Tag Archives: Italy

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

Bottle + glass

But Why is the Wine Gone? Part 1 – Prosecco

Several weeks ago there was an article by the Drinks Business proclaiming that a Prosecco shortage was nigh.  This sparked off a number of news outlets to cover the story.  Given that Prosecco is one of the hottest drinks on the market right now this was grave news indeed.  The UK’s Guardian, The Drinks Business as well as the Telegraph put the increase of sales of Prosecco anywhere between 39% and 74%.  For the US, the Italian bubbly is enjoying a meteoric rise as well with The Wall Street Journal quoting 39% and 75% for Shanken News Daily.

Then, shortly after the publication of the article I received a PR release in my inbox directly from the Prosecco DOC Consortium stating the following…

“The Prosecco DOC Consortium (Consorzio di Tutela della DOC Prosecco)—the institution charged with protecting, upholding and promoting the standards of Prosecco DOC— announced that there will not be a shortage of Prosecco in the coming months. The news that was published last week in the UK press outlet, ‘The Drinks Business’ on May 20th, was misleading, according to the Consortium.

The harvest of 2014 was hit with some harsh weather and had an average of over 9% less than the maximum yield. According to the Consortium, this resulted in a total certified production of 17.9% more than the previous harvest, to reaching far beyond the target yield put out by forecasters. The Consortium has also ruled out any significant price increase during the summer. Any small increase will only concern ‘entry level’ productions among lower priced products.

Now comprising 18.5% of total exports, the United States is the third-largest market for Prosecco DOC sales behind the United Kingdom and Germany, respectively. The global demand highlights an increasing interest and demand in Italian sparkling wine with which the Consortium’s productions are prepared to keep up.”

That’s interesting.  I wanted to get some additional information on how the perceived “shortage” came about so I reached out the Consortium and was able to speak with Stefano Zanette, president of The Prosecco DOC Consortium to clarify some of the issues brought up in the original article.  My interview with him is below.

NC: According to your press release the 2014 harvest was actually 17.9% higher than the previous vintage.  Where do you think the misconception came from that the harvest was 50% down in some places?

SZ: In some cases, there very well may have been losses of even more than 50% because of hail or disease, but what we have to look at is the data related to the denomination as a whole, which correspond to that which we have provided. I believe that the need to look at particular details and not at the denomination as a whole is the result of individual wineries’ internal company needs.

NC: The Drinks Business article references negociants playing a large role in determining the shortage.  How big of an influence to negociants have on the Prosecco industry? 

SZ: I don’t think negociants have any particular responsibility in this matter. Obviously, if it is discovered that available volume is less than expected, they had to move accordingly too.

NC: The article also references brokers “holding onto” Prosecco stock.  Since one of the virtues of Prosecco is its fresh youthful style, how much stock to you reasonably think brokers could be holding onto?  It seems that would be very risky for the broker.

SZ:  If people were holding on to stock, that will not be able to last longer than the beginning of the next harvest, which we hope will be more bountiful than last year’s.

NC: What is your opinion on the claim that many of the growing areas of the DOC were “newly planted… and yields were down by half in some cases”?  What would you estimate is the area that has been recently planted or replanted in the DOC?

SZ: The issue of the lower yield generally affected the entire denomination and in a haphazard way in a few territories in particular with no correlation between new and old vineyards. The recently planted or replanted vineyards make up approximately 5%.

NC: Do you also share the opinion that “people love Prosecco because it is uncomplicated and quaffable” and that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously?

SZ: I agree that Prosecco “is uncomplicated” and that it “is quaffable,” but I also believe that it is a product that “must be taken seriously” – 306,000,000 bottles is no joke!

So there you have it folks! We can remain calm on the issue of Prosecco for now.  New Zealand on the other hand might deserve some panic and will be the subject of Part 2 of Why is the Wine Gone? Stay tuned!


Header Photo courtesy of the Prosecco DOC Consortium.

Harvest 2011: How California became Italy

This year has had it all.  We started with heavy frost on the Central Coast, rain during bloom and spring hail.  The craziness continued with a long temperate summer which was punctuated by few heat spikes (if you can call mid 90s a heat spike out here).  Growers fought Powdery Mildew and numerous invasive insect species all summer including the European Grapevine Moth, Light Brown Apple Moth, and the Oriental Fruitfly.  For those growers who were able to get through the gauntlet of summer, everything was looking perfect until early October when the rain came back and brought with it watered down flavors, muted colors, and botrytis.  As I woke to the sound of frost fans in northern Napa Valley today I felt that we had come full circle. 


Today is the last day of harvest for Asti Winery.  We’ve survived although the last three weeks have been crazy and stressful.  It’s also a time of reflection over the wines that are fermenting away from this vintage.  The floral whites are beautiful.  Marked by crisp acid and intense white flower and spice notes, the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have really stood out this harvest.  The Chardonnays that were harvested before the first October rain, while lower in alcohol, are displaying elegant fruit flavors and balanced acids.  The alcohol conversions on whites this year were insanely high.  Sugars that were picked at 23 Brix are topping out in the 13.5% range showing extremely efficient yeast conversion.  Chardonnays picked after the rains look to be less concentrated than the pre-rain picks plus they are showing Botrytized characters that lean towards a bit earthy in most cases.  Luckily most of our lots are pre-rain thanks to the hustle of our vineyard crews and growers. 


It was yesterday as we tasted through pressed off Cabernets though when I came to the realization that my tasting notes were not that of a typical California Cabernet.  Aromas of raspberry leaves, black currants, and sous-bois shined through in the best examples with high acid and moderate alcohol on the palate paired with moderately high powdery tannins.  Granted these wines are pre-ML and have not seen oak for the most part but it struck me as very similar to my notes on Cabernet  from Tuscany.  As we’ve been saying all along, this vintage will be vastly different from what has become the norm in California.  There will be some bad wine out there, I’m sure, but I believe that there will also be a new style of California wine to be found this year.  All the proponents that have been wishing for lower alcohol, this is your year!  The reds had the opposite issue from the whites as the conversion rates were very low. Even the higher Brix reds (which were anything over 24 this year) are only showing in the high 13% range.  It’s going to be interesting to see how these wines develop and how each winery dealt with this challenging year.  Most of all I feel sorry for anyone who gets one of this vintage on a blind exam down the road because it’s going to be so different from what is accepted as a typical California style.


As for me, I’m looking forward to capturing the spirit of this vintage in my wines this year.  I think it will be fun!