The Founding Women of Italian Wine: Lungarotti Umbria Italy

I recently had the honor of touring Chiara Lungarotti and her wines around town. She presides as CEO of  Lungarotti.  The winery sits southwest of Perugia, not far from Assisi in Torgiana’s hills.  They also have property in Montefalco. The wine world had long ignored Umbria, Italy’s green heart, isolated in the Apennine hills.

Her father, Giorgio. modernized the winery and fought to get Umbria’s wine regions appellated into Italy’s DOC and DOCG system. Not to be outdone, his Art Historian wife, Maria Grazia, founded a Wine Museum and Olive and Oil Museum.  When he died in 1999, daughters Chiara and Teresa took over.

Teresa (right) has enology degrees from Perugia and Bordeaux, while Chiara (left) studied viticulture.  Teresa became one of Italy’s first head female winemakers. While, Chiara now reins as CEO: adding a grape and olive-based spa, hotel, while also pushing the winery to Organic farming in 2010.  Imagine yourself getting a grape pip massage or wine bath, while sipping some Umbrian magic.

My afternoon with Chiara was delightful. She had a calm charm with each account we went to. My normal cement-pounding sales pace got to breath for once.  Her passion for making the winery self-sufficient: from dry-farming, vine cutting fuel, water reuse, et cetera infected us.  She also delighted in hearing about my past life in archaeology (her Latin shamed mine) and my diaper-filled parenting of Alexandria.

Speaking of diapers. By the end of our day my wife and I traded places. She went to town for a beer conference. I armed myself with bottles for the baby (and myself).

lungarotti-umbria-wine

First, their white:

Lungarotti, Torre di Giano, Bianco di Torregiano DOC 2015 $15

Named after the ancient tower of Janus synonymous with the town and DOC, Torre de Giano blends Vermentino, Trebbiano, and Grechetto . It looks a clear, straw with grassy highlights. Pleasant AROMAS combine bright citric rind and mellow mellon. The PALATE feels soft and round at first, medium bodied, but firms up with just enough acidity to keep it upright and glinting.  FLAVORS taste amply but unassumingly of lemon, white pear, and honey that turn to a light medium length,saline finish.

Lungarotti’s Bianco is very good (4 of 5) because it is balanced, mildly interesting, not shouty, and makes for a warm evening on the veranda.

Next, Lungarotti’s daily red: Rubesco, Rosso di Torgiano DOC 2013 $16

Like its Tuscan neighbors, Rubesco mixes 90% Sangiovese with 10% Colorino.  The APPEARANCE looked a limpid, glinting ruby. Delicate AROMAS of fresh red cherry, violet, and a light black pepper and nutmeg matched FLAVORS that finished slightly stoney.  The PALATE felt just serious enough -dry, mildly tannic, bright, and medium bodied- to take on light dishes, mild cheeses, veggie pastas, or drink alone.

Rubesco is very good red (4 of 5) when used in the right context. Drink now through 2020. It will disappear against big meats, spice, and heavy sauces but sings as well as any fresh little Chianti.  Just imagine higher toned and mineral thanks to Torgiano’s higher elevation.

Let’s head South to their property in now famed Montefalco. Sand and clay form a film over limestone.

Lungarotti, Montefalco Rosso, DOC 2014 $21

Like Rubesco, Sangiovese leads, but at 60%, backed by a modern 25% Merlot, and the grape that defines Montefalco 15% Sagrantino.

The APPEARANCE looks a deeper ruby core with and iron rust rim. AROMAS and FLAVORS are complex and more concentrated here. Spices akin to nutmeg and cinnamon lead into dry, toasted wood balanced by red raspberry, cherry, and dried plum. The PALATE is dry, with singing acidity, silty tannins, a fuller medium body and dusty yet smooth texture.

Their Montefalco Rosso is more fulsome and deeper than Rubesco but not huge in any sense.  It is very good (4 of 5).  Drink now through 2027. Richer mushroom and meat dishes and hard cheeses play well with it.

Lastly, Sagrantino: a native grape famed for having the most polyphenols of any (aka antioxidants, ciao cancer).

Lungarotti, Montefalco Sagrantino, DOCG 2010 $40

2010 was the first vintage Chiara converted to Organic farming.  Since this is for the ladies, let us let Alexandria to judge the APPEARANCE:

lungarotti-baby-wine

Hmmm…a clear, medium plus intese ruby core fringed with a medium intense garnet rim.

Good girl!

AROMAS and FLAVORS punch strongly and open like a book: think pomegranate concentrate, dried black cherries and oodles of spice and earth: nutmeg, dried orange zest, tobacco, and pepper. The PALATE is dry, with still high-toned but mellowing acidity, tannins feel fat and huge, clinging to every recess in the mouth. the body is medium plus and texture like thick velvet.

Lungarotti’s Montefalco Sagrantino 2010 is gorgeous, gripping, complex, and intense. They aged it long enough, so drink it now or through 2025. It is outstanding (5 of 5). But keep food nearby.  I lucked out and had fresh pasta swimming in peppery wild boar that lunch. This wine begs for meat, strong aged cheeses, or mushroom dishes.

So, Lungarotti makes it easy to support Italy’s first woman-run winery. Their bianco and rossos taste solid and real: familiar to lovers of Chianti but uniquely Umbrian. But try their Sagrantino: it will recalibrate everything you knew about wine.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Dom Perignon Brut Rose Champagne 2003

Happy Valentine’s Day romantic ones out there. To welcome my wife home, Champagne is always, any day, any where, the best choice.

I noticed Dom Perignon’s Brut Rosé 2003, like most French wines from 2003, was not meant to last. 2003 killed old and young under its sweltering sun. Grapes, likewise, suffered drought, drying, and peaking alcohols: not a good recipe for aging even vintage Champagne, but great for enjoying today.

dom-perignon-brut-rose-2003

The APPEARANCE: a clear, surprisingly rich, medium intense ruby salmon with gold highlights. It pours frothy light pink and maintains a constant pearl.

AROMAS: medium intense english biscuits, with fresh strawberry jam, plum, butter, orange rind, and savory fennel, dried lavender.

PALATE: feels off dry, softly acidic, medium alcohol, medium bodied, plump and fruit-laden (for Champagne).

FLAVORS: come off more like dried strawberries, with biscuit, and a savory, vegetal, herbaceous, chalky frame hanging all over it. Flavors lasts a long length.

Dom Perignon Brut Rosé 2003 is outstanding (5 of 5) because it tastes immensely complex, precisely blended for balance, and amazing considering the vintage. It is good that it cannot hide 2003. That makes it great for tonight.

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What Makes a Vineyard Special? Wine Review: Panther Creek Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Oregon 2011

What makes a vineyard special?  Names like la Tâche, Mesnil, To-Kalon, Beckstoffer, Richbourg, and Canubi get geeks swooning and burning their wallets.  But forget soil, weather, aspect, drainage, or anything physical. We usually prattle on about that stuff to justify taking out a second mortgage. No, human history and the arbiters of taste have made these sites more prized than their fancy dirt.

In Oregon, Shea vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton has a cult status. How did this happen?

Dundee and its rich, volcanic soil was all the rage in the 1980s. But the Shea family went West and planted in 1989 in Yamhill-Carlton. The soil is sedimentary over fractured sandstone: not Dundee. The site sits in a hilly pocket. It allows in fog but then gets hotter than others. This diurnal range would make for big Pinot.

Just as Shea’s grapes came online in the 1990s, winemaker Ken Wright’s fame was rising. He highlighted Shea with his Panther Creek winery, but after a few years he went independent. Then, with the 1994 vintage, Robert Parker, in all his majesty, gave Wright’s own Shea a 92 and Panther Creek’s Shea a 94: his highest score for Oregon yet (it probably did not hurt that Parker’s brother in law owned the plot next-door).

Shea had arrived.

Today, Shea spans 200 acres, with vines covering 140, 135 of which grow Pinot Noir. Vine spacing is 5 by 7 yielding 1,245 plants per acre. Jesus Marin supervises Shea’s 10 year-round workers, which balloon to 40, and then 150 by harvest. The Sheas use 25% and sell 75% to other winemakers.  But Dick Shea has tried to be picky about who gets what bit.

About 20 winemakers now have a finger in the Shea pie. Some include: Alexana, Antica Terra, Bergström, Boedecker Cellars, Chapter 24, Elk Cove, J.K. Carriere, Penner-Ash, Raptor Ridge, Rex Hill, Shea Wine Cellars (of course), Walt (a Napa Valley label), Stephen Goff, St. Innocent, and Winderlea.

Yet the original winner of this popularity contest remains Panther Creek.  But since Shea tends to be a Parker love-child of weight and intensity, let us go with a vintage that plays against type: 2011. Spring and Summer kept cool and wet, until a warm September brought in a healthy harvest. Thus, alcohols remained lower, acids higher, even for Shea.

Panther Creek Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Oregon 2011 $52.00

panther-creek-pinot-noir-shae-vineyard-oregon-2011

The APPEARANCE looks clear, with a hazy iron rust rim that fades into a medium ruby core.

Clean, mellow AROMAS of clove, vanilla husk, and hazelnut lead. Fruit is secondary, think cherry skin and orange peel, ending in cooling iron.

The PALATE feels dry, supple, yet medium plus acidity, mild tannins, and medium alcohol frame a medium body with a raw silk texture.

FLAVORS remain sparkling, bright, mineral, and spiced, with bright orange and cranberry. However, these elements get numbed by a swath of velvet oak. Medium plus length.

Panther Creek’s 2011 Shea is very good (4 of 5), balancing a vibrant, lean vintage against vineyard-specific supple fruit. But 16 months of 30% new French oak barrels nearly kill it. Luckily, the quality fruit manages to shine.

Back to our original question. What makes a vineyard special? With Shea, good timing mattered. Parker was making big wines the rage. Ken Wright’s fame was rising. Shea’s vines were old enough. Their vineyard management was good enough. Then the hot 1994 vintage delivered.

Such ripeness is atypical of Oregon. Even a lean 2011 cannot hide Shea’s powerful fruit.  But really the collision of celebrity in Parker and Wright and fickle fashion’s love of big, dry, reds vaulted Shea to iconic status.

Context makes kings and queens.

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Wine Review: Pieropan Calvarino Soave Classico Italy 2014

Snow still falls in Oregon. But it is February. By now, gray, miserable clouds and soul sucking rain should have ruined countless attempts to enjoy the outdoors. But no. I still freeze and have to worry about whether or not that 1980’s Honda Civic will careen into my car.

Time for a flight to sunny Italy, in my mouth.

soave-wine-map-italy

In particular, Soave: a hilly, volcanic outcrop just northeast of Verona: probably my favorite town for Roman amphitheater Opera.

verona-amphitheater

Today’s wine producer is Pieropan: an old favorite. Into their fifth generation, the Pieropans only use their own vineyards, only with native grape varieties, grown under organic certification. They bought Calvarino vineyard in 1900. Clay and tufa comprise the soil. It is so difficult to work it that the name Calvarino, Little Calvary, is what the vineyard demands.

Who wouldn’t love to leave the snow for some “difficult” vineyard work in sunny Veneto?

Vines average 45 years and hang on traditional pergolas. Two hand harvests ensure the ripest fruit. Then a year in glass-lined cement tanks allows for extended lees contact = cleanliness and richness. Let’s drink it to bring back Spring.

Pieropan, Calvarino, Soave Classico, Italy 2014 $26 pieropan-calvarino-soave-italy-2014

The APPEARANCE looks brilliantly clear medium intense golden straw.

Intense, pin-pointed AROMAS smell of flint and chalk cracked over white peach, oodles of fresh chamomile flower, light honey, verbena, and raw almond.

The PALATE is ripe but dry with well-tailored medium plus acidity, sneaky alcohol, a medium body, and texture that seems to sparkle but sits plumply on my tongue.

Plump FLAVORS range from incisive mineral to fresh fruits: white peach, white pear, light honey, and slight kiwi cross into lemon pith and chalk on the medium plus finish.

Pieropan’s 2014 Soave Calvarino is undeniably very good (4 of 5). Even if you dislike Soave, you should try this one day: ideally in Italy, on a warm night, in a box seat in Verona. At least we can pretend.

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Happy Lunar New Year: Hot Pot and Old White Wine

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year my internet followers. We decided to celebrate the year of the cock with our fudge on a Japanese classic: hot pot.

I started by soaking dehydrated shiitake mushrooms.  Then I caramelized garlic in a pot. Once golden, I added 3 bowls of water to boil. While waiting, I furiously rinsed and chopped bok choy, carrots, enoki mushrooms, firm tofu, and broccoli. I then dolloped miso syrup, soy sauce, rice vinegar, the shiitakes, and a whiff of sriracha into the boil until I could just taste them. Fresh udon noodles and tofu plopped in. After five minutes, I killed the heat and then layered in the veg: crunchy’s first: carrots, then broccoli, bok choy, topped by enoki mushrooms. The lid capped in the steam.

While I dished it, topped with sprouts and roasted sesame seeds, I dwelled on what wine to choose. All these mushroomy, umami, and salty flavors being backed by various vegetables and light tofu presented a problem. Most reds would kill it. Medium bodied, mildly earthy Pinot Noir has worked in the past. Fresh whites come off clean but forgettable.

However, do you have decade old whites that you are scared to open? Hot pot will save them.

I have a $55 bottle of 2007 Viognier. But luckily it is from France, luckier from Condrieu, luckilier from biodynamic madman Chapoutier.

m-chapoutier-invitare-viognier-2007It looks a medium intense amber with straw-colored highlights.

AROMAS smell intensely of hot bee’s wax, honey, dried apricots, mint, salt, fresh linen, white vinegar.

The PALATE feels dry but fruity, with still alive medium acidity, medium alcohol (14%), and a plump medium body, and a waxen yet stoney texture.

FLAVORS contrast dried apricot, poached white pear, and honey with a salt, verbena, and white mushroom.

M Chapoutier’s 2007 “Invitare” Viognier from Condrieu managed to age gracefully. Cellar Tracker claims 2012 was its do or die end drink date. Yet, in 2017, shift your expectations from citric, fresh, and floral, and embrace the waxen, open, expressive complexity. View it like a trendy orange wine and it is very good (4 of 5).

Then pair it with a soy miso broth and vegetable hot pot and smile. Both flank similar umami notes and intensity. The wine sways toward dried fruits. The meal dives into earthy mushrooms. The roasted sesame seed pop. The wine’s honey brightens. The contrast works.

Why not add something old to something new. Happy Lunar New Year.  We could all use a fresh start.

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