ITALIAN WINE CLUB

SEPTEMBER 2020

Umbria is such a small and very unique region in Italy simply due to its location. It’s the only region that is completely locked in by other regions; no borders with other countries and not a stitch of coastline. It’s also right smack dab in the middle of the Apennine Mountains which provides the more notable cities with some of the more dramatic landscapes… which is saying a lot when referring to Italy. 

Both culturally and viticulturally speaking, Umbria has long been influenced greatly by neighboring Tuscany. The downside to this would be the widespread trend of replanting to international varieties like Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay etc… Umbria also produces more olive oil than wine, so the identity of their wines on the whole has never truly been a focus. They can claim Sagrantino as their One Big Heavyweight of a grape and their history of success with Sangiovese has more than proven the level of quality yet to discover. But the potential for the future for Umbria is to form a more unique viticultural personality, with the hope that other native grapes, like Grechetto and Ciliegiolo, also begin to shine through.  

 

SEPTEMBER ITALIAN WINE  2020 PDF 

WINE #1: ROCCAFIORE

Grechetto I Umbria Italy 2018 I Organic
RE-ORDER $18

Grechetto. The little Greek one. SO many varieties were simply referred to as Grechetto or Greco and assumed a family of very similar grapes for Greek origin, but they’ve finally isolated this important grape, native to the Umbria / Lazio border, from the rest. Orvieto is where you’ll find it most densely grown, and the rare producers like Roccafiore, Barberani and Sergio Mattura have been making fabulous varietal wines, as opposed to the far more common local blends. With Sagrantino as its flagship red, it’s high time that Grechetto gets taken more seriously and championed for representation of the region.

The Baccarelli family is not one steeped in generations of winemaking, but instead sees the opportunity to approach things with modern knowledge as a more fluid path to making better wines in the area. They’ve built Roccafiore on the foundation of Organic farming and fully sustainable practices when it comes to their impact on the environment and the land around them. Everything from solar energy, biofuels, gravity fed winery functions, all the way down to using lighter glass to minimize required fuels when considering shipping. This is the kind of ‘modern’ winemaking we need to see more of!

Lean, green, and off to the racy-es. This wine gets right to point and, thankfully, reminds you that you’re in the Central Apennine Mountains. Chamomile, lime zest and crisp green apple that crunches right into your salivary glands. Crisp with a chalky minerality and nice touch of peppery savory (the herb.) This Grechetto falls into such a familiar category of quintessential Italian white wines, but at the same time it is also a rare beast in the sea of red wines spanning the Tuscan / Umbria landscape. Best to look to the east, in Le Marche, and the great wines of Verdicchio di Matelica for a more closely aligned example of delicious white wine – good company to be in, to be sure.  

From Orvieto to Todi, the wine country in this area is a beautiful place, and draws strong tourism as a result. But much like San Gimignano in Tuscany, the wines are more often sought out due to the fondness of the place as opposed to the quality of the juice. 

WINE #2: LEONARDO BUSSOLETTI ‘05035’ CILIEGIOLO DI NARNI

Ciliegiolo I Umbria, Italy 2018 I Organic
RE-ORDER $21

Not a well known grape variety by any stretch of the imagination, but one that absolutely should have had better success considering its roots. In general, you’ll find that it’s listed simply as one of the few allowable grapes to blend with Sangiovese in Chianti but the story goes deeper, of course. It has a history of misidentification mostly as Sangiovese and also as Grenache. The fact is that Ciliegiolo is not only very closely related to Sangiovese, there is also much more of it currently being grown and used in wines throughout Tuscany than anyone’s probably willing to admit. The Maremma, in Tuscany, and in Umbria are showing that there is great potential in these mono-varietal wines and perhaps we’re not too far away from understanding how great Ciliegiolo can be. 

Leonardo Bussoletti presents another great story of a producer in Umbria working to take the region’s wines in a new direction. A native of Umbria, and a veteran in the wine industry, Leonardo teamed up with winemaker Federico Curtaz to take a deep dive into this more southern appellation of Umbria and really tap into its potential. The land around the city of Nari is more wild, sparsely planted to vineyards and not easily farmed for any sort of larger scale wine growing. Bussoletti has been working the soils Organically from the very start and is solely focused on Ciliegiolo and Grechetto. The potential to do something special in this stunning region is straight out of a storybook. Hopefully with a happily ever after ending.

Cherry and raspberry compote sprinkled with cinnamon and a side of roasted espresso beans. Bright, fun and crunchy like a handful of red candy Nerds. It has all the appeal of a Village level Beaujolais and carries a similar mineral texture to the alpine reds of the Valle de Aosta or Alto Adige. Youthful spiciness in the fruit, zippy with blood orange acidity, and a dusty finish provides plenty to linger on and strength to cut through fat. That’s right, your glass Ciliegiolo is simply screaming for any iteration of pork fat out there: from fried to spreadable. Who are you to deny it what it truly wants? 

 CS Lewis was inspired by the medieval castle, the brilliant blue rivers and waterfalls and magical surrounding area of the city of Narni (named Narnia by Romans about 3000 years ago.) The lion on the label is Bussoletti’s nod back to the famous series. 

WINE #3: MILZIADE ANTANO MONTEFALCO ROSSO

Sangiovese + Sagrantino + Merlot Montefalco I Umbria, Italy 2018
RE-ORDER $24

Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted grape. By far. It is suited to grow well in lots of different soils throughout the country and can deliver outstanding results that reflect the different locations beautifully. Consumers know this prolific chameleon grape throughout Tuscany in the form of endless expressions in Chianti, as well as from Brunello di Montalcino (as Sangiovese Grosso) and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (as Prugnolo Gentile) as well in Morellino and Carmignano etc… (successful anywhere but Bolgheri, eh? Huh.) It also does very well around the Montefalco region of Umbria, though often blended with Sagrantino and some international grapes as is seen here.

Montefalco is ground zero for the true Umbrian wine experience, and Milziade Antano holds court for those hoping to see its future. He is the quintessential garagiste style winemaker, eschewing the more modern style wines of his neighbors and with results that over deliver in every way.  His single vineyard Sagrantinos are his flagship wines and they are a revelation when it comes to taming this notoriously difficult varietal. The Rosso blends can be equally compelling, relatively speaking, and will make anyone new to Umbrian wine instant believers. For those who have had his wines in the past, there are very few comparable in the region at such a caliber. The problem now, of course, is finding his wines, as he creates only a small volume.

A classic Sangiovese balancing act between cherries and leather, as well fruit leather made from cherries, of course. Fragrant with black raspberries, wet clay, and a touch of hazelnuts. The aromatics are simply elevated from start to finish complete with a touch of clove. Due only to the fact that this wine is made from heavy hitters like Sangiovese + Sagrantino could we refer to this as being a ‘lighter style.’ Textured fruit, transparent minerality, and elegant mouthfeel. If this is a departure from the burly, tannic and modern style of most Umbrian reds, it sure is great evidence for the pursuit of its kind. Make this our kind of table wine, any day of the week. 

DOCG  Sagrantino di Montefalco has to be all Sagrantino. But the DOC Montefalco Rosso can be 60% Sangiovese + 10% Sagrantino and is often enough up to 30% some mix of Cab and Merlot.

WINE #4: FONGOLI SAGRANTINO DI MONTEFALCO

Sagrantino Montefalco I Umbria, Italy 2012 I Organic and Biodynamic
RE-ORDER $34

Sagrantino is Italy’s most tannic grape. By far. On the positive side, sure, that helps make it an extremely age worthy wine. But the degree of difficulty it takes to produce a palatable wine that can be enjoyed without lying it down for too many years is high. Avid fans of the grape seem to know to brace themselves for the challenge, and more importantly know to have a big steak at the ready when a bottle has been opened. But with Umbrias penchant for the big, bold and modern style, there are only a couple of producers that practice stylistic restraint in their approach. Sagrantino may always be a challenge for those seeking balanced wines, but there is no denying that its ability to pack a punch is a clear and unique differentiator that turns plenty of heads in the wine world. 

Fongoli wines represent the tradition guard, old school style winemaking in Montefalco. Certified Organic and Biodynamically farmed vineyards and zero additives in the winemaking process. Their property is teaming with life and biodiversity, planted to different crops and grains making for a balanced closed ecosystem. Angelo Fongoli is the fourth generation in charge of the farm and feels that you can’t begin to make terroir driven wines without having fully made a completely healthy environment for your grapes and soils. All of their Sagrantino is aged in large Slavonian oak to make certain there is no impartation of flavor or, more importantly, any wood tannin. 

Immediately reminded of the love I have opening a good Barolo. Not because the two grapes have much in common at all, but more because there is a pure power to the initial senses of this wine that let you know there are a lot layers to unpack here. Spicy bay leaf, earthy sagebrush stand out here, followed by a well loved dusty leather coat and a handful of black licorice. Although the wine is indeed dense with wild blackberries, the fruit is certainly on the back burner as this wine gradually opens up, giving room for the more savory tones. Allow it to take its time, but be sure to taste the evolution, as opposed to slamming it into a decanter. The tannins are beautifully integrated, remarkably, and Fongoli’s avoidance of any new oak becomes very obvious, and very welcome here. 

Sagrantino di Montefalco was traditionally only made as a sweet wine. This was before there was more sufficient knowledge on how to avoid making a wine from this very aggressively tannic grape that didn’t rip your mouth to shreds.