On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Visit to Tabarrini Montefalco (Umbria, Italy)

26 Nov 2020

(February 23, 2020) ... If you travel to Umbria and visit just one winery – maybe Tabarrini is your spot.

GiampaoloLast year I also stopped off at this winery (because everyone said “you have to go”), and while impressed enough with the wines to return – it was Giampaolo Tabarrini, the “elven-chef” of the winery, that is the true draw. His passion will pull you in and his sprightly nature is absolutely infectious.

Tabarrini is a single vineyard winery and has been since 2003, they own 16 hectares, produce 60,000 bottles a year and everything now goes through wild fermentation.

Giampaolo has three rules of winemaking: Be clean. Be clean. Be clean ... And the rest will follow. His production area shows that he adheres (almost religiously) to his “rules” – the area is spotless (you could eat off the floor - good news is he has a lovely communal table in the “kitchen” area so you don’t have to), the same can be said for his barrel room and any other part of the winery.

Tabarrini grows five grapes on his 16 hectares, and the breakdown goes something like this:  Sagrantino (7 hectares) / Sangiovese (2.5 hectares) / Barbera (1.5 hectares) / Trebbiano Spoletini (4 hectares) / Grero (1 hectare) – you will notice that all the grapes are native Italian varieties, and since 2006 he made the conscious decision to lean back into those Italian roots for his wines – even his Rosso has given up on any French varieties; he pulled out the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in favor of Barbera, and as Giampaolo explains: Barbera is actually a central Italian variety that was taken to Piedmont where it has flourishing and become somewhat famous; Giampaolo explains the reason for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot’s appeal in central Italy is because it is what international merchants had asked for, now he feels it is time to reclaim the grapes of the region and showcase them in the wines he makes.

Tabarrini GalssTabarrini believes in a return to Italian varieties because he believes it makes the wines better and showcases "Italian-terroir and taste", he also hopes to see the region fully returned to them as well and adopt his philosophy.  After tasting the wines I would agree his wines definitely have an appeal and that he is on to something.

Tabarrini SagrantinoWe did not try any of his current wines (they would be tasted later in the week during the Anteprima tasting days) – instead we toured the winery and had a light show in the barrel room (pictures below) – our tasting consisted of older vintages pulled at “random” from his cellar library.  I put the “random” in quotation marks because I would argue that Gianpaolo used a classic magicians sleight-of-hand trick on us, telling us to pick what we wanted to try, but then leading us to what he hadn't tasted in a while. Once I figured out what he was doing it was masterful to watch him steer those yelling out vintages to the choices that were actually his. Kudos to you Giampaolo – the good news most the wines we did try had aged well (both red and white).

Would I go again? Absolutely – and so should you, when you get the chance.


Visit to Cantina Ninni (Umbria, Italy)

24 Nov 2020

(February 23, 2020) … Here a small group of writers gather to get a firsthand look at Trebbiano Spoletino (or Trebbiano Spoleto) vines and a winemaker that has created something “new” from historical roots. Gianluca and the writers

First, there is quite a bit of confusion around this grape variety – “Trebbiano” is a catch all term for some loosely related (or even undefined) white grapes from Italy – it’s as if you don’t know what to call the grape you call it “Trebbiano” … what makes Spoletino unique are the characteristics it brings to the wine … It’s interesting to note that while Trebbiano Spoletino and Trebbiano Spoleto seem to be interchangeable when discussing the grape / wine the easiest way to remember is Spoleto is the DOC governing the wines and Spoletino is the grape variety – clear as mud right?

Gianluca and the tree-vineNow, back to Ninni … Owner Gianluca Piernera has 70-year-old, un-grafted vines on the property and is also creating an experimental / clonal Spoletino vineyard propagated from a 150-year-old vine that has trained itself to a tree – which, according to him (and legend), is the way the vines grew back in the olden days before we learned to train them in rows.

The winery produces 1200 bottles per year, while the winery itself was established in 2012 (though it was purchased in 2006); it is unclear to me if Gianluca bought it with the notion of starting a winery, or if the idea to open a winery came afterward - my inability to speak fluent Italian and/or ask the question properly prevented me from getting the final answer – even my translator was unclear about the answer.

The Wines …

Our tasting consisted of a flight of Trebbiano Spoletino (2018 back to 2015) and then a random selection of other wines.

Poggio del Vescovo DOC Spoleto
Gianluca always makes the same number of bottles annually: 4000
2018 - nice and fresh with great minerality (eg: saltiness), lovely acidity along with citrus notes of pith and zest.
2017 - very oxidative nose and palate – not very palatable.
2016 - better than the 17 but still not showing off a great potential to age – very disappointing.
2015 - this one surprised the heck out of me, I was about ready to give up on the age-ability of Spoletino, but this one turned my thinking around; citrus notes with lively acidity freshness and mac apple … does the wine need a few years to return back to its initial freshness, or is this vintage dependent? More research is needed … perhaps an annual visit to the region (one can only hope)?

Ninni Sparkling2019 L'Edoardo Frizzante (method ancestral)
Made from a blend of “bianca locale autoctona” (local autochthonous white grapes) so says the literature we are given … fresh and lively with citrus, apple and pear – this simple fizzy wine is made of 90% Spoletini and 10% Malvasia (the mystery of the literature revealed) – or that is what is admitted to.

2015 DiavolacciuNinni Red
A six grape blend highlighted by Montepulciano (40%), Barbera (20%) and Ciliegiolo (15%) – with some Sangiovese, Aleatico and a little Merlot. It spends 6 months in barrel, 2 months in steel and 18 months in bottle. The red fruit notes peak through at the beginning and then on the mid-palate turn black … The interesting mix of grapes here creates a wine that’s rich and robust with nicely layered tannins on the finish where cassis, bittersweet cocoa, cedar and smoke also show up. This is a delicious, complex wine – one of the best in the portfolio.

2019 Pilurusciu Frizzante (method ancestral)
100% Sangiovese with a little bit of fizz, taken from 50-year-old vines, it seems a funny thing to do with such “regal” (read: old vines), but Gianluca seems to be one of those guys who’s willing to take a chance and try something different. Lively strawberry from the outset with lemon drop and a slight mineral finish.


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