Umbria


In the heart of eastern Umbria, lying in a vast bowl-shaped valley of the Apennine range, are the vineyards that harbor the indigenous red sagrantino grape. These vineyards surround the hill-town of Montefalco, one of the smallest and most charming of all of Italy’s quaint and charming hill-towns, population 5,702 (in 2007). Sagrantino has been grown here for a thousand years, used by monks for making sacramental wine — hence sagrantino. The grape possesses the thickest skin of any grape devoted to table wine and was out of favor for a great deal of the 20th century because of its reputation — well-earned — for producing hard, tannic, austere wines that would not be ready to drink for decades. The 1970s brought a revival, however, with more knowledgeable and slightly gently vinification making slightly more amenable wines, but no mistake, Sagrantino di Montefalco, now more often called Montefalco Sagrantino, is no babe-in-arms. Italian wine law dictates that the wine, consisting of 100 percent sagrantino grapes, must age 30 months before release, in some combination or sequence of oak barrels (one year required), concrete vats and bottle. The size and composition of barrels is the choice of the producer; many still lean toward the traditional large Slovenian oak casks, but as in much else of Italy, the small French barrique has made inroads.

I first encountered Sagrantino di Montefalco on a vacation to Umbria in 1996. The friends we were sojourning with near Todi suggested a day-trip to this medieval hill village in the commune of Perugia, where we would find interesting wines and a good restaurant. The town was exceptionally sweet and historic, the restaurant was indeed good, and the wines were more than interesting. They were, actually, brooding, feral, ferrous and sanguinary, meaty, deeply fruity with a tinge of black cherry and balsalm and, yes, quite dense and tannic. We bought several bottles and took them home on the airplane; remember those days?

It’s difficult to make a living from wines that consumers can’t drink for 10 or 15 years — see Brunello di Montalcino — so the powers that be in Montefalco concocted a Rosso version of the wine, but instead of simply being a cadet rendition — see Brunello di Montalcino — the Montefalco Rosso uses the region’s principle grape in a minority status. The rules for Montefalco Rosso are 60 to 70 percent sangiovese, borrowing from neighboring Tuscany, with 10 to 15 percent sagrantino and the rest red grapes of the producer’s choice, usually merlot and/or cabernet sauvignon. The wine must age 18 months in barrel, vat or bottle, meaning typically a year in oak and four to six months in bottle. More accessible, perhaps, but still a potentially formidable wine.

Today I offer brief reviews of four examples of Montefalco Sagrantino and four of Montefalco Rosso. These were sampled in what’s called a virtual tasting, me (and others) at home with the wines, connected on the Internet with the producers who were on camera in Italy. We tasters submitted questions and comments via Twitter. I have included what technical information is available.

Image of the Montefalco piazza from trekearth.com.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Montefalco Rosso:
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Antonelli Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% merlot. Nine months in 25-hectoliter (660-gallon) casks; three months in cement vats. Medium ruby color with a garnet rim; cloves and nutmeg, macerated red and black fruit; leather, smoke, oolong tea; dried fruit and flowers; slightly exotic, quite earthy; swingeing acidity and an austere finish. Very Good+. About $18.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sangrantino, 15% merlot. A year in wood (70% Slavonian oak, 30% French barriques), plus four months in bottle. Deep, dense ruby hue; very sangiovese-like, with pure penetrating elements of graphite, tar, spiced tea and orange rind, currants and plums; spanking tannins and acidity; very dry; dusty loamy minerality. Cries out for braised short ribs or veal shanks. Excellent. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% cabernet sauvignon and merlot. A year in a combination of barriques and tonneaux, that is, 225 liters and 500 liters, plus six months in bottle. Dark to medium ruby color; fleshy, meaty, spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors; a lithe, muscular and tannic wine, a little brusque now; give it a year or two. Very Good+. About $18 to $20.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 60% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Precise information on aging unavailable. Intense dark ruby color; very dark, spicy, tarry, dusty, iodine and iron; glimmers of deeply macerated black cherries and plums, with hints of prunes and black olives; quite tannic, dense, tense with acidity, fairly austere finish; needs a year or two. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Montefalco Sagrantino:
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Scacciadiavoli 2008, Montefalco Sagrantino. 15% alc. No information on aging. Dark ruby color; deep, dark, spicy, tarry, brooding; dust, leather; fiercely tannic, ferocious acidity; earthy and loamy, iodine and iron; yes, a tinge of black and red fruit, but needs three or four more years or serious decanting before you drink. Very Good+. About $40 to $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tenuta Bellafonte 2009, Montefalco Sagrantino. 14.5% alc. This wine spent 36 months in large Slavonian oak barrels and 10 months in the bottle. Dark ruby; ripe, meaty and fleshy; prunes, black olives, balsamic character; quite dense, chewy and tannic; opens slowly, showing hints of black and red cherries, currants and plums, but overall dry, austere, demanding. Try from 2016 or ’18 through 2026 to ’30. Very Good+. About $50 to $55.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Romanelli 2010, Montefalco Sagrantino. 15.5% alc. Dark to medium ruby; prunes and plums, spice box, tobacco leaf. rosemary and its resinous quality; spiced and macerated black and red currants, touch of blueberry; smoke and leather; brutal tannins, soaring acidity; you smell and taste the wood from 18 months in barriques and large casks; still, displays innate balance and integration. Needs four to six years before drinking or decant at least an hour before a hearty meal. Tremendous power and character. Excellent. About $40 to $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Perticaia 2009, Montefalco Sagrantino. 14.5% alc. One year in French oak barriques; one year in steel vats; one year in bottle. Quite deep ruby fading to garnet at the rim; dusty graphite, iodine and iron; resinous and balsamic; tar, black olives, smoke, fermented tea; deeply macerated black currants and cherries; dense but sifted tannins, resonant acidity; dry austere finish. Excellent potential after 2016 or ’17 and developing through 2025 to ’30. About $49.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A collection of whites again with a couple of rosés, because who can think about big red wines when the mercury is busting out the top of the thermometer and running for its life? Geographically, we touch California, the south of France, Italy’s province of Umbria, Chile and Portugal. There are a few drops of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc in these wines, but the dominant white grapes are pinot grio/grigio and riesling, with contributions from verdiccio and vermentino, gewurztraminer and orange muscat and other varieties. The two rosés are equally eclectic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, even if posted on Saturday — ahem, cough, cough — I avoid most historical and technical data for the sake of quick reviews designed to whet your thirst and curiosity. All of these wines were samples for review, as I am required by Federal Trade Commission regulations to inform you. (The same regulations do not apply to print outlets such as magazines and newspaper.)

Lovely image of J Pinot Gris 2011 from nickonwine.com.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Double Decker Pinot Grigio 2010, California. 13% alc. Pinot grigio with 4% riesling and 3% viognier. Double Decker is the replacement for Wente’s Tamas label. Pale straw color; touches of roasted lemon, lavender and lilac, cloves; dense texture, needs more acidity; mildly sweet entry with a very dry finish; fairly neutral from mid-palate back. Good. About $10.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 30%, cabernet sauvignon 20%. A classic rosé from Provence. Pale copper-onion skin color with a flush of melon; melon in the nose, with strawberry and dried red currants, a distinct limestone edge and a flirtation of cedar and dried thyme; lovely delicate weight and texture, brisk acidity and that mineral element, hints of red currants, melon and peach skin. Delightful. Very Good+. About $11, a Terrific Bargain.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Falesco Vitiano 2011, Umbria, Italy. 12.5% alc. Verdiccio 50%, vermentino 50%. Very pale straw color; spicy, briny, floral, stony; roasted lemon, baked pear and grapefruit with a hint of peach; very dry, crisp, touches of smoke and limestone. Tasty, charming. Very Good. About $11.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Meli Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. 12.8% alc. Wonderful character and authenticity, especially for the price. Pale straw-gold color; peaches and pears, lychee and grapefruit, hints of petrol and honeysuckle; lithe with bright acidity and a flinty mineral quality, yet soft and ripe, super attractive; citrus flavors infused with spice and steel; quite dry but not austere; long juicy finish tempered by taut structure. Excellent. About $13, a Raving Great Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Vina de Defesa Rosé 2011, Alentejo, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, aragones 50%. Entrancing vivid melon-scarlet color; strawberry and watermelon, touch of dried red currants, pungently spicy, hint of damp, dusty roof-tiles; pomegranate and peach and a bit of almond skin; a little briny, a little fleshy; keen acidity and flint-like minerality. Quite a different style than the Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011 mentioned above. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J Pinot Gris 2011, California. 13.8% alc. Very pale straw color; celery seed and lemongrass, mango and lemon balm, hints of lime peel and orange blossom; delightfully fresh and clean, laves the palate with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors enlivened by crisp acidity and a scintillating mineral element, devolving to rousing notes of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Lots of personality; consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in the Golden State. Excellent. About $15, a Freakin’ Bargain of the Decade.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Whip White Wine 2011, Livermore Valley, California, from Murrieta’s Well. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 39%, semillon 26%, gewurztraminer 13%, orange muscat 9%, viognier 7%, sauvignon blanc 6%. Medium straw-gold color; boldly spicy and floral, hints of leafy fig, fennel seed, lemon tart, Key limes, almonds and almond blossom, back-note of dried tarragon; very lively and spicy, tasty flavors of grapefruit, kiwi and lychee, almost lush texture but balanced by buoyant acidity and mineral elements. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2010, Grechetto dei Colli Martani, Umbria, Italy. 13% alc. 100% grechetto grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint green sheen; sleek and suave but clean, lively and spicy; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touches of fig and thyme and camellia, all delicately woven; pert and provocative with snappy acidity and limestone minerality, fresh citrus flavors with notes of dried herbs, grassy salt marsh and yellow plum. Nice balance between seductive and reticent. Excellent. About $20.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two Italian wines today, a white from Umbria and a red from Tuscany, both made in stainless steel, so no oak influence, both accessible, approachable and tasty.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Two weeks ago, I made the Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007 the Wine of the Week — here — so today it’s the turn of that wine’s cousin made from the white grechetto grape, the Arnaldo- Caprai Grecante 2009, Grechetto dei Colli Martani. The grape came from Greece — think El Greco — in ancient times, or else was thought to have been; the same claim is made for greco bianco, the grape that makes Greco di Tufo. Anyway, The Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2009, made from vineyards in the Martani hills in eastern Umbria, is delicately spicy and floral, a sort of tissue-like congeries of citrus effects: orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and a hint of pink grapefruit; add a touch of peach, and there’s a great deal of winsome beauty in the wine. This is clean, fresh, spare, slightly lean and sinewy in texture but also lovely in its slightly talc-like weight, its ripeness and modest density. We enjoyed this wine with seared rare tuna and Romesco sauce. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes in Tuscany, not around Florence but near Siena; in fact, Chianti Colli Senesi means “Chianti from the hills of Siena.” The Bindi Sergardi family has been growing grapes and making wine on their estate for six centuries. The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is a medium ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Because it receives no oak aging — it’s made all in stainless steel — the wine offers delightful purity and intensity of grapy mulberry and black and red currant aromas and flavors grounded in earthy touches of briers and brambles and leather. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lavender and violets, baking spices and black tea; the wine finishes with a smoky, slightly meaty aspect and dry, fairly dense tannins. The combination of fruit and spice, of smoke and vibrant acidity makes this wine attractive and highly drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13; great with burgers, pizzas, red sauce pasta dishes and steaks. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble Fine Wines, Memphis, Tenn.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________