Category Archives: Umbrian Food and Drink

Red Red Wine

Vines at Arnaldo Caprai's Winery, Montefalco

Vines at Arnaldo Caprai’s Winery, Montefalco

In 1955, Arnaldo Caprai set up a textile business which became one of the largest and most successful in Italy. A native of Umbria, in 1971 he bought a vineyard near Montefalco to fulfil his dream of reviving the fortunes of wine production in the area. Arnaldo’s son, Marco Caprai, took over the management of the Winery in 1988 and he has modernised production methods without losing sight of the traditional values and techniques. He also collaborates with Milan University on research and experimentation to ensure a sustainable future in an ever-changing climate.

Of the varieties of grapes cultivated here, the most revered is the Sagrantino, a variety that has been traced back 500 years and the one that produces the very finest of the Caprai wines. It has been said that the Caprai family has almost single-handedly reinvigorated the indigenous Sagrantino grape variety.

Today the vineyards under cultivation extend to 137 hectares and the Winery produces 700,000 bottles each year. Surely some of them could be ours? To ensure that this was the case (no pun intended!), off we went for a tour and wine tasting. The knowledgeable, patient and English-speaking Vivianne showed us around the fields and the production facility, explaining the history and cultivation methods.

Vats - Arnaldo Caprai Winery

Vats – Arnaldo Caprai Winery

French Oak Wine Barrels, Arnaldo Caprai Winery

French Oak Wine Barrels, Arnaldo Caprai Winery

There are around 20,000 barrels in use, mostly made of French oak. Not all of the wines are matured in oak barrels: it depends on what properties are required in the finished product. The bottling plant can produce 3000 bottles per hour, although it does not operate daily; the schedule is dependent on time of year (for example the period before Christmas is very busy) and the extent of orders. Although the Winery has continued production throughout the financial crisis of recent (and current) years, sales in Italy have shown a decrease, particularly for wines in the medium price range, but this has been somewhat mitigated by improved overseas sales.

That says it all. Arnaldo Caprai, Montefalco

That says it all. Arnaldo Caprai, Montefalco

And so to the tasting, accompanied by delicious meats, cheeses and bread. We tasted 4 wines: one white and 3 red.

Wine tasting selection, Arnaldo Caprai Winery. I'll play this hand!

Wine tasting selection, Arnaldo Caprai Winery. I’ll play this hand!

First up was the white Grecante, 2011, made from 100% Grechetto grapes and aged for 3 months in steel vats and a minimum of 3 months in the bottle. Fresh and crisp, slightly acidic with a grassy overtone and very delicious. Serve as an aperitif, or with fish or poultry.

Next we tried the Montefalco Rosso, 2010, a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Merlot grapes. This is aged for 12 months in wood (70% of the time in Slovenian oak barrels and the remainder in French oak barrels) followed by a minimum 4 months in the bottle. The oak came through slightly but it was mellow with a subtle flavour. A perfect match with red or white meats, charcuterie or mature cheese.

Montefalco Rosso Reserva, Arnaldo Caprai

Montefalco Rosso Reserva, Arnaldo Caprai

We moved on to the Montefalco Rosso Reserva, both the 2007 and 2008 vintages. The Reserva is the same blend of grapes as the Montefalco Rosso, but  it is aged in oak for a longer period: 20 months in French oak barrels and a minimum of 6 months ageing in the bottle. Well-rounded, structured wine with subtle oak overtones and a long finish on the tongue. An excellent wine which would pair well with roasted meats, charcuterie and mature cheese.

Finally, the best of the bunch (no pun intended!). Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco. Made from 100% Sangrantino grapes and aged for 20-24 months in French oak barrels with a minimum of 6 months in the bottle. Robust, potent and rich in tannins, it exploded with flavour but had a velvety smooth finish.  Best accompanied by food; serve with good roast meats or game and mature cheeses.

Mio mario is very happy!

Mio marito is very happy!

Of course we liberated 2 cases of wine – 3 bottles of each one that we tested. Point of interest: in Italy a case of wine comprises 6 bottles not 12, in case you thought I couldn’t add up!  Time to reflect on our perfect day and to eagerly anticipate sharing the wines we took away with us.

Mini Adventures. Arnaldo Caprai Winery, Montefalco.

Mini Adventures. Arnaldo Caprai Winery, Montefalco.

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

The cuisine of Umbria uses regional and seasonal ingredients to produce its simple, traditional dishes. Its rich soil, extensive farms, lakes and woodlands provide a plentiful larder of splendid ingredients for its tasty, robust dishes. I have been pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality of the food and wine of the region, although I am sure I have a lot to learn over the next few months.

Cured meats or salami are a speciality, with wild boar, pig and donkey being popular. But are the Palle de Nonno (Grandfather’s Balls) made from authentic ingredients?

Spello salami - artisan shop

Spello salami – artisan shop

Wild Boar

Wild Boar

Vegetables too are in plentiful supply, fresh, huge and delicious.

Shiny red tomatoes

Shiny red tomatoes

Mixed peppers

Mixed peppers

Umbria also produces high quality red and white wines which are respected throughout Italy. It has not been possible in a week to sample a huge selection, but we have sampled a fine white wine – Orvieto Classico Superiore – made from grechetto grapes from the Orvieto region. At just over 4 Euros a bottle, that was good value.

Orvieto Classico Superiore

Orvieto Classico Superiore

The top red sampled so far is Sagrantino di Montefalco. The native sagrantino grape has been recently revived; Sagrantino di Montefalco, which contains only that grape, is fast becoming Umbria’s flagship wine. It has a distinctive flavour, powerful and complex. A bottle of the very best from the famed vintner Arnold Caprai is on the shelf, waiting for that very special occassion.

Sagrantino di Montefalco

Sagrantino di Montefalco

The bottle picture above was savoured with an excellent lunch at the Ristorante Porta Venere, tucked away in a medieval cellar. We ate fresh bread with local olive oil, followed by rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto. 

Ristorante Porta Venere: Rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto.

Ristorante Porta Venere: Rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto.

A few days earlier we had had a completely different – but equally good – dining experience at the Osteria de Dada. A tiny place, stuffed with rowdy locals, no menu or wine list, one chef and one waitress! It could have been a recipe for disaster, but the house wine was great, the roast lamb and pork loin were exquisite, and the singing chef and waitress made for a thoroughly entertaining meal.

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Rise

Easter Sunday dawned with church bells ringing and torrential rain, but nothing was going to dampen our spirits as we set off to town in search of a coffee. Bar Tullia has delicious coffee and pastries and a friendly clientele. The lovely Antonio and Paola were quick to introduce themselves and curious as to why we had chosen Spello for our extended stay. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming; a true community.

Back at the apartment we prepared the typical Umbrian Easter Sunday breakfast.

Traditional Umbrian Easter Sunday Breakfast

Traditional Umbrian Easter Sunday Breakfast

Traditionally, this is eaten at 9 o’clock in the morning, but to be honest we just couldn’t face wine at that hour, so we modified our plan and held out to midday.  The wine is an exquisite Vernaccia, made from half-dried grapes aged in small wooden barrels. Not quite a port; closer to a Madeira perhaps, slightly sweet but rounded and delicious. The wine was accompanied by Torte Pasquinale, savoury bread with pecorino cheese and salume, dried sausage with wild boar and mule. It was delicious.

The big event of the day was “running Jesus through the streets”, when a large statue of Jesus is carried at speed by several strong men, from the church of Santa Maria Maggiore to the Oratorio of Saint John the Baptist. The heavy rain of the morning had by now matured into a raging storm, and it raged on with lightening, thunder and sheet rain threatening to drown out the traditional celebration of the risen Christ. Mio marito declared that he was not, under any circumstances, risking drowning, being struck by lightening or by a heavy statue, but he relented when he saw me swathed in waterproofs and ready to go! So off we went.

Spello - Easter Sunday. The brass band leads the procession.

Spello – Easter Sunday. The brass band leads the procession.

I saw the procession approaching from afar. “There’s Jesus!” I squealed, a little too loudly and a little too enthusiastically, as if I had just spotted Elvis. A lone trumpeter ran towards the procession, clearly late on parade. On they came, until we could clearly see the pain on the faces of the men carrying Jesus.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Jesus returns in triumph to the Oratorio.

Jesus returns in triumph to the Oratorio.

Finally, Jesus was returned to his home in the Oratorio and after a few prayers and votes of thanks, the crowd dispersed. Inevitably the number of people attending was reduced due to the foul weather, but bravo to those brave souls who stayed the course.