Tag Archives: Sagrantino di Montefalco

My Kind of Town

In a previous post (Red Red Wine) I wrote about the Sagrantino di Montefalco wine and the erstwhile pleasure of our visit to the Arnaldo Caprai winery set in the verdant Umbrian countryside. At the centre of the Sagrantino wine region sits the small town of Montefalco, perched high on a hill and enclosed within medieval walls.

Porta Sant'Agostino, Montefalco

Porta Sant’Agostino, Montefalco

The walls are pierced by 5 gates, and from each gate a narrow road winds upwards to the main square, Piazza del Comune, at the summit of the town. The Piazza is almost perfectly circular, and around its perimeter stand a number of grand buildings. The Palazzo Comunale dates from the 13th to 14th centuries, although it was restored in the 19th century. It is an imposing building with beautiful, crisp brickwork.

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Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Palazzo Comunale

Tall, thin and elegant, the former church of San Filippo Neri, built in the 18th century, is now a theatre.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Former church of San Filipo Neri, now a theatre

The tiny Oratorio di Santa Maria was used to hold public meetings during the Renaissance. It has some original frescoes and copies of other key paintings held in Montefalco’s museum and churches. Just as well, since the “no photos, even without flash” policy is common.

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Detail from a painting in Montefalco’s museum, reproduced in the Oratorio di Santa Maria.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Oratorio di Santa Maria

Leaving the square, we visited the church of Saint Francis and the attached monastery which now form part of a small museum which is renowned throughout the region. The museum houses a number of interesting paintings, largely by Umbrian artists including Francesco Melanzio from Montefalco. There are also some artefacts – ceramics, wooden statues, glass from Murano for example – and the ancient cellars of the Friars Minor of Montefalco, containing an enormous wine press!

The highlight of the museum is the former church itself. Built as a Franciscan church in the early 14th century, it houses a cycle of frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. In terms of their subject matter, these frescoes are considered second only to those in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. Gozzoli, a pupil of Fra Angelico, is best known for his wonderful frescoes in the Medici Palace in Florence. So, important art for a small town. The detail below shows Saint Francis giving his sermon to the birds.

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There is also a Nativity fresco by Perugino as well as various paintings by Umbrian artists of the 15th century. It was well worth a visit.

Continuing down the street, we reached a lovely piazza with extensive views across the Umbrian valley, vineyards, olive groves and mountains. You can appreciate why Montefalco is known as the “Balcony of Umbria”.

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The photo below shows Spello in the distance, perched on the lower slopes of the mountain.

Montefalco. View from Montefalco showing Spello

This photo shows Spello and Monte Subasio, the mountain we drove over (!!! See earlier post Stairway to Heaven) to Assisi which is just out of shot to the left of the picture. 

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And here is Assisi….

Montefalco. View from Montefalco, showing Assisi

You could still see snow on the highest peaks.

Montefalco. View from Montefalco showing snow-topped mountains

Everywhere you turned in Montefalco could have been a scene from the film “A Room with a View.”

Montefalco.

Montefalco.

Montefalco.

Everywhere you looked there was something of beauty, like this detail of a painting on one of the old buildings.

Montefalco. Detail of wall painting

And a more modern poster advertising an exhibition.

Montefalco. Via Ringhiera. Poster

After all of that culture and fresh air, there was nothing else for it but to head for lunch in the main square. L’Alchimista had come highly recommended, and its tables were filling up fast.

Montefalco. Lunch at L'Alchimista

We started with zucchini flowers, stuffed with ricotta cheese. Not only did this look divine, it tasted heavenly too. It was, without doubt, the best dish I have eaten during our entire stay – and that is saying something!

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I followed up with carpaccio of veal with goat’s cheese and truffle….

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….whilst mio marito settled on tortellini stuffed with porcetta and truffle with fresh peas and broad beans….

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….all washed down – inevitably – with a glass of Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Montefalco. Lunch at L'Alchimista

It was the most perfect lunch: local produce, zinging with flavours, beautifully prepared and presented.

Just as we left, the local Harley Davidson Hills (as in hill towns) Angels arrived, the distinctive throaty thrum of their engines preceding them by a short handlebar.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. L'Alchemista Restaurant

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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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