Gusto's Umbrian Wine Adventure

Originally in Castiglione Del Lago Newsletter …….

Posted in Italian Wine, Umbrian Life by gustowinetours on October 21, 2011

Phew!  Wot a Scorcher!

(With quiet apologies to the Sun or the Mirror years ago!)

(Wrote this piece near the end of September)

Early harvest for summer 2011

We’re lucky,  we have the best of both worlds.  Where we live looks out over vineyards, our back garden is a small vineyard, but the vines are rented out to a small local cantina up the road – so we have the pleasure of looking at them but not the pain of tending them!

August this year was exceptionally hot and dry leading to the early ripening of the grapes in this area.

The cantina that tends the grapes in our back garden usually harvest early anyway – last year it was the 1st September for both red and white grapes.  This year, mid-August was  their chosen time – REALLY early!

So while we were enjoying the sun, the cantine were worried.  The grapes were ripening far too quickly and sweetening up – even the Sagrantino grapes were ready.

Getting a first taste of the brand new wine! Bottles? Nah! Why bother?!

Grapes are generally harvested at slightly different times – so, for instance, the Chardonnay grapes might be picked at the end of August, whereas the Sagrantino grapes can be harvested as late as October. To show how early the grapes have ripened, the last grapes to be picked of the season are the bunches selected to become the Sagrantino Passito.

One of the methods used,  is the Sagrantino grapes are harvested for the secco (dry wine) then the bunches chosen for the Passito (dessert wine) are left on the vines for a while longer to ripen further.

Then, usually in late October, these bunches are picked and laid in a single layer on wire racks in naturally aired rooms for about 6 weeks to lose some of their juice and concentrate the natural sugars.  They can lose around 70% of their volume and become raisin like. (One of the reasons that Passito is more expensive than the secco wine!)

We have seen at least 2 cantine where this process has already taken place – at least a week ago if not more (mid-September).  That’s unbelievably early to be making the Sagrantino Passito.

Sagrantino grapes drying on the racks - to become Passito one day.

So the question will be, will 2011 be a great vintage or not?  Have the cantine saved the grapes? You’ll have to wait at least 3 years before that question is answered!

What do you think?  Will 2011 be a good year for wine?

Gusto news and views!

Posted in Italian Wine, Umbrian Life by gustowinetours on September 30, 2011

Grapes ready to be taken to the cantina.

Busy, Busy, Busy!!

No apologies for not writing for a while, we have a great excuse!

In only our second year, we are exceeding even our own expectations and we’re wonderfully busy and each day brings us new friends along with a daily reason to show off Umbria and a little of what she has to offer.

After a weather blip in July this summer has proven to be a long, hot and dry one.  Umbria has, for once, not lived up to her nickname of “The green heart of Italy”.  She is distinctly brown this summer!

Mind you, a little rain goes a long way here – a thunderstorm a few days ago almost instantly greened up the lawn again and the rather wizened looking olives plumped right up again!

The weather is still sensational even at the end of September, cooler in the evenings, but even so, the days are beautifully warm and sunny.

We have been honing our Gusto day out over this season and it’s getting better and better according to the feedback we get from our guests!

We’re in the process of adding another string to our bow and we shall be rolling out ‘Wines in Villa’ soon.  One of the things we have noticed this year is that larger groups tend to be a mix of adults and children.  We have found that the children are there because the parents don’t have any other option. They don’t have the best time!  It’s an adult day out and with the best will in the world, there’s only so much we can organise to entertain the kids on a wine tour.

We’ve also had some enquiries where they only want a short day, with or without children!

Others have visited countless cantine and would just like to taste the Umbrian wines.

So, we figured, lets bring the tastings to the guests.

For some of our guests, we think this could be the perfect answer.  We bring the wines and the snacks that complement the wines – our guests provide the setting.

It also means that potentially, we can include a bigger catchment area – at the moment if we have enquiries from the extremes of Umbria, we have to ask our guests to meet us closer to Montefalco.  If we are only going to one place, we can ‘afford’ the time it takes to drive there and back.   You can see the idea on our website.

We’re also going to offer a seasonal treat of a guided olive oil tasting.  This area not only has fabulous wines, but the olive oil is spectacular too!  We are hoping to link this autumn alternative to the new olive oils coming out at the end of October.  There will be a very small additional fee for this option of €5.00. We’ll be offering this up to the end of this year initially and will look into offering it as an alternative to one of the cantine during the day if there is enough positive feedback.

Vendemmia at the back of our house..

It’s been all hands to the wheel much earlier this year because of the hot dry weather resulting in the vendemmia starting at least 2 weeks early for even the earliest grapes to be harvested like the Chardonnay.

2011 is going to be a ‘big question’ mark vintage year, the winemakers just don’t know if they have managed to save their grapes or not.  Time will tell and we’ll see in about 3 years from now for the Montefalco wines!

The vines at the back of our house were all harvested in the 3rd week of August, including the Sangiovese (red) grapes.  They were ready and ripe.  Some of the cantine even have their Sagrantino grapes on the racks for the gorgeous Passito dessert wine.  These grapes traditionally don’t ripen until mid October.  This is exceptionally early for this procedure.

Last September we were honoured to have a young man ask his lovely girlfriend to be his wife and, luckily, she said yes!  Tomorrow, on the 1st October, they will be getting married. We wish Mark and Jessie all the very best and thanks again for their kind invitation to their wedding!

We’re hoping that there will still be grapes to be seen on the vines next week, as our guests have all requested to at least see, if not participate in some way, with the vendemmia!  Fingers crossed, we love to exceed expectations!

LOVE me some grapes!

(Originally published in Castiglione del Lago’s newsletter) Snapshot of Sagrantino.

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on September 29, 2011

We have the perfect job!  We love wine and we do wine tours concentrating mostly on the Montefalco area of Umbria.

Why Montefalco?  Well, we think the wines produced in this small area of Umbria are nothing short of spectacular – and they’re right on our doorstep!

The king of the wines here is the huge Sagrantino di Montefalco, a grape unique to this small area of Umbria.  It’s a wild and unruly grape that needs to be tamed by locking it away for at least 30 months in a combination of stainless steel tanks, oak barrels(for a minimum of 12 months) and ageing in the bottle.  You’d think that every Sagrantino from every cantina would taste the same, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Different altitudes, exposure, soils and production methods make this a truly interesting wine to sample.

Sagrantino in the vines


Posted in Italian Wine, Umbrian Life by gustowinetours on June 1, 2011

Our house surrounded by the special spring green.



 They really don’t call Umbria the Green Heart of Italy for nothing, you know!

Right now it’s really living up to its name with the blossoming of that almost fluorescent-lime spring green.  The vines are suddenly looking like they are badly in need of a haircut with tendrils sticking out every which way!

In need of some taming!

It’s an exciting time to be observing the vines right now with the embryonic grape bunches peeking out from the oversized vine leaves.

Neo-grape bunches!

BIG vine leaves!

More neo bunches of grapes!

Then Mother Nature makes sure there is a splash of colour against this sea of green as far as the eye can see, she dots and swirls and bunches the bright red poppies randomly throughout the countryside -you can be out walking and turn a corner to see a field full of poppies almost obliterating the green – it fair takes your breath away!

Gorgeous Poppies in the Umbrian fields.

This has to be my favourite time of year, not too hot yet, the mosquitoes are scarce and the countryside is burgeoning with fresh promise!  Oh, and there are lots of fabulous local festivals to go to – that might be something to do with loving this time of year too!

One of the many fab Cantine that participated in Cantine Aperte (Open Wineries).

Gusto’s take on – The Last Sunday of May – Cantine Aperte.

Posted in Uncategorized by gustowinetours on May 22, 2011

We originally thought when we first started Gusto Wine Tours that this would be the busiest day of the year – Cantine Aperte (Open Wineries).  We were also under the impression that only Umbria did this open day.

We were wrong on both counts.  The world and his wife descend on the cantine on this day making it nigh on impossible to contemplate organising an intimate personal wine tour!  We now know, of course that this special day is for every region of Italy – a chance for the public to visit the cantine of their region, or even pop across the borders and try something different!

I’d say that 95% of the public that visit the cantine are locals interspersed with very lucky, and, usually, slightly bemused tourists who probably more by luck than judgement find themselves in the right place at the right time!

If you want a true taste of the local life here, you don’t get a better chance than to visit one or more of the cantine on the last Sunday of May each year (29th this year).

Each participating cantina opens their doors at around 10am on the Sunday morning and most of them work hard to create a festival feel to the day.  Some will have live music, all will have wine tasting and each cantina will offer something a little different in the way of food.

Here’s what you do:

Designate a driver (!)

Choose your first cantina.

Drive to the cantina and find somewhere to park – the earlier it is, the easier it is to find parking!

Before you start trying the wines you will need a glass!

There will be a little booth somewhere close by and you buy a souvenir glass with a hands-free pouch that you can hang around your neck with the glass in it, leaving you free to reach out for any food going!

You only have to buy one glass and pouch for the day, no matter how many cantine you clock up!

These are yours to keep for as long as you don’t break them! (We have an embarrassing amount of them at home!)

Each cantina has slightly different ‘rules’ but in general, the table wine will be freely available and you can help yourself to these – both rosso and bianco.

Some cantine will have a ticket system where you will pay for a batch of tickets that correspond with a tasting of their more expensive wines.  Some places don’t charge, some do.

The food is varied and always good!  Probably not the BEST day for vegetarians with the Umbrian speciality Porchetta in crisp rolls and the incomparable sausages on the grill, or if you go to Dionigi, close to the little village of Cantalupo – you will find, among all the above, roasted snails – a local speciality.

Some cantine offer walks through their vines, with little stops on the way to refresh yourselves with a little wine and grub!

Most places will have musical entertainment anything from a live hoedown to jazz in the garden!

This is an Italy-wide party for the whole family!

Some people organise minibuses for themselves & friends so there will be no problem with drinking and driving.

Three of our favourite places for Cantine Aperte –

Di Filippo, Cannara – From the live entertainment to the generous tastings of all their wines, from the walks through the vines to the fact that just about everyone can find a place to park … And then there’s the Porchetta…!

Dionigi, Nr Cantalupo, Bevagna – Music in the garden, great food, amazing wines and the table wines served in little barrels – the unbelievable views across the valley to Assisi and Mount Subasio.

Not so easy to park, but we found a spot ..big enough for our friends large motor-home – so not impossible!

Perticaia, Casale nr Montefalco – Has to be the best food spread around, Guido the owner is in there serving up local delicacies like farro soup, local cheese, frittata, risotto … really delicious and, of course the wines are excellent too.

This year, we are going to try and visit some new ones (for us).

We’d like to visit Terre Margaritelli in the Torgiano area.  We’ve been meaning to go there for a long time and next Sunday will hopefully be a good opportunity to do just that!

Then, I think we’ll head back to our local area around Montefalco and visit our closest cantina – Fratelli Tocchi.

After that it’ll be off to kill two birds with one stone and we’ll check out Antonelli and their famed jazz in the garden and then walk next door to Fongoli, in our opinion, the prettiest cantina we’ve ever seen!

Most of the cantine will be open until around 7pm, plenty of time to try the wines of this area and have a wonderful, fun-filled day – and with any luck, the sun will keep shining on us!

Just a note, we’ve been visiting Cantine Aperte for a few years now and every year some things change – so what we experienced in past years may not be the case this year!

Trial by fire!

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on March 25, 2011

So, I am now lucky enough to have a MacBook in my life!  All of you Mac-ers out there know what I’m talking about.

With this new love of my life, I am having a major learning curve – namely creating the new or rather updated website for Gusto.  It was time I took responsibility for my own actions!

I wanted to create something that you would actually feel like reading rather than hastily skim through or leave after the first page!  I hope I am on my way to that level.

It’s in its first stages right now, ‘Mark I’, if you like.  As I learn to navigate through the various ‘road-blocks’ it will improve!

So, please,  take a look at the site – I particularly like the Pics and Vids page – if you’ve been on a tour with us, you may well be featured in one of the slide shows.  Let me know if you see yourself!

As the new season starts we are looking forward to a wonderful year and we really hope to be able to meet you.

New Website

Posted in Uncategorized by gustowinetours on March 14, 2011

Our new improved and updated website is almost ready to be launched …..

I hope you all like it!

Still keeping the Montefalco flame alive!

Posted in Uncategorized by gustowinetours on January 10, 2011

Here we are in not so sunny Falmouth, Cornwall – actually, it’s chucking it down with rain and blowing a hooley, if truth be told.
We’ve been here for the festive season … and somewhat beyond. Due to rather major car problems we are eeking out our Montefalco wine supplies to last us for the next couple of weeks until we can finally go home to Umbria and re-stock!
I’m eying up a very, very special bottle of Colleallodole at this very moment – a stunning example of a Montefalco Sagrantino, an old vine variety from Antano.
Gotta keep the levels topped up!
Happy New Year everyone!

My favourite time of year….

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on October 28, 2010

When you’ve watched the vines bud, flourish, produce bunches of grapes, see the grapes being picked …. I wait with impatient anticipation for the autumn colours to unfold.

…Especially the Sagrantino leaves.  When you look across the gently rolling hills with the rows and rows of vines, you can spot the Sagrantino instantly!

The vines of Cantina Rocca di Fabbri

Can you guess which patch is the Sagrantino?  Yep!  That’s it, that gorgeous russet red!  Beautiful, especially on a gift of a sunny day like today!

Olive trees dominate the countryside at this time of year!

Now isn’t it just the nicest thing that the Italians could do – just for me – Not only do they have an annual public holiday for my birthday, but they arrange for my favourite festival of the year to be held on my birthday too!  I mean, how generous of them!

I’m talking about the new olive oil celebrations, of course!  One of the best places to try a variety of different olive oils – and, yes, they are widely different, is Trevi. In the big villa (follow the smell)  You will find a dozen or so little stalls with this most fabulous liquid! It’ll be a pretty lurid green when it comes out, but, OH! The taste explosion!!  If you get the chance,  this is the time to have olive oil!  And, call me biased, but I know that Umbrian Olive Oil is the best you can get, anywhere, bar none!

Supposedly the oldest olive tree in Umbria.......

Olio Nuovo

Posted in Umbrian Life by gustowinetours on October 28, 2010

Yes, yes, yes, I know that it’s not WINE, but this region has the most SPECTACULAR olive oil, and this weekend (30,31 Oct, 1 Nov) the frantoii (Olive oil mills) are open to the public to show off their fabulous wares – usually coupled with hot bruschette grilled on a massive BBQ over charcoal with a few juicy sausages and, last year, I tried olive oil icecream – topped with some green olives, and believe me – it was delicious!! Can’t wait!