In Umbria: The Best of Montefalco
by Michèle Shah, CEO of Michèle Shah SRL
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is Umbria’s “blue chip” wine and one of Italy’s most unique indigenous red grape varieties recently to be re-discovered. The wine takes its name from the indigenous grape variety: Sagrantino.
On average Sagrantino is a low-yielding variety (yields under the DOCG regulations do not exceed 80 quintals (100 Kilos) per hectare, and more realistically 50 quintals in order to make a premium wine) with a high sugar content, which when fermented is transformed into an average 14˚-15º alcohol. In a good vintage, this powerful wine which ages some 30 months (12 in oak) before being released on the market has a life potential of up to 20 years and over.
Like many indigenous varieties Sagrantino is a temperamental grape. By nature, this powerful grape is characterized by large pips and a thick skin, the latter being high in phenolic content, which constitutes its tannic, astringent, structure and muscle. Moreover, as a late ripening variety it needs to reach perfect phenolic ripeness for which good vineyard management is essential.
In the passito version it is the contrast of the sweetness with the dry tannins, which makes it quite unique in style and traditionally paired to savoury foods, such as seasoned cheeses, roast lamb and wild boar.
For a small focused area, Sagrantino’s producers are a far-sighted lot where individuality of style and production is important, just as the personality of the wine should tell us something about the producer. Today Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG boasts some 700 ha of vines and about 70 producers. It is a wine of great potential with layers of mystery still to be uncovered.
Known as the “balcony of Umbria” the quaint medieval town of Montefalco perched on a hilltop boasts some of the most magnificent views over the undulating hills, vineyards and olive groves that makes this destination one of most desired in Umbria along with the iconic towns of Assisi, Orvieto and Perugia, where you can enjoy, art, culture, good wine and food in a relaxed setting.
Montefalco is one of the few Italian towns where wine production was practiced even inside the city walls. As you meander through the quaint medieval alleys and courtyards you come across the occasional Sagrantino vine that is planted just by the entrance to someone’s house or on their veranda.
The actual city is surrounded by twelfth century walls and designed so that all roads lead to the beautiful Municipal Square. This is the ‘pulsing’ heart of the town, where you can sit at one of the local trattorias or cafés that surround the square, immerse yourself in the sleepy atmosphere and watch the world go by, of course, with a glass of good wine. From the sleepy winter to the busy summer the town changes, and comes alive with many tourists that flock to enjoy the cooler hilltop breezes and spectacular views, and why not also some culture.
Just off the main square the fifteenth century former Church of St. Francis, now home to the Civic Museum hosts the fresco cycle of the life of St Francis painted by Benozzo Gozzoli. This is one of the “must visits” in Montefalco. The fresco cycle has been restored and is a true masterpiece along with other artistic delights such as Madonna and Child with saints and the descriptive Madonna del Soccorso both carried out by Tiberio d’Assisi.
Whether it be wine, genuine Italian cuisine, undulating landscapes and historic mountain top citadels, Montefalco and its surroundings are a great place visit. Montefalco itself offers a number of different places to stay in and around the territory and a great selection of simple trattorias, to wine bars and restaurants to enjoy the local food, and wine which you can also sample in some of the region’s wineries (best call to book winery visits before going).
WHERE TO STAY
Palazzo Bontadosi Hotel & Spa
The former home of a 15th-century cardinal is now a boutique hotel that opened in 2009 in the central square. It likes to think of itself as an art gallery where each room is individually designed and decorated. The hotel has a nice garden on the back and a relaxing Spa.
Hotel Degli Affreschi
A simple welcoming hotel situated in the heart of Montefalco in a historical building near the main square. Part of the building was the structure of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, the oldest in the city.
Casale Satriano is located inside the Antonelli San Marco winery is mainly self-catering apartments. For those interested it is possible to organize local cooking classes.
Situated just a few miles out of town. This flamboyant, peach-pink 16th-century villa is stylish, friendly and stuffed with antiques, and has a large outdoor pool.
A little jewel just outside Montefalco. A 16th century estate which includes independent apartments and individual rooms. The garden with its terraced areas and swimming pool offers great views and outside dining.
WHERE TO EAT
Palazzo Bontadosi’s restaurant, Aurum
Absolutely worth a visit even if you’re not staying there, especially for locally sourced creative dishes. The service is good and the wine list also very good and of course the location right on the main square is perfect!
One of the most popular restaurants and wine bars situated right on the square of Montefalco. Here you can order anything from a glass of Rosso di Montefalco or Sagrantino with a plate of prosciutto to a full meal. Good food and hearty portions. Good wine list.
Situated in the central street that leads up to the main square, Olevm is a simple trattoria offering local homemade dishes, friendly good service.
Traditional restaurant in the centre of Montefalco with a nice outside patio for al fresco dining. The specialities include mixed grill done outside on charcoal bbq. If you are a meat eater this is definitely the place to go for a good T-bone steak.
Giorgione alla Via di Mezzo
Well known to Italy’s cult Gambero Rosso channel TV food show, this is considered one of Montefalco’s top dining locations, for good authentic cooking based on seasonal products, good wine list and for “Giorgione” entertaining charisma. Must book well in advance.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Peter Heilbron’s new estate is not only worth a visit to taste their wines, but it is a state of the art winery tucked away in the woodlands of Montefalco. Best to book a visit.
Founded in 1884 and once the property of the Prince Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, who built the winery as a complex wine industry, now property of the Pambuffetti family since 1954. It is certainly one of the most historic and intersting wineries to visit.
Certified organic, with biodynamic philosophy, (though not certified) producer Roberto di Filippo is possibly one of the most enchanting and romantic wineries to visit where you can see horses plough the vineyards and geese waddle in between the vines. With prior arrangement you can also enjoy a ride through the vineyards on a horse driven coach, followed by a wine, cheese and ham tasting. Makes for a great experience not to be missed.
One of Montefalco’s founding wineries, family run with a good range of well-made wines, which makes for an excellent visit and tasting. Nice property with home make pork products from a special breed of pigs that live on the estate.
Historic winery that has today been converted to organically certified wines with a parallel line of natural wines. On booking it is possible to organize food and wine matching in the cellars among the old oak barrels or a winemakers’s dinner.
Michèle Shah is a marketing consultant, and a wine critic based in Italy for over 30 years, specialized in promoting Italian wines and food to export markets. Additionally, she is the originator of the innovative B2B formula registered under Speedtasting®. Since 2002 she has been consulting to the Italian wine trade, selecting international wine buyers and organising tasting events and workshops held at Italian trade events, such as Vinitaly Italy’s most important wine trade show; Winett in Venice, Maremmawineshire, Porto Cervo Wine Festival; Grandi Langhe Event, all aimed at presenting Italian wines and their producing regions to international wine importers and buyers.
For over ten years Michèle Shah has been organizing on behalf of Italy’s regional consorzio’s, wine tastings, seminars and educationals on Italian wine and its regions of production for international press and international wine buyers.