Exploring the Treasures of Umbria: Grechetto, Sagrantino & Olive Oil
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”
(from Endymion, by John Keats)
Now you might wonder why I begin this article with a quote by Keats when you probably think I should start directly to talk about wine. Well, it is all connected. Beauty, literature, the forces of nature, landscape, wine, oil, textiles, and much more. Umbria is really a place of beauty and a hidden gem in the center of Italy. It has beautiful landscapes, world-famous pieces of art, picturesque small towns, treasures such as the town of Assisi, lake Trasimeno, to only name a few things. And, of course, it has the area of Montefalco with is Sagrantino wines.
Two weeks ago, I went to visit two wineries and an oil producer in Umbria. This was not my first time in Umbria, but I had never visited the Di Filippo winery, the Fratelli Pardi winery or the olive oil producer Gaudenzi before. However, it was the first time I had the sense of being caught up in the forces of weather in Umbria, making one almost feel like being transported back to the Era of Romanticism when nature was considered a metaphor for the sublime. Sun and lovely landscapes were quickly replaced by harsh winds and snow during both Saturday and Sunday. It felt like being in the middle of a Jane Austen novel, where the weather is used to express the changing moods and inner sensibilities.
However, we were all in a good mood despite the weather, high on Grechetto and Sagrantino wines as well as all the new impressions. The most dramatic experience was when we were high up on the hill above the small town of Trevi where we had planned to taste the olive oil of Frantoio Gaudenzi with a view of the valley below. However, while getting the oil bottles put up on a table outdoors, we could see the hail storm moving in from the opposite hill top. Again the feeling of being in a 19th-century novel was very much a reality.
Montefalco, the heart of the Sagrantino
Montefalco is a small town almost in the center of Umbria. It is situated on the top of a hill which is surrounded by the Umbrian Valley and the rivers Topino and Clitunno. From Montefalco, you have a fantastic view of the Martani mountains, the Appennins, the towns of Spoleto, Foligno, Trevi, Assisi, among others. It is a town with a long history tracing back to the antiquity, which is rich with art (such as the Museum of Saint Francis with fresco paintings by the artist Benozzo Gozzoli), literature, saints, and much more. However, returning to talk about wine, the Montefalco area is indeed the center in Umbria for the production of Sagrantino wines.
This grape varietal is known to have been grown in the area around Montefalco since the early Middle Ages. There are two different theories regarding the origin of this grape. On the one hand, the Sagrantino is considered to have been brought back to Umbria from the Middle East by Franciscan monks while it, on the other hand, is said to be of Greek origin and thus imported by Byzantine monks. The name, Sagrantino, refers back to ‘Sacramento’ and had a “sacred” use during religious rites as it was, indeed, cultivated by the monks. It is produced in two different versions, the secco (dry) and the passito (sweet wine).
This grape varietal has its origin in Greece, as many other grapes in Italy. It is mainly present in Umbria and is considered a native grape of this region, but it is also common in other neighboring regions such as Lazio, Le Marche and Tuscany. Other versions, or clones, of the Grechetto, are the Grechetto di Todi and the Grechetto di Orvieto. There are some differences between the Grechetto in different regions, even if it is more difficult to talk about typical traits according to the area as with the Sagrantino. The Grechetto in the Orvieto area or in Lazio can be more fruity and elegant as well as lighter than a Grechetto, for example, from the area around Cannara in Umbria where the clay soil has a strong impact on this wine.
First stop, Di Filippo winery in Cannara
We arrived at the winery just before noon with the sun still shining on the surrounding beautiful landscape, where you could see snow on the mountain tops far in the background. Cantina Di Filippo is situated close to Cannara, which is very near the town of Assisi, and between Torgiano and Montefalco in Umbria. It has been a family winery since the start and is a well-known winery in Umbria. In the last decades, Roberto and Emma, brother and sister, has made the Di Filippo name also internationally known. They have 30 hectares of vineyard and grow and produce Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera, Cornetta, Grechetto, and Trebbiano Spoletino. However, their main wines are produced with Grechetto and Sagrantino.
The use of horses to work the vineyards
An interesting thing that Roberto Di Filippo told us is that they seven years ago reintroduced the use of horses to work the vineyards. They can be considered romantic, of course, however in order to as easy as possible be able to rationalize the work they have developed a set of customized and modern tools to use with the horses. The more interesting thing about this concept is the agroforestry side of it all which is a way to reach a synergy. In old times, this meant that you brought together, for example, trees, plants, flowers, crop, legumes and so forth. In the case of the Di Filippo winery, they bring the geese into the vineyard in order to clean and fertilize the soil. Furthermore, it leads to a double production of meat and grapes. It also leads to the saving of energy, up to 40% so far, and they believe it looks very promising for the future.
Tasting the Grechetto…
The Di Filippo winery produces three different types of Grechetto. The Grechetto Colli Martano, where we tasted the 2015 which has a straw yellow color and a fresh, soft bouquet of white flowers and fruit, such as apricot and peach. It is a smooth wine with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Grechetto Umbria 2014 is their wine without sulfites. It has a more smoked aroma, notes of flowers and you can feel the taste of green apple. It is a fresh wine, with persistent aromas and mouthfeel. The Grechetto Sassi d’Arenaria 2015 is a much more aromatic, spicy wine with a full-bodied and strong impact. When the wine opens up you can feel the notes of ripe white fruit. It is a tannic wine, which according to Roberto Di Filippo indicates high quality. The Sassi d’Arenaria pairs well also with meat, as well as rich and aromatic dishes, and cheese, especially a more aged vintage of this wine. The Grechetto wines are only vinified in steel vats. It is a more difficult wine to produce as it is a grape with strong color and easy oxidation. Grechetto in general pairs well with pasta with asparagus, for example, but also with ham and salami.
…continuing with tasting the Sagrantino
First out was the Montefalco Rosso DOC 2013, made of Sangiovese 60%, Barbera 30% and Sagrantino 10%. It has a ruby red color and notes of black pepper, thus spicy, and red berries. It is a fresh wine, with a certain level of acidity, as well as a tannic wine. The vinification all takes place in steel vats. The Montefalco Rosso DOC Sallutio 2013 is aged in large wood casks for 12 months. It has notes of red berries, spices, with a hint of tobacco, and a ‘winy’ as well as a persistent taste. It is a fresh wine with elegant tannins, all in all, a complex wine. The Montefalco Sagrantino Etnico DOCG 2014 is a more modern and soft wine with a shorter maceration period. It is aged in wood casks for 12 months. It has a ruby red color, notes of fruit and under vegetation, as well as elegant tannins. The Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2011 is aged in barrique and tonneau for 18-24 months. It has aromas of red berries, spices, under vegetation, grass, mushrooms and humus. It is a very structured wine with elegant tannins. The Sagrantino wine has double the tannins of a Barolo, for example, but it has more soft and elegant tannins.
Last, but not least, we tasted the Vernaccia Cannara 2014. It is made with 100% Cornetta. It is a traditional wine, where the name Vernaccia refers to ‘vernum’, i.e. the winter and has nothing to do with the etymology of the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona or Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It was a wine to be enjoyed on Easter morning for breakfast. The Di Filippo winery is the last producer remaining who still produces this Vernaccia Cannara.
To learn more about the Di Filippo winery, you can listen to my #WinesOfItaly blab where Roberto Di Filippo was my guest on February 2nd, 2016 here.
Next stop, Fratelli Pardi winery in Montefalco
This is a winery with a long history going back to the early 20th century. Alfredo, Alberto, and Francesco Pardi founded the winery in 1919 in Montefalco, where they started producing Sagrantino, by then only in the Passito version, with own as well as bought up grapes. Further on, in the mid-20th century, they decided to transition over to a new business niche, namely a weaving mill thus producing textiles. The name of this new business venture was, and is, Tessitura Pardi srl. They still continued to produce small quantities of Sagrantino Passito. It was only in 1990, though, that the grandchildren, Alberto and Alfredo Pardi, decided to move the weaving mill from the center of Montefalco to its industrial area in the outskirts of the town. Thus, this resulted in the great grandchildren of the founders, Francesco, Gianluca Rio and Alberto Mario, to revitalize the lost wine-producing activity in 2002. In the buildings in Montefalco, they today have their winery again.
Tasting Grechetto and Spoletino Trebbiano…
In the beautiful reception area of the winery, we started by tasting the Montefalco Bianco Colle di Giove DOC 2015, made of 70% Grechetto and 30% Chardonnay. It has a straw yellow color, with notes of white flowers and fruit, mineral, and is thought to be consumed young. The Grechetto Colli Martani DOC 2015 is made of 100% Grechetto. It has the character of a Sauvignon wine. It is straw yellow with hints of gold, the aromas of white flowers and white fruits open up after a while when the smell of Sauvignon slowly vanishes. It is mineral, with an aromatic taste, and persistent.
We then arrived at the Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino DOC 2011, with its notes of white flowers and fruit, a bit smoky, as well as spicy, aroma, and its minerality. The Trebbiano Spoletino 2012 has also a smoked aroma, it is spicy and very aromatic in general. One can also feel a trace of sulfur. The Trebbiano Spoletino 2015 is characterized by notes of exotic fruits. They are all vinified in stainless steel vats.
…and now some Sagrantino again
First out we had the Montefalco Rosso DOC 2013 made of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 7,5% Merlot and 7,5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged 12 months in big wood casks. It has the characteristic taste of red fruit, black pepper, the acidity which is typical for the Sangiovese grape, and hints of vanilla due to the wood casks. The Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2011 is 100% Sagrantino. It is aged 18 months in big wood casks, 9-12 months in steel vats and 6-8 months in bottle. It has the classical notes of red berries, spices, grass, under vegetation, and humus. The taste is fruity and the tannins elegant.
The Sacrantino DOCG 2008 has a bit of a sweet taste in the beginning, however also notes of under vegetation, red berries, and a hint of leather. It is aged in barrique for 18 months, steel vats just as the Sagrantino 2011 and in the bottle for another 18 months. The 2008 was a grandiose year for the Sagrantino in Montefalco. The Sacrantino DOCG 2010 has notes of the typical red fruits, cherry specifically, as well as a hint of ashes, as if from a fireplace. Furthermore, it has an almost caramelized taste. All these red wines pair well with, for example, roasts, game, duck, braised meat, aged cheese.
Last stop, the Frantoio Gaudenzi
As mentioned in the beginning, the visit to the olive oil producer was very interesting and we also got to experience an adventurous weather high up on the hill. The family started their olive oil production in 1950 when they bought up an old olive oil mill. In 1994, Francesco and Rossana Gaudenzi took over the family-run olive oil mill modernizing it further to in 2003 moving the activity to the new buildings where they are today. Their sons Stefano and Andrea, are today very much involved in the family business too. They produce five different olive oils ranging from the traditional 1950, to Chiuse di Sant’Arcangelo with its notes of artichoke and sweet almond, the well balanced Quinta Luna, 6 Novembre with its taste of tomato leaves, which was created to celebrate the birthday of their grandfather and the 60th anniversary of the olive oil mill, and Casalontana.
For those of you who knows a bit of Italian, you can listen to Francesco Gaudenzi himself talking a bit about the history of their mill and a bit about their olive oils while we were there. See the Periscope video below.
The weekend was fabulous in all ways. Getting the possibility to tour Umbria like this and visit a couple of very interesting wineries as well as an olive oil mill is, indeed, a bit of a luxury. Have you been to any of these wineries or tried their wines? Just leave a comment then and tell us all.
Written by Katarina Andersson.