Two fascinating Red Wines from Umbria

Italian Wine for july – under $20

Decugnano dei Barbi, “Villa Barbi” Umbria Rosso 2012 (about $18)

The Decugnano dei Barbi winery is located a half-hour drive east of the stunning hill-top town of Orvieto in the Umbria region of central Italy. The winery itself dates back centuries. Records indicate that the winery was producing wines in the 14th and 15th centuries, much of it for priests and their Bishop in Orvieto.

However, its modern history begins in the early 1970’s when the property was purchased by wine merchant Claudio Barbi. He attached his family name to that of the town, Decugnano, where they were located and came up with the new name for the winery that appears on their wine labels.

Along with the assistance of his son Enzo, he completely renovated and upgraded the winery and also adopted organic farming principles in managing their vineyards. They brought their first wines to market in 1978 and soon generated an appreciative following.

The winery produces a small but diverse range of red, white, sparkling and dessert-style wines, all made from estate-grown grapes. Their wines are held in high regard for their structure, elegance and sense of place. Decugnano dei Barbi’s wines are widely distributed throughout Italy and some find their way to the U.S.

Decugnano’s 2013 “Villa Barbi” is a blended wine made of equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grapes are harvested at different times depending on each variety’s ripening schedule.

2012 Decugnano dei Barbi "Villa Barbi" Umbria RossoThe varietal blend, the fermentation in steel tanks and lack of any wood ageing results in a smooth, polished, medium-weight wine. The elegance and inherent softness of the Merlot acts as a bridge between the earthiness of the Sangiovese and the structure and austerity of the Cabernet Sauvignon. There are no rough edges here, just an abundance of ripe dark fruit flavors with a spicy edge, smooth tannins and a sleek finish.

This wine is made to accompany food and pairs well with a variety of “Italian-style” dishes from pasta with ragu or a Pizza Margherita to most grilled pork, beef and lamb dishes. A classic pairing would involve serving it with a roast pork loin.

italian Wine for july – over $20

Tenuta Castelbuono, Montefalco Sagrantino 2007 (about $36)

The Lunelli family purchased the Tenuta Castelbuono property in 2001. The Lunellis are well known in Italian wine circles for the premium Ferrari metodo classico sparkling wines they produce in northeastern Italy’s Trentino region.

They subsequently purchased additonal vineyard property in the area and the Castelbuono estate today includes 75 acres of vineyards in the communes of Bevagna and Montefalco in the Umbria region. This is the traditional home of the Sagrantino grape used to produce the DOCG wine of the same name, a wine famous for its intensity and elegance.

They set about upgrading the quality of the vineyards by planting new vines based on extensive research on specific Sagrantino clones while also improving the quality of some older vines. At the same time they implemented organic farming procedures and all their vineyards today utilize organic methods.

Instead of trying to upgrade the existing outdated winery, they decided to build a completely new winery.  Toward this end they hired sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro and architect Giorgio Pedrotti to design a dramatic new winery. The result is a distinctive winery that is a unique work of art and a world apart from any other winery in the region. It consists of a huge, curved, copper-colored, turtle shell-shaped structure that includes a glass-walled reception area and tasting room and beneath that production and ageing rooms for the wines. It has become a “destination winery” in the best sense of the term due not only to the quality of its wines produced but for the distinctive architecture of the winery itself.

All right, enough about the winery, what about the wine itself?

2007 Castelbuono, Montefalco Sagrantino 2007Castelbuono’s 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino is made entirely of estate-grown Sagrantino grapes. The wine is aged for 12 months in 900 liter oak casks followed by 16 months in still larger oak casks. The large cask ageing regime adds some nuanced character to the wine without adding significant wood tannins to Sagrantino’s naturally high tannic structure. The wine is aged for an additional 10 months in the bottle prior to release.

It is an absolutely stunning wine that delivers the power, passion and opulence of Sagrantino. It’s a full-bodied, uncompromising, bruiser of a wine that will have special appeal to those that like big wines - really big wines.

I had the opportunity to taste this wine a year ago and the tannins were tough as nails. When I last tasted it a few weeks ago the tannins had softened but the wine could still benefit from another year or two ageing.

It opens with aromas of cedar, balsamic and dried spices. This is followed by black cherry, dark berry and clove flavors that combine with dark, brooding waves of cassis and black currants that coat the mouth. It has a firm structure with prominent, mouth-puckering tannins and a full, grippy finish that foretell a long life for this wine. Castelbuono’s 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino has an extravagant richness and depth that is sure to develope more complexity with some additional bottle ageing. This wine will age well for 10 to 15 or more years.

My suggestion is to buy as many bottles of this wine as your wallet will permit, lay them away in your cellar and resist the temptation to drink them for at least a couple of years. But if you’re anxious and have to open one now be sure to aerate the wine by, first, decanting it and then set it aside to let it breath for at least an hour, maybe two, before serving it in a large glass.

This is a wine that begs to be served with food and is at its best when served with equally weighty, special-occasion dishes like game, wild boar, grilled beef or lamb, strong cheeses such as Pecorino or any dish with truffles.

©Richard Marcis
July 1, 2016

To view other wine of the month selections, see Monthly Wine Reviews

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