Category Archives: Travel

Exploring the Wines of Montefalco

Pettino – Our Umbrian Village

Italy has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  When I first started studying for my WSET programs it was a toss up between Italy and Germany as to which was the most confusing.  Now, after years of study I understand that I will NEVER, in my LIFE, know everything there is to know about Italian wines.  I have contented myself, however, with exploring a region here and there when I get the chance.  One such chance has presented itself in the last month and I hope to make the most of it.  Montefalco is a small mountain village in the province of Perugia in Umbria almost exactly half way down the boot,  in the middle of the peninsula.  It was originally settled by the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe, which lived in the area from the 9th-4th centuries BC.  In March of this year, Montefalco was named Italy’s Best New Wine Region by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.  It is only a short train ride from Rome making it an easy escape from the bustling city to the mountains.  The region, largely known for their fabulous truffles, olive groves, and amazing hill top vistas is now starting to break out from underneath the shadow of their Tuscan cousins.  Every spring around Easter the town holds a large festival called Settimana Enologica or “Wine Week” to bring tourists in to sample the local wines.   Until recently, the wines of this area have been not well known outside of Italy. However, the Consorzio Montefalco is working to change that and have graciously sent me two wines to taste and explore to get a sense of what this area and the Sagrantino grape are all about.

Colpetrone 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC – Elegant and Floral

The first wine hails from one of the most important producers in the DOCG area.  Montefalco Rosso is usually a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.  This wine is a beautiful blend of both plus a bit of Merlot coming from a vineyard planted in 1997 on limy soil with clay deposits.  A moderately deep ruby colored core followed by a lovely burst of plum and black cherry on the nose.  The wine had none of the “raspberry leaf” character I normally associate with wines from further north in the country but did have a distinctive earthy aroma reminiscent of crushed late fall leaves.  The intensity of the fruit suggests a lack of oak influence which was confirmed by the dossier that accompanied it.  With a moderate body, fresh acid, and structured but supple tannins that hit in the middle of the tongue, this wine is more weighty than a Pinot Noir but just as elegant.  It is strikingly similar in style to Chianti Classicos but with darker fruit and rounded edges.  While this wine can age a couple more years due to its textured tannins I highly recommend taking advantage of it’s fruitful youth!

Azienda Agraria Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino – Power Punch

The second wine comes from the oldest winery of the Montefalco appellation, founded in 1884.  The name Scacciadiavoli, literally translates to “cast out the devils” apparently named for a 19th century exorcist who lived in the village.  The vineyard is 400 meters above sea level on a clay shale soil.  The wine itself is intense with a dense ruby core that is impossible to see through, living up to the expectation that Sagrantino is one of the most deeply colored grapes in the world.  The nose is quite concentrated with aromas of ripe black plum, graphite, and cedar.  The full body continues with the concentrated theme with intensely structured tannins, the description of which is hard to pin down.  It is similar to the texture of Nebbiolo but slightly smoother with the intensity and palate distribution of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The finish is long and the wine is crying out for food as most Italian reds do.  If the body were lighter the tannins would be harsh and out of balance however the richness in the core of this wine was deeply concentrated and left a seamless transition from beginning to end. My hat is off to the winemaker because I know it is quite challenging to balance tannins of that quantity! It is quite unlike anything I have ever tasted before.   This is a 2008, already over 6 years old and I am of the opinion I opened it too young!  This structure is built for aging quite in line with the other hallowed regions of this country.  If you are interested in this wine it seems the previous vintage is for sale at one of my favorite wine sourcing spots, K & L Wines in San Francisco.

These wines have distinctively different styles however both show that this region is focused on making serious wine that can stand on the international market.  The town itself looks charming and it’s views dramatic.  I only hope I get the chance to visit for myself soon!

Picture courtesy of MontefalcoMob.com

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The Wine Styles of Summer

When the weather gets hot, sometimes people feel very limited by the wines they can drink. White wines are typically a “go to” since they can be served chilled.  However, Rose wines can make an excellent option as well as lighter style reds.  This past week I was at the Cornell Club in New York City talking about this very subject.  It was a great tasting with around 50 very interactive people.  We covered not only summer wine styles but went into wine an food pairing, the reasons for ancient cultures’ additions of wine to water as well as my current views on the challenges of marketing wine in Asia.  I won’t go into the full discussion here but I will tell you.

Ruffino Prosecco, NV, Italy – Light and Bubbly

This is a great go to wine for the summer.  It is reasonably priced, deliciously crisp, and has a light body that even the most discerning of wine drinkers will enjoy on a hot day.  It also works well for those summer cocktails that call for something bubbly.

Ravines Dry Riesling, 2014, Finger Lakes, NY – Stone and Chalk

This is one of my favorite Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.  Bright acid and a dry palate make this wine perfect for humid summer night sipping.  The aromatics are very minerally and the fruit shows up on the palate as a mix of tropical and stone fruit.

Etude Rose of Pinot Noir, 2014, Carneros, CA – Zesty and Fruity

This rose comes from one of my favorite Pinot Noir vineyards in California, Grace Benoist Ranch.  I was fortunate enough to make wine from this vineyard in 2010 although it didn’t end up getting in a bottle by itself.  This rose is full bodied with crisp acid and lovely flavors of ripe strawberries and peaches.  It is a great wine for a meatier summer dish that would be too savory for a white wine but when a red would be too heavy.

Christophe Pacalet Fleurie, 2013, Beaujolais Cru, France – Elegant and Floral

Beaujolais some times gets a bad rap because of the Nouveau phenomenon however many of the Cru level producers are turning out very respectable wines that are delicious in the summer with a light chill on them.  The tannins on this wine are soft and supple with a light palate and floral nose.

Cooper’s Creek Pinot Noir, 2013, Hawk’s Bay, New Zealand – Elegant and Floral

This was a surprising wine.  Of all the regions within New Zealand, Hawk’s Bay would be my last pick for Pinot Noir. It is considered a warm spot in a cool climate ideally suited for Bordeaux varieties and Syrah, particularly from the Gimblett Gravels area. However, high up in the hills, there are Pinot Noir growers who are working with this variety at high altitudes. It is very similar in style to Carneros with dark, juicy fruit and moderate acid for a Pinot Noir which tends to be higher overall as a variety.  The soft tannins also allowed it to take a slight chill for the tasting without losing any of the complexity of the wine.

Finally, one can not really talk about things to drink in the summer time without talking about Beer!  I was on vacation in the Poconos, where I spent the rest of the week while not in NYC, and nearby was this fantastic Craft Brewery called Shawnee Craft.  I became quite enchanted with their Biere Blanche, an unfiltered “Belgian-style wheat beer” with a citrusy nose and wheat driven palate.  They also had live music on Friday night that consisted of a talented guitarist with moderate singing ability and two percussionists, making for a lively jam session.

I miss the beer.  Perhaps they ship?

 The cheese selection in Eataly in NYC was amazing by the way. I though I would share!

Small Bites: My Quick News Roundup!

There is so much to talk about from the past few weeks while my family and I have been relocating across the country!  I decided to break them down into small bites…

Bite 1: Arsenic Anyone?

I really don’t want to give this story any more time than it takes for me to acknowledge it however Alder Yarrow from Vinography.com did an amazing post telling you why exactly you shouldn’t be worried about this and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, please read his post here.

Bite 2: WE’RE HERE!!!!!

We arrived into the beautiful and chilly state of New York last weekend and are now settling into our new house.  Currently one entire room is devoted to unpacked, empty boxes but once those get hauled away tomorrow we should be in fairly good shape as far as moving in is concerned.
 

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I started my new job last week and while it is a dramatic change from Robert Mondavi, it should present a good challenge.  Back in January, we closed on 12 acres on the shores of Seneca lake and I went out that day to put “Posted” signs up.  Upon our return last weekend all but 1 of the 6 signs were torn down.  I’m hoping it is just a combination of wind and extreme cold but I can’t help but be worried that the former owner of a nice deer stand on our land may have had something to do with it.  Our goal is to clear much of the land this summer once the soil dries out some from all the snow this winter.  That way we can start to see where our future house and vineyards will go! We are very excited about this new phase of our lives.

Bite 3: Vintage 2015 Update

New York: It’s cold.  It has been VERY, VERY cold this winter.  I’m a little concerned that we may not have many grapes to make wine with from the western side of the state.  Even though we got another 3 inches of snow this morning, signs of spring are everywhere.  Those 3 inches were mostly melted away by mid afternoon.  Robins are showing up and Canadian Geese can be heard flying overhead, heading North.  Maybe we’ll be close to budbreak around the middle of May.

Napa:  Budbreak is everywhere and frost season is in full swing according to a friend of mine.  There has still been very little rain so the area is poised for a 3rd consecutive drought season.  Again, I wouldn’t want the be the grower that has to choose between protecting what crop they may have this year and saving water so that they can ripen that crop.

Those are the bites for the week!  Happy growing season everyone!