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).

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.

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.......

(Umbrian)Wine, (Umbrian)Wine and more (Umbrian)Wine Please!

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on September 6, 2010

Whoever said that moving was one of the most stressful things you can do in your life was so right!

Anyone else who has been through the same thing recently will forgive me instantly for not writing for months!

Even writing this has taken something like 2 weeks because I’m trying to catch up with 101 other things now that we have internet in the house – finally!

Ok, moan over – probably!  Lets talk about wine – I think we need to introduce everyone to the delights of Cantina Tabarrini – I’ve probably mentioned them before, but they are, to our mind and taste, one of the best, most innovative,  local producers Umbria, or even Italy, has to offer.

Some of the Tabarrini vines

The wine-maker is the owner – Giampaolo, he, together with his lovely wife Federica form a terrific team.  A lot of the cantine tend to stick with tradition and, don’t get me wrong,  make fabulous wine -however,  Giampaolo breaks with tradition and innovates, with amazing results.

Think of any wine related question or idea and Giampaolo has thought of it years before and either discounted it or incorporated it in his wine-making!

He is one of the few wine makers here in Umbria who make a Rosè – Boca di Rosa – from 100% Sagrantino grapes, with spectacular results.  The other day Mark hosted a visit to Tabarrini with Jody Ness from Wine Portfolio – a  TV programme that goes out world-wide on World CNBC.  Jody is a sommelier and a restaurateur and he found it difficult to categorise this wine – it’s  powerful ; on the bottle the strength is put at 15% but really it’s 16.2 %!   The surprise is that it’s dry and fruity, looks like a Rosè, has a bouquet of a white,  yet tastes like a red.

The aftermath of a tasting at Tabarrini!

Jody said that as a restaurateur he habitually tries to pair the wines he tastes with a dish – with this Rosè he couldn’t, because it would go with anything!  Fish, cheeses, meats or even dessert.  A wine that could take you through a whole meal.

Tabbarini also make Sagrantino, well, actually they make THREE – make that FOUR if you include the dessert wine – Sagrantino Passito –   I’ll pass to Mark to fill in the info on these!

Boxed and ready to go!

Colle Grimaldesco – The so called entry level Sagrantino – still enough to make you grin when you’re handed a glass tho and only released after four years of being refined in French barriques and in the bottle!

Campo alla Cerqua –  The most approachable of the trio, produced from a single vineyard with lighter, looser soil than the others, this has great balance and well controlled tannins as this wine is aged only in large French oak barrels for four years. It has a very limited production of less than 2000 bottles a year.

Colle alle Macchie –   – This is the big boy – not one for the faint-hearted, with a spectacular bouquet and endless finish.  25 -30 months in French Oak.  Then around 3 years refinement in the bottle. You won’t see this one until a minimum of 6 years after harvest!

Colle Grimaldesco Passito – Love this! Smooth and totally moreish! I take a great deal of pleasure from seeing the grapes drying on the special racks in lofts exposed to the elements to allow fresh air to circulate around the grapes for a natural desiccating process.  90 days of this, and you don’t have much juice left, but what is there is the nectar of the gods!

Plus, and I’m sure Giampaolo won’t mind me blowing his trumpet – Robert Parker has reviewed Tabarrini’s Sagrantino family and they all got over 90 points  – Campo alla Cerqua & Colle alle Macchie were both awarded 93 points!  Way to go Giampaolo!

The star of the show - Giampaolo Tabarrini!

The Big Wine Adventure….. Continued…

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on May 17, 2010

Spring vines

WINE has been with us for thousands of years, and, fortunately, shows no signs of going away soon.

But the way we drink and see wine has changed quite dramatically.

A few hundred years ago, it wasn’t unusual for an English breakfast to consist of a lot of roast meat, washed down with a flagon of beer or a bottle or two of wine, imported from France or Portugal, depending on political relations (i.e., who we weren’t killing at the time) and the fashion at court.

Yes, it does mean we were probably alcoholics, but it was also because at that time, drinking the water could make you very ill indeed, or kill you. Dead.

Breakfast time in Medieval Britain!

Italian wine had a terrible reputation in England in the seventies because the growers , quite rightly, thought we would buy just about anything they produced. Accordingly, they planted vines close together, made wine from every bunch available, and thanked God for their climate and soil.

But, as package holidays introduced the Brits to all the GOOD wines available in Europe, it created a market for these wines inside the UK. Cheap, mass-produced plonk was no longer good enough, the bottom fell out of the market and the European Wine Lake was born!

It took a lot of persuading for the wine-growers in Italy, especially the south, to accept that pulling up half their vines would actually result in a net profit.  It has finally become common knowledge, and the world is now starting to appreciate the huge variety of good quality, local Italian wines that are now readily available in supermarkets and independent wine-sellers in the UK.  A raft of legislation and more competition than ever before have concentrated the Italian wine-makers’ minds like never before and the results are joyous.

Such variety!

Many of the cantinas in the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG area of Umbria used to sell all their grapes on to bigger producers or to a co-operative. Marco Caprai changed all that. New wine-making techniques, barrel-ageing to control otherwise overpowering tannins, and savvy world-wide marketing of this difficult-to-tame grape bucked the trend and so a lot of the Sagrantino producers have relatively new cantinas, even though they’ve been growing grapes for generations, and are finally bottling and marketing their own wine. A powerful respect for the land and local traditions, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques now combine to produce a range of wines that I think can compete with any wine in the world.

Sagrantino Secco pioneers.

The land here is great for vines- high enough to be cooler at night than at day; hot summers and frigid winters; pebbly soil on slopes which provide good drainage. These factors play a huge role in balancing a wine’s acidity, sweetness, fruitiness and tannins.

In wine-producing countries, wine consumption has dropped considerably in the last few decades, as clean drinking water,  working, driving and economical considerations all combine to change drinking habits.

Yet, for the reasons stated above, (cheap travel etc) wine consumption in the English-speaking world has risen by 500% in the last 40 years!

Three cheers for the Brits, Yanks and Aussies!


Valle di Assisi – A dinner in elegant surroundings.

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on May 9, 2010

A different way of doing business….

Sometimes we are struck by the little differences we see living here in Italy as opposed to when we lived in England.

The barter system is very much alive and living in rural Umbria.  The longer we live here, the more we see of this very sensible exchange.

Nothing is perfect – as with all systems – the Italians seem to believe that all exchanges should result in a swap of goods, usually with the giver getting even more from the givee!  Unfortunately this seems to run to when actual gifts are given – for birthdays for instance – give a little token gift for someone’s birthday and be prepared to be given a  gift right back at you!  Same for celebrating the birth of a friend’s baby… We took a little gift to some friends for the birth of their first baby and left a couple of hours later, full of cake, ice-cream and with a fine bottle of Sagrantino!

Many times we’ve been guilty of sneaking up to our friends front doors and leaving gifts for them on the door-step – just so that we can give without being given to!

However, when the barter system is used for a bit of work – that’s a different matter!

Happy Birthday Mark!

Mark did some translation work for the descriptions of the wines of Valle di Assisi a while back and decided that a meal for two in their elegant looking restaurant – Recanto – would be a perfect payment for the work.

So, finally, last night we got dressed up and headed to Valle di Assisi on the road between Santa Maria degli Angeli and Tordandrea.

The hotel is new and very well appointed with a mixture of modern and antique with, we couldn’t help noticing, gorgeous Persian rugs scattered almost carelessly around the foyer!  When we asked at reception where the restaurant was, we were guided back outside again and given a map!  The restaurant was not even visible from the hotel!  So, fairly large grounds then, we thought!

Luckily for us, as we approached the car again to drive to the restaurant, a man came up to us and asked if we were going to the restaurant and if so, could he hitch a ride with us – sure, do you know the way, we ask – Of course, he says, I’m the owner!  So Giampiero Bianconi hopped into our little English Peugeot 306 and guided us to the right place! Mark had been dealing with Giampiero’s daughter, Susanna, regarding the wine descriptions.  We hoped we’d see her at the restaurant but according to her dad, she’d had a very long day and was at home!  Ah well, perhaps she’ll read this!

The experience.

We sat so that we could check the room out while eating!  The young waitress bought us some delicious Prosecco to drink with some bruschetta and some onion covered pizza bread while we looked at the menu.  As we don’t really like the ‘fizzy’ stuff, we surprised ourselves by enjoying this Prosecco!

Un brindisi con Prosecco e bruschetta


The wine –

We chose their very good Recanto (same name as the restaurant) a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet.  Big without being over-powering, very smooth and perfect for the dinner we chose.

2007 Recanto - Rosso del Umbria.

Gli antipasti

Finally, we made our decisions and Mark started with a  bowl of creamy scrambled eggs topped with shavings of Norcia black truffles.  I chose stuffed radicchio rolls with lardo di Norcia and Taleggio cheese inside. Both delicious!

Uova strapazzata con tartufo di Norcia

Involtini di radicchio con lardo di Norcia e taleggio

Next the primi –

We had to get my little mobile Ita-Eng dictionary out for Mark’s dish, we’d asked the waitress what it was and she said it was a type of meat – yes, but what type? we ask …. Um, I can’t explain she replies!  Turns out it’s young deer – yes, Mark ate Bambi!  I was a tiny bit disappointed in my choice – Cappaletti filled with ‘meat’ with a Norcia truffle sauce.  They were a bit dry and rather too al dente for my taste.  But the sauce was very good indeed!

Pasta con Daino (Yes, bambi to you and me!)

Cappaletti ripieno di carne con salsa tartufo di Norci

Then onto the secondi –

Mark – always a sucker for lamb, chose the lamb cutlets with a pistachio crust with a side of sliced roasted potatoes.  My choice was ‘off menu’, one of the specials of the day, a braised beef steak topped with crispy artichokes and served with oven cooked potatoes.  Beautifully pink in the centre, so perfectly cooked for me!  The wine went very well with this course.

Agnello incrostato con pistacchi

Bistecca di manzo brasato con carciofi croccante e patate al forno

An aside..

Giampiero and his wife Liliana were having their dinner at the table next to ours and he offered us a taste of the 2007 Grechetto they were both drinking.  Again, their own production.  Not pure Grechetto, but a little note of Viognier grape as Giampiero decided that this blend worked well together.  Very citrus led, a bit too sharp for our personal taste, but a good summer wine.

The Wine Ceremony!

'07 Valle di Assisi Recanto

And finally – i dolci

It was a close run thing with our competitive streak as far as what we order goes… Mark’s hot chocolate and almond souffle with a side of physilis fruit and chantilly cream ALMOST beat my home-made creme brulèe with grilled caramelised strawberry, kiwi and banana – but I think I pipped him at the post!

Soufflè di cioccolato e mandorle, crema 'chantilly' e frutta di physilis

Creme Brulèe con frutta caramelizzata - TOO good!

All in all a lovely meal.  It just missed being superb – it wasn’t busy but the waitress was struggling to keep up with 3 tables.  My pasta was too al dente, Mark’s lamb was the tiniest bit overdone – not pink at any rate.  We’d ordered greens to go with the mains, they didn’t turn up  (We decided not to say anything because we knew we would be too full if they did arrive!)  On the bigger plus side, the setting is lovely, the staff very attentive, the wines were good, and my main course was a different combination that worked very well.  And the owners are delightful!

I have to put a p.s on this blog (and it goes for all the others) Why doesn’t the actual blog look like the draft?  Why can’t you just have it EXACTLY how you want it??  Answers below please.  So what I’m trying to say is sorry it looks SO messy, but it’s the program, not me!

A wonderful Spring day for a Gusto Wine Tour!

Posted in Italian Wine by gustowinetours on May 1, 2010

A Great Gusto Day Out!

We’d  been waiting for what seems like a life-time for some good weather, the winter seemed to be so long.

We hoped and kept everything crossed…. and it worked!  Right at the end of February we had a gift of a day!

We had a lovely day with Dylan, Carley, Lyn and Bruce and it always makes it so much better when the sun is out.

We started at the lovely Cantina Di Filippo.

Tasting at the lovely Cantina Di Filippo

Then we had a pretty drive through the gorgeous countryside towards Montefalco where we found ourselves at a truly family-run cantina, Colle del Saraceno, with the tasting room in a converted room under the family home.  We were told by Maila, the lady of the house that when the weather is warmer, the tastings are held outside in the garden and under the olive trees.  Looking forward to that with the summer guests!

Carley & Dylan tasting the Cantina Colle del Saraceno's own olive oil

After trying their lovely fresh olive oil and then their small but perfectly formed selection of wines including their magnificent Sagrantino secco we left to head for lunch at an agriturismo tucked away in the Umbrian hills.

A Sumptuous Umbrian lunch at Il Rotolone

After the relaxing lunch we drove out once more into the countryside and headed for the delightful Cantina Fongoli. We think this is one of the prettiest Cantine anywhere, full of character and, of course, they have very, very good wines!

Tasting the delicious wines at Cantina Fongoli

The converted bath-tub seat/bed!

The owners’ little one was tired, so he was put on the improvised seating – an old bath-tub!  So cute!

Fongoli Barrel rooms.

The barrel room at Fongoli is a very traditional affair!

... and the tasting room wasn't bad either!

The tasting room was full of old farming and wine making equipment, fascinating to look at – and very photogenic.

It was truly a great day out and I think the quotes of the day came from Carley & Dylan who, while looking around Colle del Sareceno said “This is the best day EVER!” (Carley) and “This is why we’re in Italy, right here, right now!” (Dylan)

Yep!  That about sums it up!