Category Archives: The Wine Guy

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part II

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 2
maremmaLeaving our hotel on a gorgeous early fall morning, we head south on the A1/E80 following the old Roman road to Rome, crossing the flatlands around the provincial capital of Grosetto, and entering the rolling hill country of the Monti dell’Uccelina. From there we branch inland into the rugged wine region around the mountain town of Scansano.

The region around Scansano takes its name from a varietal of the Sangiovese called Morellino. One of the more romantic theories around the name is that it comes from “morello”, which literally means “brown”, the color of the region’s horses. More down to earth observers suspect it derives from the morello cherry, a dark red cherry known for its acidity and tartness. In any case, the local Sangovese has been granted the highly prized DOCG status since 2007 as Morellino di Scansano. A Morellino di Scansano must consist of at least 85% local Morellino, with up to 15% coming from a list of other permitted varietals maintained by the Tuscan wine authorities. This makes it essentially a local version of the wines of Chianti. Morellino can come in two subtypes, the Morellino di Scansano, which does not require any oak aging and is primarily a light, crisp everyday drinking wine, and the Morellino di Scansano Riserva, which must be held for two years after the harvest, with at least one of these years in oak, a much heavier wine with considerable aging potential.

outdoors

Our first goal in the region is Col di Bacche, just outside Montiano in the high hills around Montiano. This relatively new property of 13.5 hectares rises above the surrounding hills and offers a splendid view of the bright blue Mediterrenean in the distance. It was first planted in 1998 with the first release appearing in 2004. It has rapidly advanced, becoming one of the premiere wineries in the area. We are greeted by Cosimo Carnasciale, son of the founder. Before trying the wines, we talked a bit about the intense heat and drought and its probable effect on the vintage. Cosimo was very upbeat, explaining to us that the area around Scansano is considered the hottest part of Tuscany, and that the weather there had been hot, but not drastically so by local standards. He’s expecting lower yields, but the quality is high and there has been no signs of diseases, which seem to worry Tuscan winemakers considerably more than the weather.

We began with the Vermentino, which was an interesting contrast to the Narà which we had tried the day before. Here, the nose was decidely fruity and florid, with very pleasant acidity that did not overpower but promised a good pairing with fish, antipasti and milder salamis.

vermentinoWe followed this with the 2015 Morellino di Scansano, the lighter of the two Morellinos produced here. It’s a ruby red wine meant for relatively early drinking, although it has some aging potential with 40% seeing five months in old French oak while the majority undergoes clarification is stainless steel tanks. This yields a well-structured fruity wine with soft tannins and notes of vanilla and strawberries. It’s lovely now.

scansano

We next turned our attention to the Morellino di Scansano Riserva Rovente Riserva 2013. The flagship. This wine is made from a hand selection of the best grapes with a maceration 18 to 21 days to express the full potential of the harvest and aging in new French oak for 12 months. “Rovente” is Italian for “fiery” or “passionate”, and the wine expresses these sentiments well, with a warm, round nose, mouth-filling, spicy body and a full finish. This wine is built to go the distance, and should reward 10 years or so of aging. It is considered one of the best Morellino di Scansano by many of Italy’s leading wine journals.

sreserva

Factoid: Cosimo remarked that in the future, the wine will be labelled solely Morellino di Scansano Riserva, dropping the word “rovente”, which can also mean “sizzling” or “scorching”. He says the winery has decided this is a bit over the top now that the vineyard has found its place among the top producers.

cosimo

As his final offering, Cosimo brought out his pièce de résistance, the 2014 Poggio alle Viole (Hill of Violets), his version of a Brunello di Montalcino. It is 100% hand selected Sangiovese, as is Brunello from what he considers his best parcel and sees 15 months of aging in small oak barrels. (Brunello actually requires 36 months) Oddly enough, he is not allowed to put the DOCG of Morellino di Scansano on the label: although the DOCG requirements mandate that the wine should be mostly (85%) Sangiovese, it cannot be 100% Sangiovese. It’s an Italian thing–Go figure.

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In any case, the wine is lovely, but a bit young. Dark ruby red with a gingery nose with some peppery hints. Lot’s of body in the mouth and a deep finish. The tannins, not overpowering, but clearly present, hint at a wine that could improve for many years. Cosimo thinks it could go 20 years. This is clearly the masterpiece of the house and Nancy, who usually trusts that I will buy everything in the house, took no chances on this one, insisting we had to have some. This is high praise indeed.

Leaving Col di Bacche heading south, we pass lovely hill town of Manciano in Toscana with its magnificent walls and medieval Fattoria della Campiglio, its stronghold. It’s a lovely day and we’d love to visit, but we want to get to Scansano for lunch and it looks like a bit of a drive. And so it is. The SS323 linking Scansano and Manciano winds it way up 500 meters through brush and pine forests with wonderful views towards the coast and into the mountainous region separating the Maremma from central Tuscany. The top is down and the weather is perfect. A lovely drive.

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part I

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 1
maremmaOn this trip, we’re going to visit the southwest of Tuscany along the Mediterranean coast. Home to surprisingly good, and very reasonably priced, wines you might want to try to find. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll also look into what is probably the most prestigious (and correspondingly expensive) district in Tuscany, which you probably haven’t heard much about as the wines are usually locked away from prying little fingers. More on that later.

Let’s start with our primary goal, the Maremma. We’re in the Porsche, so if I’m driving alone it’s probably about two-plus hours. However, Nancy’s along, so let’s call that two and a half. We drive west into the rolling hills of Tuscany as far as Sienna then swing south on the SS223 towards the principal city of the Maremma, Grosetto. We pass through some rugged, rocky hills that seem to form a natural barrier between this area and Chianti and finally emerge into the green rolling hills of our first target, the wine district of Montecucco clustered around the picturesque hill town of Cinigiano. Our goal is the winery of Leonardo Salustri in the village of Poggi del Sasso, about five mile from Ciniziano.

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Although Poggi del Sasso is quite small, we had an interesting time finding the place due to the peculiarities of Italian signage, where signs facing the driver and pointing to the left can mean (1) go straight ahead down the road in front of you, (2) turn left here, or, (3) we’re just across the street. After a round trip through the village and several expeditions on foot, we stumbled into the business office at the back of the cantina, where we were cordially greeted at last.

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The Salustri family has been making wine in this area since the turn of the twentieth century, making it one of the oldest wineries in the Maremma. Their 50 acre property is located on the outskirts of the Amiata, a series of lava domes surrounding the 5,000 foot high Monte Amiata. The property is certified biologic, meaning that no pesticides or other artificial substances are used in production. He limits his production to the three grapes typical to the Montecucco region, Sangiovese, Vermentino and Ciliegiolo.

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Our first sampling here was the Vermentino, which is the primary white grape of the western Italian coast and Sardenia. Our host explained to us that his vines were unusual in that Vermentino on his property, while excellent in all other dimensions, lacked nose. He is very jealous of the quality of his grapes–he works closely with the Eneological Institute of Pisa and his grapes are registered as specific types of Sangiovese and Vermentino there–and not about to replace anything on his property. Thus, he very reluctantly brings in grapes from another property to round out the wine. Our Vermentino, the 2015 Narà, certainly was not lacking in this department, having a well-defined mineral nose, not at all floral, but very promising. On the tongue, the wine was mildly acidic and medium bodied with a hint of berry and interesting pear notes in the back of the palate. It had a nice dry finish. Impressive.

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Our second sampling was the 2015 Marleo Montecucco, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Ciliegiolo, a local varietal known for its large, red grapes (ciliegio is italian for cherry) used primarily for blending, which lends color and fruity notes. The wine is fermented with the skins for about 15 days, matured in steel vats and finishes with six months in the bottle, giving it a light, “drink me now” air, but with sufficient body to stand up to salami, aged cheeses and other heavier flavors. It goes for about 12€ here, so the price should be right if you can find it. If your palate inclines to the lighter red wines, this one’s for you.

marleo

Our final tasting was of the Santa Marta Montecucco. This is 100% hand selected sangiovese with 20 days of fermentation and maceration. To achieve what the winemaker considers the proper balance, half the wine spends 24 months in large (700 gallon) oak barrels while the remainder is kept in steel. According to our host, this lends the wine a taste of oak “from afar” sufficient to bring out the flavors. I agree completely. This is a very large wine, for me comparable to some Brunello di Montalcinos. The oak is there, but moderate, balancing out the fruitier notes and resulting in a dense structure. A lively nose, with strong tastes of black cherries and sage in good tannins. A great finish that sticks with you. This one will go a while.

salustri

Now the good news and the bad news: Salustri is known for two award-winning single vineyard bottlings, Grotte Rosse and Santa Maria, which in the 2013 (latest) bottling drew rave reviews. Sadly, both are sold out. That’s the bad news. Now the good news: There were a couple of unsold magnums in the house and I got some. I’m sure that we could deal with a magnum, although it might be unpleasant later, but I’m keeping this for truly wine loving visitors. You get here first and you get to drink it. Something to consider.

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Leaving Poggi del Sasso we make our way towards Cingiano, the center of the Montecucco wine area, for lunch. Cingiano is a small hill town whose various districts sit upon ever smaller hills with even narrower streets. Quite exciting in the Porsche. We spot our restaurant, which sits on a small square, and note with horror that there’s no place to park. Nancy isn’t about to let me go back around these narrow streets, so things look iffy. Luckily, we see a sign which leads us to a miniscule parking lot with just enough room left for us. I’ll leave the details of the restaurant to Nancy in her blog, other than to say that it had a huge slice of old-guys-eating-enormous-plates-of-pasta local color, but I will tell you about the wine. It was Riserva Rigomoro 2013 from Tenuta di Montecucco. It’s a big one, with a fruity nose shot through with a bright note of cherries. Sapid, with moderate tannins that would reward some aging and a satisfying finish. It would really go nice with some strong cheddar cheese. Tenuta di Montecucco is also an Agriturismo, so if you’ve a yen to watch grapes grow in beautiful surroundings, you might want to put it on your list.

rigomoro

Properly fed, we point the Porsche south south west towards Grosseto and then north west into the rolling hills around Massa Marittima. Here, we find ourselves in one of the latest Italian DOCs, Maremma Toscana, created in 2010. Unlike many of the other DOCGs and DOCs, where specific grapes and blends are prescribed, this one, for the most part, satisfies itself with identifying the locality. The allowed grapes and blends reflect the topsy turvy nature of the zone, requiring a minimum of 40% Sangiovese while admitting any combination of red varieties permitted somewhere in Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante (Granache), Merlot, Petit Verdot and a vast number of native varietals. The white must be based on 40% Vermentino or Trebbiano, but after that it’s Katy bar the door, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and others permitted somewhere in Tuscany.

As the sun sets, we approach our hotel for a well earned rest. I’ll refer you again to Nancy’s blog wherein our further adventures there.

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!

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.
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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!

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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.
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Giovanni
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Tasting room
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Tasting room
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Montepulciano on it’s hilltop nearby.
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View across the vine-laden countryside.
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Olive trees.
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More olive trees
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Seating on the lawn of the agriturismo. Beautiful views.
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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.
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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
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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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.
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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.

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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.

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

Wine guy – Part 2

Another guest post from Luther the Wine Guy. WOW that was fast!


Whoops! I got sidetracked with all that DOC stuff and forgot to talk about the Umbrian red grapes, so let’s do that now…

Umbrian Grapes Redux
Sagrantino is Umbria’s gift to the red wine world. It is a monster, being considered one of the most tannic grapes in the world. Its production is extremely limited, as there are only about 100 hectares (about 240 acres) in the entire area. It produces a dense, dark wine capable of up to 16%(!) alcohol content that requires considerable aging just to get under control. The sagrantino area centers around Montefalco and Bevana, reaching southwest to Todi northwest to Perugia.

Sagrantino has been cultivated for hundreds of years in and around Montefalco, but was used strictly to make dessert and sacramental wines. (I’m told that “sagrantino” is dialect for sanctified). These wines were made in a style called passito wherein the grapes are not immediately crushed, but are allowed to dry out, increasing the concentration of the juice. This technique, which is similar to those used to make dessert wines in France and other Italian areas, is modified in Umbria in that the wine made is dry or almost nearly so. Wine made in this passito style remains popular in Umbria. I find it a little bit strange. It has the body and appearance of a port, but it lacks the sweetness. Some adventurous producers have experimented with stopping the fermentation process early, leaving a considerable amount of residual sugar. This makes a much more satisfying desert wine, which I would be proud to pour in place of an Late Bottled Vintage port, for example.

Fortunately for us big red wine fans, in the mid-seventies several sagrantino producers started to experiment with making a dry red wine from the grape. Because of the high level of tannin in the juice, the wine that comes out is almost undrinkable at first–think a zinfandel that shrinks your tongue to a sliver from its runaway tannins. But, unlike zinfandel, if you’re willing to age this stuff properly, it is fantastic. The Italian DOC requires that wines labeled “DOCG Sagrantino” be aged for a minimum of 29 months. What comes out in my opinion is still pretty raw. I have tasted these young ones. The fruit is there, but the body lacks substance and the tannins are still screaming away. After another three or four years, things are starting to smooth out and the result is, for me, like a very fine cabernet, but with a touch more fruit and less of that austerity that cabernet frequently exhibits. For those with less patience, most producers also offer a Riserva that undergoes several years additional barrel aging. Be aware though that there is no “Sagrantino Riserva” DOCG and so “Riserva” means whatever the producer says it means–it’s not a well defined turn. Nancy and I have been drinking the 2007 Adanti Sagrantino di Montefalco “Adanti” and it is fantastic. Better still, it’s sold in the USA, so you might be able to find some. Give it a go and let us know. Here is the half bottle of passito and the Adanti next to it.

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Although sagrantino is the big dog in the Umbrian kennel, the most ubiquitous red grape in Umbria, indeed in just about all of central Italy, is sangiovese. Most folks know sangiovese from the red wines of Tuscany, some which are exclusively sangiovese (Brunello di Montalcino, the Cadillac of traditional Tuscan winemaking), or the backbone of a blend of wines such as Chianti or Vino Nobile di Monepulciano. In most of Umbria, sangiovese is used to make round, juicy, fruit-forward wines that are a pleasure at a fairly early age. Most sangiovese sees very little barrel aging and is blended with local Umbrian grapes such as canaiolo and colorino, two grapes also used to make Chianti.

Sangiovese comes to the rescue of impatient sagrantino fans who just can’t let those bottles sit around the house that long. It is used to blend out a bit of the blast of young sagrantino and is usually blended about 60% sangiovese and 15% sagrantino with other grapes, primarily merlot to make Montefalco Rosso. There are two DOCs for Montefalco Rosso: the DOC Montefalco Rosso calls for a minimum of 18 months barrel aging, the DOC Montefalco Rosso Riserva requires a minimum of 30 months.

I am a huge fan of Montefalco Rosso. It is a remarkable red with excellent aging potential but without the tannin explosion associated with sagrantino. The Montefalco Rosso DOC is an excellent food wine at a ridculously reasonable price–we usually pay about 8 – 10 Euros a bottle for it ($9 – $11). With 30 months in the bottle, the riserva is a noble wine all by itself. Because I like my wines huge and with some fruit–I am a major zinfandel fan–the sagrantino rates tops for me. But some folks prefer a wine a little more austere and elegant, and the riserva nails this. It is probably Umbria’s best wine value.

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There are excellent producers of sangiovese-based wines across Umbria, but the most famous has got to be Lungarotti, based in the town of Torgiano, just a few miles south of Perugia. Lungarotti owns hundreds of acres of vineyards all over Umbria, with by far the major proportion around Torgiano. Lugarotti is huge, producing over 2.5 million bottles a year: almost triple the next major producer. Lungarotti’s sangioveses are considered so good that they have their own DOC, Rubesco di Torgiano and DOCG, Rubesco di Torgiano Riserva. Like the Rosso di Montefalco, the DOC Rubesco is a blend of sangiovese (75%) and the local grapes cannaiolo and colorino I mentioned earlier. It gets a year of barrel aging and another year in the bottle before release. The riserva requires four years in wood and comes exclusively from a single 120 acre property named (oddly enough), Rubesco. (For those trivia followers, Rubesco is an invention based on the latin word rubescare, to blush) I first sampled Rubesco maybe twenty years ago and I have loved it ever since. It used to be very widespread in the states. I could still find it in the Washington DC area if I looked, but it’s not as available as it used to be. Get some: you’ll like it.

All right. That’s enough of the tutorial. In the next segment I’ll talk about some of our field trips.


I hope you all enjoyed the second segment about Umbrian wines. I myself, am looking forward to doing some field testing for future articles!

Guest post from Luther the wine guy

People have been asking for a post about the wines around here. Luther has worked a WHOLE year on this and here is part one…



Wines of Umbria

Alright, already! I’ll write something now that I’ve had enough time to make a basic study.
Before we dive into the visits, here’s a bit of an introduction to Umbria and it’s wines. Geography lesson first.

Umbria
Here’s a map of Umbria. Like every other province in Italy, Umbria produces an ocean of wine, from the really good stuff to the ho-hum. Most of the really good stuff comes from a band stretching from Montefalco in the east to Orvieto in the west.

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Montefalco and the area around it specializes in red wines, although plenty of white is made there too. The production slowly switches to white as you cross to Orvieto, although Orvieto also makes some very nice red wines. There’s a lot of wine made in Umbertide, our neck of the woods, but as you can see, we’re a bit north of the big leagues. For the curious, Tuscany with its Chiantis, Brunellos and Montepucianos lies just to the west of Umbria. To the east, you’ll find the Marche, which is known primarily for the white Verdicchio grape and the red wines from around Ascoli Piceno. If you’re wondering about the green part, Umbria has two provinces, Perugia and Terni. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which is which.

Umbrian Grapes
That’s enough geography for now, let’s talk grapes: There are four major grape types cultivated in Umbria: Sagrantino (red), Sangiovese (red), Grechetto (white) and Trebbiano (white). The DOC laws (more on this later) governing Italian wines require that these grapes form the majority of all red and white wines getting the DOC pedigree in Umbria. Lots of other grapes are allowed: in particular, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. There are some adventurous winemakers, particularly in the southwest, who are making excellent wines based on Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot in particular and we will visit several, but let’s stick to the big boys for now.

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Grechetto is the main white grape of Umbria and has been here since grapes and olives originally came to Umbria with the first Greek traders, who brought them from the colonies in the south of Italy in the 7th century BC. Grechetto has a deep straw color and has a minerality that I find particularly refreshing. It provides structure to any blend due to its relatively high alcohol content. Grechetto is the primary slamming down white of Umbria. You can get it out of wine shops by pump–yes, just like a gas pump–at about $1.50 a liter. When grechetto is made from older vineyards and the grapes are carefully selected, it makes excellent varietal wines, both alone or blended with other variatals. Grechetto ain’t Chambertin, but it can be quite tasty and is never particularily expensive. Very nice grechettos can be had here for about $5.00 a bottle.

Trebbiano is the other main wine grape of Umbria. It is fresh and fruity, with low acidity and a yellow color. Trebbiano goes back to Roman times and is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, appearing in everything from balsamic vinegar (good!) to cognac (very good!) to industrial alcohol (unfortunate). Outside Italy, most trebbiano is undistingished and usually blended or distilled. In Italy, however, trebbiano can be a heavy hitter, appearing in Italy’s admittedly rather small list of really interesting white wines. Umbria boasts two excellent versions of trebbiano: Trebbiano spolentino, which (they tell me) is a unique form of the grape native to the area around Spello but present across southern Umbria and procanico, another unique (they tell me) Umbrian native version of trebbiano. These two, along with grechetto, form the basis for the wines known as Orvieto.

Wine Labeling
Years ago the Italians realized that if we foreigners keep associating Italian wines with the crap that appears in those straw covered bottles labelled “Chianti” they are never going to sell anything but their cheap sludge outside the country. To ensure that buyers didn’t feel like they needed to try the wine first on an unwanted family pet, the Italian government adopted a set of labelling standards known as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Each DOC governs a particular geographic region. In order to receive the DOC label for a region, the wine inside must adhere to government-defined quality standards for wines of region that specify: the origin of the grapes used (no sneaking stuff in from other places); the types of grapes that can be used (no slipping the cheap grapes in with the good stuff); the yields per acre (minimizing the juice from younger vines, which tend to yield higher, but poorer quality, wines than older vines); the percentages of allowed grape types in the wine, ensuring that blending wines stay blending wines, not the dominant grape in the bottle; and a whole bunch of other quality factors. DOC wines have the phrase Denominazione di Origine Controllata on the front and back labels and the name of the actual DOC. The presence of a DOC on a lable doesn’t guarantee a good wine, but it does indicate that the wine has been made from known components in a quality fashion. If you find yourself having to guess about a wine, you really can’t go wrong by opting for one with a DOC label on it.

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So you know where they are, here’s a map of Umbria with its DOCs.

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The DOC has been such a success in establishing Italy as a maker of quality wines commanding corresponding prices that the Italian government has upped the ante, introducing a much more exacting standard, the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). This term is for the wine regions or types considered particularily fine and adds further restrictions to the DOC standards. In addition to passing the more stringent standards, wines receiving the DOCG are rigorously tested during prooduction and submitted to a panel of tasters. There are a very limited number of DOCGs. Umbria, for example, has only three. As above, when faced with unknowns, go for the DOCG, if available. It will cost a bit more, but it figures to be extremely well made.

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At this point you might be saying to yourself: Wow, I can become an afficionado just by knowing how to read the labels. Well, yes and no. The DOC/DOCGs are based on traditional Italian winemaking. For example, most traditionally great red wines from Tuscany are based primarily on the sangiovese grape, and to receive the DOC/DOCG, most DOC/DOCG red wines must be mostly, if not entirely, sangiovese based. In the last thirty years, winemakers have discovered that french grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot also do very well in Tuscany and make tremendous wines, the so-called Supertuscans. Under the DOC/DOCG rules, these wines don’t qualify and in the past the winemakers were forced to lable these wines “Vino di Tavolo”, i.e., table wine. Not what you expect to see on the lable of a $100+ wine at all. To provide a little official cover for these winemakers, the label was borrowed from the food producers–it is used to indicate a local product of particular quality and shows up on things such as sunflower oil.

End of Guest Post


There will be a part 2. I hope it doesn’t take another year!