Posted by: tomciocco | June 9, 2013

MONTEFALCO ROSSO: UMBRIA’S FLEX AT TUSCANY

Though Umbria has lots of things that are all its own – unique strains of black truffles, exemplary salamis and sausages, an incomparable sweet, green landscape, and St. Francis of Assisi to name just a few, but fair or not, Umbria always seems to be seen as Tuscany’s little brother. Umbria has Perugia, but Tuscany has Florence, Tuscany has a long, beautiful sea coast, but Umbria has just Lago di Trasimeno, a medium-sized lake, albeit a beautiful one.

And so it is with wine. Tuscany boasts world-famous names like Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, all of whose principal or sole grape variety is Tuscany’s signature vine, Sangiovese.  But not surprisingly, Umbria grows lots of Sangiovese too, but far fewer wine drinkers seem to know this, or have access to this beautiful region’s wines.

But then there’s Umbria’s small revenge, and it goes by the name of Montefalco. Montefalco is the name of beautiful hill town in the southern half of Umbria that is home to a noble and unique grape variety called Sagrantino that grows nowhere else in the world. As the name suggests, this variety was long used to make sweetish church (think “sacred”) wine, but experiments to vinify it dry that began in the 1960s went so well that by the mid-198os, Umbria had all for itself, a deep, powerful, complex and very long-lived  wine that even Tuscany couldn’t take from them.

The D.O.C.G.of Sagrantino di Montefalco must be composed of no less than 100% of said grape, but its more affable, D.O.C.-classified vineyard-mate Montefalco Rosso is Umbria’s answer to the celebrated Tuscan appellations named above because its composition is relatively similar: 60%-70% Sangiovese, 10%-15% Sagrantino, with remainder typically made up of Montepulciano and/or Merlot (this particular one omits the Merlot). And because of this area’s denser soils,  usually warmer temperatures, and the substantially different grape varieties supporting the Sangiovese, Montefalco Rosso offers Umbria a unique push-back against the  weight of its renowned oenological juggernaut of a neighbor. And it’s one hell of a push too…

I matched this strapping red with a first course of orecchiette pasta with tomatoes, red pepper flakes, black-eyed peas, oregano and bay, followed by a main course of thick-cut, bone-in pork chops browned and then braised in Marsala with onions, black olives, sage and rosemary, with a side of black kale (a.k.a. lacinto) sauteed in really good olive oil and lots of garlic.

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Napolini Montefalco Rosso 2009 

Slightly cloudy, brownish medium garnet color. Earthy nose of black cherry and prune fruit aromas with powerful notes of coal smoke, vanilla bean, sandalwood, juniper berries, toasted brown spices, and violet-scented powder. The full body is muscular and rustic with tall, stiff, dry tannins, and a sharp, cleansing acidity, with complex and intense flavors of black raspberry, black currants, blueberry, unsweetened coffee, and hazelnut butter. Moderately long very warm finish.

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