If you’ve been touring Central Italy with me, then you know we’ve stopped on the West Side and East Side—but what about poor Umbria stuck smack dab in the middle? It is technically on the West Side, as it is on the west side of the Apennine mountain range, but in my mind I keep it separate.
When I think of Umbria I think of white wines made from Grecchetto, and this may be because that was the focus in Level 3. And while there’s not loads of details on this central wine region in our Diploma text, it does go into a bit more detail. So below I’ve compiled a list of key points as well as a little tasting.
Before moving forward, test yourself. How would you describe the climate and terroir of Umbria? What are the key characteristics of the Grecchetto grape and what wine styles are produced from it? What is the key red wine grape? Describe its characteristics and the wine styles produced.
- Hilly landscape, sharing similar climate to inland Tuscany—i.e. continental climate with hot summers, cold winters
- Climate hazards: spring frost, hail, rain during harvest, summer drought and prolonged high temperatures (can actually stop photosynthesis and thus cease ripening of skins and seeds)
- Rain falls mainly in autumn and winter, thus enough water can be stored in to keep vines supplied throughout growing season (and reduce fungal pressure)
- Rain in autumn can affect harvest period, but typically sufficiently dry to allow picking for late harvested and botrytized wines.
- Grechetto—white, thick skinned variety, resistant to fungal disease thus suitable for late harvest; wines have low to medium intensity lemon and white flower with high acid and medium body
- Sangiovese—dominant variety in Tuscany, and most planted variety in all of Italy; difficult variety to grow: buds early (prone to frost), ripens late (susceptible to autumn/harvest rains), thus requires vineyard locations that can accommodate a long growing season.
- Sagrantino—specialty black variety of Umbria; needs full sunshine and heat to ripen; is moderately productive; vines typically planted on hillsides with altitude for sunlight interception and good drainage; wine is very tannic; varietal wines are deep ruby, medium (+) to pronounced black and red fruits, high in acid and tannin, require long aging both in production and in bottle prior to release/consumption.
- Orvieto DOC—west side of Umbria; contains a Classico zone; wine is a minimum 60% Trebbiano Toscano and/or Grechetto—best quality are those produced with more Grechetto as it has higher intensity
- Superiore category has reduced yields resulting in wines with higher concentration/intensity. The DOC includes provisions for dry, off-dry, and sweet wines made from late harvest (vendemmia tardiva) and/or wines from botrytis-affected grapes (muffa nobile)
- Dry wines are fermented in stainless at cool temps to retain primaries and aged briefly in stainless before release. Consume within 1 to 2 years.
- Montefalco Rosso DOC—Sangiovese-dominant blend with Sagrantino and other permitted varieties, aged 18 months before release
- Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG—100% Sagrantino, stricter yield requirements, aged for 33 months total, one year in wood. Lower yields and longer aging means higher costs.
Below I have one Montefalco Rosso DOC and one Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. Before reading on, see if you can write a few dry tasting notes based on what you know about the region’s environmental and human factors. I’ve included links to the tech sheets for this wine so you can compare your notes with the actual production methods.
Wine: Tenuta Alzatura 2015 Montefalco Rosso DOC
Appearance: pale garnet (just turning garnet)
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—red cherry, red plum, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, rhubarb, dried rosemary and thyme, earth, wet leaves, prune, dried fig, black tea, toast
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, medium body, medium (+) intensity (same as above)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that has a wonderful balance between the fresh, primary fruit flavors still clinging to life along with subtle tertiary notes that’s come from just the early stages of aging. The medium (+) acidity does well to keep the freshness of the wine; the well-integrated fine-grained tannins adds a plush smoothness to the mouthfeel; the alcohol feels like it’s on the low-end of high and is just the right amount to add a bit of glycerin, body, and weight to the wine. There is a clear, but subtle oak integration here that further adds to the complexity of the wine both in aromas and flavors. The finish is medium (+), just shy of long, and for this reason, I cannot rate the wine as outstanding, but it is of very good quality.
Suitability for Aging: I believe that this wine has the potential to develop further in bottle. As is, we are just now seeing the beginning of some tertiary notes, as indicated by the wet leaves, prune, and dried fig notes and the nature of the fresh fruit components—ripe red and black fruits—are such that they will continue to hold on and eventually develop into their cooked and dried forms adding to the complexity of the wine. Further, the wine’s structure lends itself to longevity—acid, tannin, alcohol, and intensity of fruits are all high enough to withstand the test of time.
Wine: Cantina Scacciadiavoli 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG
Appearance: medium garnet
Aroma: pronounced aromas—stewed red plum, cooked red and black cherry, boysenberry jam, dried rosemary, pine wood, chocolate, prune, black fig, fresh and dried rose petals
Palate: pronounced intensity of flavors—all of the above, adding over-ripe wild strawberry, pecan, clove and nutmeg
Dry, medium (+) acid, high alcohol, high grippy tannins, full body, finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This wine of outstanding quality that is showing wonderful development of age. The primary fruits are cooked, stewed, jammy, and dried in nature. The notes from barrel age balance well with these notes, providing baking spices, chocolate and vanilla tones that give the wine a kind of decadence. The alcohol is high and leaves a warmth in the chest, however, this is very indicative of the wine style and, again, complements the decadent flavor profile mentioned above. Tannins are full, adding texture and body. Though they do grip the palate quite aggressively, they do slowly melt away and leave an overall clean mouth ready for another sip. For this excellent balance, complexity, and intensity the wine is certainly better than simply good. However, it is the alcohol and the tannin that stick with you rather than the actual fruit flavors, so the finish falls shy of long at a medium (+) length, thus I cannot rate the wine as outstanding.
Suitability for Aging: I do not think that this wine is suitable for further aging. As it is, this wine is already well-developed and should be enjoyed now before it declines. Further time in bottle will cause the fruits to fade and the high alcohol will become more obvious and thus the wine unbalanced.
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