17 July 2013

Montefalco Wines of Umbria

I rarely if ever quote directly from press releases or back labels, but this particular pitch caught my eye:

Don't you know about the bird? Well, in Italy everybody’s heard, about the bird! If you're not in the know, the bird is the hawk, the symbol of Montefalco, the medieval town in Central Italy (Umbria) rebuilt by Frederick II in 1249.

Little did the writer know that I'm the kind of guy who got excited about seeing a Cooper's Hawk in the cove outside my bedroom window. I ran outside and captured it in four different poses as it was chased away by a Mockingbird (state bird of Tennessee, natch). I'm not an active birder but I did truly enjoy the 2011 comedy The Big Year, and having spent a lot of time in the woods and traveling, I'm always excited to spot a bird I've never seen in the flesh before. Such an interest translates well into wine, with the opportunity to chase after certain rare grapes, regions, or vintages. Unlike birders, I get most of my interesting finds delivered to my doorstep.

Note to bird breeders and international rara avis smugglers: Please do not send me any bird samples. I prefer to wait for natural migration patterns or the odd summer storm to deliver interesting birds to my backyard.

As mentioned in the top quote, these wines come from one of those ancient little towns in the middle of Italy. Umbria is a region associated with famous towns like Assisi and Perugia, and I enjoyed my visit there. The cities are not big like Rome and Milan, the name is not as well associated with romantic writing about Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, but the food, wine, and people are wonderful. Here are three tasty wines from the small medieval town of about five thousand citizens. Two of them feature the iconic, tannic, regional, dark grape known as Sagrantino.

2011 Scacciadiavoli Grechetto dell'Umbria
Umbria IGT
100% Grechetto
$15, 13% abv.

This Greek grape found its way to Italy a very long time ago. Despite the thick skin this grape produces very delicate white pear flavors, low acidity, and a mild, clean finish. Serve with a traditional rustic fava bean soup.

2010 Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso
Montefalco Rosso DOC
70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Merlot
$23, 14.5% abv.

This bottle had a nose of red cherry with tart acidity and firm tannins, showing that the Sagrantino can be really bold even at 15%. Later there were notes of leather and cedar on the finish. I'd suggest a simple quattro stagioni pizza with a single topping on each quarter representing a different season. I don't know why this dish hasn't caught on here in the US, perhaps in a version with our own local delicacies. The ones I had in Umbria featured ham, olives, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms above the tomato sauce and mozzarella. I finished off an entire one while chatting with the chef one cold December day in Perugia...

2007 Perticaia
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG
100% Sagrantino
$48, 14% abv.

If Italy teaches you anything, it's patience. Despite the fact that this wine is six years old, the pure Sagrantino makeup means that it remains bold and big. Another half decade might be required to soften these strong grapes. The Perticaia features a dominant profile of black cherry with a touch of cinnamon. Bold tannins and blackberries follow on the palate. Nice, big finish. This would be amazing with a rich venison stew full of garlic and perhaps a few truffle shavings for depth. The wine would certainly stand up to it.

Interested in birds and wine? Be sure to check out my friend Dezel's site My Vine Spot. A lot of his reviews end with gorgeous photos of the local avian population of the Washington, D.C. area.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.


Dezel Quillen said...

Nice post and reviews, Ben. Looks like a fine selection of wines you had an opportunity to taste. I remember the story about the hawk – too funny. I do enjoy sipping, taking notes, and bird watching (from my favorite chair)! Appreciate the mention, bro. Have a grape rest of the week. Cheers!

Ben Carter said...


Few things are better than sitting back and watching our fine feathered friends!