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ITALY: Central & Southern Italia

 
 


TENUTA SAN ROCCO
I have been impressed by the wines of this Umbrian estate, but looking at their web site, you would hardly know they had vineyards. 

The place is near the town of Todi, rather close to Montefalco, home of the big Sagrantino wines.  It's a 15 to 20 minute ride from Montefalco to the frazione "Due Santi."  Once you're there, good luck...though the place has been operating as an agriturismo and winery since 1995, there was no sign on the columns and gate out front. (Owner Giovanni Perni says they just got approval to post a sign and he recently ordered one, but "these things take time in Italy.")
 
The Tenuta San Rocco has got a long history, though the family owning it dates back only to 1934.  It was then purchased by Nello Morghetti and his heirs take care of San Rocco.  Giovanni Perni and his son run the place, a nice little outpost about 10 minutes' drive from the "big city" of Todi.
 
It's a sizeable property, but only 12 hectares are in vines.  Sangiovese is of special interest here and we're particularly fond of a wine they call "Palombaccio."  This carries the appellation or denominazione, if you prefer, of Colli Martani.  It's certainly not well-known outside of Umbria and even there, few people know it!
 
Yet here's a wine worthy of comparison to good Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile.  The wine is about 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot.  It's a medium-full bodied red wine showing nice oak and some dark berry fruit notes.  

The Perni family, owners of the place, were especially proud of the fact that they've "matured" a portion of the wine in egg-shaped concrete tanks.  I had seen these in France not too long ago and don't quite understand what attracts vintners to this sort of tank other than it gives them something to talk about.  The part that's not aged in concrete sees 500 liter barrels and these contribute a lovely cedar note to the wine.

 

 
The 2005 Palombaccio is drinkable now with red meats or something substantial, since the wine does have a bit of tannin.  It will probably cellar nicely for 3-8 more years.
 

Currently in stock:  2005 PALOMBACCIO  $21.99


There's a tidy little vinification cellar close to their agriturismo apartments.


A small barrique cellar is located, actually, below one of the agriturismo rental units.


We tasted Sangiovese and Merlot wines.  



CLICK HERE TO SEE THEIR WEB SITE
I noticed some pages are not posted presently...


The Agriturismo has a nice little dining room...not terribly formal, but with some good vittles.




They had some nice fish to grill the night I visited San Rocco.

 



FALESCO
The Falesco winery was founded in 1979 and is owned by the famous winemaker (and consultant) Riccardo Cotarella along with his brother Renzo.   The region is Lazio (or "Latium"), a region whose most famous wines have been "Est!Est!!Est!!!" and "Frascati."    The region has a major city you've probably heard of, Rome (duh!).  And it actually shares a part of the denominazione of "Orvieto" with neighboring Umbria. 

Cotarella, who is from Orvieto, is associated with wineries throughout Italy.  He was hired by some Piemontese to oversee production of the most expensive Barbera being produced in Italy.   He ventures to Sicilia to stick his finger in a barrel and advise clients as to which strada to take with their winemaking.  And he's associated with a bunch of Umbrian estates. 

The wines in which he has a hand show a definite "fingerprint."  They're uniformly balanced, with a pretty fruit element and, frequently, a mild bit of wood.   Cotarella wines seem to have a certain "charm" to them. 

His own Falesco winery is most famed for "Montiano," a wine made exclusively of Merlot.  We've tasted several vintages and find it to be a perfectly pleasant and not inexpensive red wine.  The wine is from volcanic soils in Lazio and the wine spends about a year in Nevers and Tronçais oak barrels.  


The Cotarellas & crew are not resting on their laurels, having some 30 different varieties planted on some 200 hectares in Umbria.  Though they concentrate on the typical local grapes, new plantings of Nero d'Avola, Syrah, Malbec, Aglianico and several clones of Cabernet are currently being cultivated.  

The gem of their line-up had been a bargain called "Vitiano."  This is 34% Sangiovese, 33% Cabernet and 33% Merlot.  Each variety is vinified separately and the blend is assembled a month, or so, later.

But a few years ago they changed the recipe.  Instead of making a wine which resembled expensive Napa Cabernets and Cabernet blends (and garnered 90 point scores from the critics), they decided to make a less distinctive wine, cheapening the wine and retaining the same price.  I can't imagine what led them in this direction, but it is a major mistake.  

We no longer carry the wine and we have not had any requests for the new vintages, either.


Currently available:  2008 Falesco "Vitiano"   Sold Out...Available by Special Order.


New label design starting with the 2007 Vitiano...






ARNALDO CAPRAI
caprai.gif (5219 bytes)Umbria is a treasure trove of interesting discoveries.  The grand "old" name in the region was Lungarotti and they make "pleasant" wines these days.  

There's another producer, however, making an international impact on the market and that would be the "Val di Maggio di Arnaldo Caprai."  This fellow made money in the textile biz and turned those threads into vineyard land in the Montefalco sub-zone of Torre.  

 The firm started in 1971 with some ten hectares of vines in Montefalco.  Today they have about 136 hectares and then some.  Caprai's facility is modern, clean and efficiently constructed.  The work, however, begins in the vineyard.  Caprai collaborates with the Universita di Milano in clonal research regarding Sagrantino.  As a result, the famous vine nursery company Rauscedo now offers several "Caprai Clones" of Sagrantino.   However, there are more than 50 clones, according to Marco Caprai, who runs the winery.  

Caprai, aware of the arrival in the neighborhood of a wave of "foreign" producers, has planted "new" varieties such as Spain's Tempranillo and the Rhône Valley's Syrah.  They are also experimenting with densely-planted vineyards, seeing if fewer grapes per vine enhances wine quality.  

The reason many are flocking to this region seems to have more to do with Sagrantino than anything else.  That being said, it is not clear to me that there is anything extraordinary about the terroir in the Montefalco zone.  This, I suppose, is more testimony to the fine work being done by a handful of producers, led by Caprai, than anything else.  

Sagrantino is a grape with the highest polyphenols concentration of any grape variety, meaning the wine's natural tendency is towards a high level of tannin.  It can be more powerful than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.  Caprai leaves the skins in contact with the juice for about 30 days, longer than most California Cabernets.  

We had often found wines made from the Sagrantino grape to be a real challenge because the tannin and astringency levels have been so high.  Caprai, with the help of famous winemaker Attillio Pagli, seems to have come up with a protocol for taming some of the harsh tannins and offering a wine of greater balance and even a bit of finesse.  



Apparently the Caprai family cannot count past 25, and so their high-end, ultra reserve bottling of Sagrantino is called "25 Anni" to commemorate their 25th anniversary.  It's a big, tannic blockbuster-of-a-red-wine and one which always garners high ratings from the critics who often measure wine by its height, weight and impact on the palate.  
I suppose one can make an argument that if Brunello and Barolo can cost consumers around a hundred bucks a bottle, this one should, too.  And it does.  



Caprai makes a Montefalco Rosso, an "Umbrian Chianti," if you will.  It's 70% Sangiovese, fortified with 15% each of Sagrantino and Merlot.  They mature this in small French oak for about a year.

The Sagrantino "Collepiano" is the "normal" bottling of this variety.  Collepiano refers to the rolling hills of the Montefalco area.  The wine spends nearly two years in French oak barriques so there's a nice touch of wood (cedar and vanillin) in this wine.  It's a most impressive Italian red, overshadowed only by the "25 Anni" bottling.

Caprai also produces a Passito and a Grechetto wine.

 
Currently in stock: 2001 Sagrantino di Montefalco  $49.99
2001 Sagrantino "25 Anni" (A super Reserve designation) $99.99 (last bottle)
 
 



 

 

COLPETRONE

This winery is brand new and it's the property of Saiagricola, a subsidiary of the SAI insurance firm.  It's impressive that such a large firm would have investments in such a risky business as agriculture!

The firm owns estates in Montepulciano and Montalcino, along with an agriturismo estate where they happen to produce sunflower seed  and olive oils.  There's also a rice farm in Piemonte!

Colpetrone is a modern-styled Sagrantino wine.  I first tasted this on an Umbrian excursion in 2002.   It was a 1998 Colpetrone and the wine was most impressive.  They seem to have a good idea of quality, as even the somewhat challenging 2002 vintage yielded a deep, rich wine.  

The first vintage was 1996 and the property had a mere 5 hectares of vineyards.  Today there are some 63 hectares under vine and with the 2002 vintage they produced 58,000 bottles.  This jumps to about 200,000 bottles with the harvest of 2003.  



The winery, a bit off the beaten path in the outskirts of Gualdo Cattaneo, is open for visitors.

Monday through "Fry-day".


The morning of my visit they were racking the wines in the cellar and cleaning the barrels.

Barrels in this facility have a 3 year cycle.  They typically are replacing about 33% of their barrels annually.  We went back to their tasting room to have a first-palate "look" at the wines.


The 2004 Sagrantino strikes me as perhaps a bit more "Umbrian" and slightly less of an internationally-styled wine than many of the previous vintages.  We've enjoyed the overtly oaky character of earlier versions, but the 2004 seems less cedary and vanillin and somewhat more like a big, brooding Sagrantino.  There's a mildly earthy quality and some woodsy, brushy notes on the nose.  The wine is fairly robust on the palate and almost hinting at Barolo to a small degree (though darker in color and bigger)...It will be interesting to see how this wine evolves.  We like it now with roasted or grilled red meats.  It will probably develop nicely over the next 3-6 years and may even soften a bit.

Currently in stock:  2004 COLPETRONE "Sagrantino di Montefalco"  (List $60)  SALE $49.99  

 

 

 

SCACCIADIAVOLI

If you're in need of some wine for your upcoming exorcism, you really should consider the wines of this Umbrian estate!

Owned by the Pambuffetti family, this winery has about 130 hectares of various crops, including sunflowers, sugar beets, olives and grains.  They currently cultivate about 30 hectares of vineyards.  Pambuffetti is a name that is synonymous with the town of Montefalco.  There's a Villa Pambuffetti which features a hotel, restaurant and cooking school.

Back in the 17th century, there was, apparently, some sort of exorcism carried out here.   The legend is that some young woman was possessed by the devil and the exorcist had her drink some of the local wine.  Problem solved, apparently.  The place then took the name "Scaccia Diavoli" and the legend continues.

In the 19th century, Prince Ugo Boncompagni built a large winemaking facility.  My tour guide at Scacciadiavoli made a big deal of pointing out Ugo's initials being still emblazoned all over the facility.


UB  -  Ugo Boncompagni.


They have a nice facility for fermenting their wines.


This was "state of the art" in 1909!


Quite a contrast between today's winemaking and that of a hundred years ago.

We have tasted a few good wines of this estate.

They make "Montefalco Rosso," a sort of "Umbrian Chianti," if you will.  It's about two-thirds Sangiovese and the rest is Merlot with a bit of Sagrantino.  It ends up being a nice bottle of wine, if different from classic Chianti or Tuscan Sangiovese.  There's a cherryish aspect to the 2005 and it has a bit of spice, too.  Oak is not noticeable here for my taste.  It's a medium+ bodied red which is drinkable now and ought to remain good for another few years.

More profound, as one would expect, is their Sagrantino.  The 2003 is deep, dark and will stain whatever you spill it on.  The wine is teeming with sweet berry fruit and vanillin notes from the oak.  It's nicely balanced, being round and not as aggressive or earthy as many Sagrantino wines.  It's quite a rich and powerful wine.  You can drink the 2003 now and, I suspect, over the next decade.  If you like that pronounced oak, better to open it sooner rather than later.   I should also say they did a marvelous job, especially considering the hot vintage.

We also have a bottle or two of their exceptional Passito.  This is a sweet wine...Sagrantino made sweet was, at one point in time (and not so long ago), "the" prominent expression of this grape.  I suspect this was because winemakers had difficulty making a red wine of balance back in the 'dark ages.'  Anyway, a number of winemakers still make sweet examples of Sagrantino and Scacciadiavoli's is quite good.  It's served in place of Port or Banyuls, so pairing it with a blue-veined cheese or chocolate dessert is ideal.


Currently in stock:  2005 SCACCIADIAVOLI "Montefalco Rosso" Sold Out
2003 SCACCIADIAVOLI "Sagrantino"Sold Out
2003 SCACCIADIAVOLI "Passito"  $47.99 (375ml bottle)

 

FATTORIA COLLEALLODOLE  (Milziade Antano)

As you can see by their label, this estate is a bit "hands on" and somewhat old fashioned.  This has brought the Antano family, then, a good deal of fame amongst fans of "old school" Italian wines.

The property is located near Montefalco in the town of Bevagna.  The story begins in the late 1960s when Milziade Antano purchased around 30 hectares on which to raise some cattle and cultivate a few vineyards.

The 1975 vintage was their first and some years later they discovered the novelty of putting wine in smallish glass bottles, rather than selling wine in demijohns.  

Milziade's son Francesco grew interested in the business of winemaking and in 1997 he made the moderately famous "Sagrantino Colleallodole" which is a made up name referring to the hill of the larks...these little birds which pass through the region on a migratory excursion around the middle of October.

Today the estate comprises 40 hectares, but only 12 of these are planted with vines.

We're fans of their Sagrantino "Colleallodole", a wine of which they make precious few bottles.  We understand the production tallies to maybe 1300 bottles...Some people refer to this as a "vin de garage," but aside from its small production, it doesn't have much in common with the gobs-o-fruit Bordeaux wines heralded to excess by the American wine critic Robert Parker.    Still, I'd expect Mr. Parker to have an appreciation for this wine as it is typically big, potent and a bit high in octane and tannin.

It's made entirely of Sagrantino and it's matured for about 3 years...15 months in wood (large cooperage such as puncheons) and then another 15 months in stainless steel tanks before bottling.  Then it's kept for six more months before they parcel out the few bottles they make.

The Antano family also produces a few other wines, but we have solely the Colleallodole presently.

 

Currently in stock:  2004 MILZIADE ANTANO Sagrantino "Colleallodole"  $56.99



 
Anna Barbolini and Mauro Buffagni make this amazingly fizzy, lively Lambrusco near Modena in Emilia Romagna. 

 Modena, of course, is world famous for its Aceto Balsamico, a carefully-produced, well-aged vinegar.  There is Balsamico and there is real, shockingly expensive Balsamico doled out by the eye-dropper!  Barbolini, by the way, has a small production of Balsamico aging in the "acetaia" above the winery.


There is also Lambrusco and real Lambrusco.  A number of humungous firms make a simple, light, fruity little beverage that was quite fashionable a decade or two ago here in the Bay Area.  

The Barbolini wine is made of Lambrusco Grasparossa, differentiating itself from the Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce and the Lambrusco di Sorbara. 

Here's a wine with a touch of tannin, accentuated a bit by the effervescence of the wine.  The fragrance is somewhat reminiscent of violets and berries.  
This is a great "little" wine (no wine writer would dare give 90 points to such a humble and honest vino rosso!) that's perfect with a spicy pasta, home-made pizza or messy grilled ribs.  As this is quite bubbly, be sure to thoroughly chill your bottle of Barbolini.  Serve it in clear tumblers or wine glasses.  You can, however, be subject to arrest if you drink this through a straw!

We were recently at a place which had the Barbolini Lambrusco on the wine list.  It was reasonably priced, too, around $26.  I ordered a bottle.
And I must have been the first customer to have understood the wine as the server tried a couple of times to caution me.

"Uh, sir, you know, this is not a sweet wine."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"Well, sir," he warned me, "this is a really bubbly, effervescent wine."
"I sure hope so!  I know the wine very well and have visited the winery." I replied.  "It ought to be sensational with your salumi plate."
A few moments later the fellow regained consciousness, since virtually all the hicks who dine at that lovely place expect Lambrusco to either be akin to Coca-Cola and sweet or are stunned to find the deep, dark-colored wine they ordered is bubbling over in the glass.
 


Currently in stock: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (list $16) SALE $13.99

 

 

A view of the winery office from the Acetaia.
 




The signs on the door of Barbolini's office.




Lab samples.


 


Lambrusco awaiting shipment.


 

 

 

The population which abandons the earth is 
destined to decline.

 

 
 
 
 


Barbolini's Balsamico production in the "Acetaia." 

We visited the winery again in 2012 and stopped in at 10am where Mrs. Barbolini-Buffagni had prepared a "power breakfast" of sorts featuring the local specialties: Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Gnocco (a sort of bread, not the pasta you know as gnocchi) and, of course, good Lambrusco.

 


"Mama" Barbolini insisting everyone have more food, while "Dad" opens more bottles.

 

We don't have their Balsamico, but it is a good one!

 

 

 

 

 

 






 


MOLINELLI
Italy's Colli Piacentini is in the hills southwest of Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region.  

Some have called the Emilia-Romagna region Italy's gastronomic capital, for it does offer some delectable food items:  Prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma and Balsamico (vinegar) from Modena.  Bologna, which is known as Bologna La Grassa (the fat), produces Mortadella and Sfogline pasta.  Wine production is all over the Emilia-Romagnan map.  Lambrusco accounts for a large part of the production here.  

We've taken note of an improvement in other wines from the area.  The Molinelli estate is large, with something like 2,200 hectares.  Only 40, or so, are in vineyards, however.  

Molinelli is a producer of an appellation that's rarely been imported called "Gutturnio."  These are a blend of Barbera with about 20% Bonarda.  The zone of production is split amongst three regions, the best quality apparently coming from near the town of Ziano Piacentini...that's where Molinelli is located, close to Lombardia.

Molinelli's Gutturnio is called "Monte Po," a medium-bodied red that's dry and smooth.  It's less acidic than most Piemontese Barbera or Tuscan Sangiovese, for example.  The first vintages we had were nicely oaked and woodsy...the current wine shows much less oak and it's less distinctive.

We can special order it for you and we have orders coming, typically, every-other-week from the importer.

They're about $12 a bottle (and shipping, if you require that service, is extra).




 
Currently in stock:  MOLINELLI Gutturnio "Vigna Monte Po"  Special Order Item...$144/case (this works out to $12/bottle) and there's a 10% case discount.
 

 

 

 

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