 8,000 bottles a year it is probably going to be a bit hard to find.

For those of you who want the gory details, the grapes are grown at about 1000 feet in silty, clay soil and harvested in mid-October, unusually late for a white wine, but typical for this varietal. It spends twelve months in stainless steel tanks on the lees, meaning the left-over yeast particles from the fermentation are left in the tank. This imparts what is usually described as a creamier, richer flavor to the wine and adds complexity. After the fermentation the wine undergoes six additional months of bottle aging before release. A considerable amount of work for a white wine, but worth the effort.

ferentanoExhibit number two comes from just a bit south of the Tuscan border with Lazio, from the producer Falesco. Falesco is a major producer, nearly 3 million bottles, from 370 acres of vineyards in Lazio and Umbria. Falesco is best known for its monster merlot, Montiano, which is widely available in the US–I’ve seen it at Total Wine in the Washington DC area. It also produces a cheap local style wine with the cute name “Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone”. Mark Twain once remarked that Wagner’s music was “better than it sounded”. In the case of “Est! Est!! Est!!!” (Est! = it is!) the name is better than the wine–give this one a miss. But I digress.

The head of Falesco, Riccardo Cotarella, prides himself on discovering and preserving ancient, indigenous wines from extinction. One of his most notable finds was roscetto, a varietal found near the ancient Etruscan town of Ferento, from which it takes its name, Ferentano. Like trebbiano spoletino, roscetto is a late maturing (late September), low yielding grape with good sugar content and aromas.

We had the good fortune to discover the aging potential of roscetto at restaurant Pascucci al Porticciolo, a fantastic fish restaurant with an attached hotel of the same name but under different management about a 20 minute cab ride from Rome’s airport–secret tip: go there!. The restaurant feature vintages of Ferentano going back to 2004 and we tried two. They were amazing. As with the Adarmando, let’s talk about the latest vintage first, the 2016. It has a beautiful golden hue with roseate tinges, reflecting the results of the dry ice process used during maceration. The wine, which sees four months in barriques, small (250 liter) wooden barrels, shows a buttery taste reminiscent of good chardonnay. The taste is forward, with lots of fruit and a lingering finish. There is a bit of tannin on the mouth, due to the oak aging, but it’s not unpleasant. The older vintages show these qualities in a softer and more multi-layered way. It’s not like the aging of sagrantino, which turns pit bull tannins into lap dog esters; it’s more subtle than that. But the tannin has been tamed and once again, you see a softer, rounder result with many dimensions, not a normal quality in anything but the best white wines.

For the technically interested: Riccardo Cotarella has said that his goal was to emphasize the varietal characteristics of the roscetto grape. To achieve this, he developed a process using dry ice(!) during maceration, the time when the tannins, coloring agents and flavor compounds—are leached from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the freshly pressed juice. This is carried out in stainless steel vats over a period of four months. Following that, the wine sees four months in maleolactic fermentation in barriques, a process usually reserved for the better reds and fine chardonnays. The maleolactic fermentation imparts a buttery quality to the wine. The use of barriques imparts a subtle oak feel reminiscent of French chardonnays.

Next Time
Nancy has shamed me into resuming my writing. To make sure I continue, I’m going to tell you what I’m planning next, just to keep me doing more writing and less drinking, the latter of which I think I’m much better at. In any case, next time we’re going to visit Puglia, one of the little known jewels of Italian winemaking. If you think Puglia is just a sort of Italian zinfandel, you’ve got a surprise coming.

Salute!

Patron Saint Day in Umbertide

Yesterday was a holiday in Umbertide. All the stores were closed. It was the patron saint day. Madonna Del Riga. They had a procession through town Thursday night. All day Friday at intermittent times the big bells pealed. I imagined masses at the churches. And on Friday the Umbertidese band and orchestra serenaded us all.

We went down to watch. Snagged a table at Bar Mary and watched the goings on. The entire piazza was full of tables spread out from Bar Mary. Also in front of the orchestra was seating. The band consists of people ages 7 to 70 as a friend said to us. This ensures the band will live on and on. They have a pretty good tenor who sings opera snippets. They play everything from the New World Symphony to the Dating Game Theme! Herb Alpert is a favorite. We had glasses of wine and then a half carafe so our over-worked ladies wouldn’t have to keep waiting on us. After that Luther had a grappa. I went to pay…10€ – good deal!

We headed upstairs and I sat in the living room to enjoy the rest of the concert from here. We don’t do this as often as we used to when we first moved here. But I’m thinking we need to start again. It is good to be part of the community.

Otto Cento…the finish

I went out Sunday morning to see what mayhem had ensued overnight. There was cannon fire and rifle fire echoing all around the town and I went to see what was going on.

The first thing I ran into was the Briganti flag in the piazza. When they take over during the night they always hoist their flag and remove the Italian banner. It may look messy, and it is, but it’s intentional. Disregard the scaffolding on the Comune building. the red fencing is normal in Italy around construction work. So is the hand road sign. There is a briganti on the hand sign. And there is a yellow ATTENZIONE LAVORI IN CORSO or Caution, Men at work sign.
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Next we see a close up of the yellow sign. Maybe now you get the meaning?men_at_work

And, in keeping with the theme, here is a work notice that they post at all construction sites here. The briganti is at the top. The name of Umbertide used to be La Fratta. And note the date: February 30, 1861. A date that doesn’t exist! Hah! work_notice

So I went off to see what all the shooting was about. I came upon a bivouac. Apparently the soldiers had camped under the Rocca and were now shooting at another group up on the ramparts. One group wore black uniforms, the ones up top wore red. I am woefully uninformed about who these groups are. I will need to ask Angelo. He may know.
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They had muzzleloader rifles which definitely slowed the action down a LOT.
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They brought their horses too.horse

And here are some of the costumed re-enactors. costumes1

Over the door it says 8th Bersaglieri. This means the 8th battalion of riflemen or sharpshooters.costume2

So ends another Otto Cento. A fun time was had by all!

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
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The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
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As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
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He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
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And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
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I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.