Palazzone Umbria Grek Grechetto 2011
Giovanni began bottling his own Orvieto only in 1982, and even now, nearly forty years later, he still does everything he can to keep the dream of Orvieto alive. Year in and year out, he makes honest, classic wines with only fruit from his own vineyards. No shortcuts in his vineyards, no tricks in the cellar, just pure, historic Orvieto terroir in every bottle. Lest you think Orvieto is at best a simple wine, a recent tasting of mind-bending older vintages of his flagship Terre Vineate stretched back to the early 1990s, and the wines were strikingly beautiful, alive and incredibly fresh.
Giovanni says this is only possible because of terroir. The soil of Orvieto is complex: 3 million years ago, this land was under the sea, so there is a lot of sedimentary clay and limestone with very little organic matter. About 250,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions from Monte Vulsini (now Lake Bolsena) covered this area with volcanic rock, ash and pumice, but most of those layers have since eroded away, with an important exception: Rocca Ripesena, a vestigial outcropping of that volcanic tuff, still protects Palazzone from extreme weather. This elevated protection paired with Giovanni’s slightly north-facing vineyards help to keep his fruit cool during scorching Umbrian summers.
“What keeps an appellation producing wine for 2500 years?” Giovanni asks playfully. “If Piero Antinori, one of the richest and most famous winemakers in Tuscany, decided to make his great white wine in Umbria – it’s for a reason. If Luca Signorelli [renaissance artist extraordinaire], had in his contract both gold and Orvieto wine to paint the fresco of the Last Judgement in the cathedral of Orvieto in the 1500s, it should tell you something. If the wine wasn’t good or didn’t have potential, surely it would have been relegated to history. But we haven’t stopped. There is a huge potential here.” And we won’t stop, either. In fact, we are just beginning.
Centered upon the lush Apennine Range in the center if the Italian peninsula, Umbria is one of the few completely landlocked regions in Italy. It’s star red grape variety, Sagrantino, finds its mecca around the striking, hilltop village of Montefalco. The resulting wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco, is an age-worthy, brawny, brambly red, bursting with jammy, blackberry fruit and earthy, pine forest aromas. By law this classified wine has to be aged over three years before it can be released from the winery and Sagrantino often needs a good 5-10 more years in bottle before it reaches its peak. Incidentally these wines often fall under the radar in the scene of high-end, age-begging, Italian reds, giving them an almost cult-classic appeal. They are undoubtedly worth the wait!
Rosso di Montefalco, on the other had, is composed mainly of Sangiovese and is a more fruit-driven, quaffable wine to enjoy while waiting for the Sagrantinos to mellow out.
Among its green mountains, perched upon a high cliff in the province of Terni, sits the town of Orvieto. Orvieto, the wine, is a blend of at least 60% Trebbiano in combination with Grechetto, with the possible addition of other local white varieties. Orvieto is the center of Umbria’s white wine production—and anchor of the region’s entire wine scene—producing over two thirds of Umbria’s wine. A great Orvieto will have clean aromas and flavors of green apple, melon and citrus, and have a crisp, mineral-dominant finish.
Grechetto, the region’s star white variety, produces Umbria’s best crsip and tactile white wines,. Whether on its own or as part of a blend, this grape has elevated the general quality of whites throughout this central, land-locked Italian region. Producers tend to favor its use in the native Orvieto white wine, a dynamic blend composed of varying percentages of Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello and Canaiolo Bianco, to name a few. Somm Secret—Many famous Sagrantino producers from Montefalco also produce single varietal Grechettos from the adjacent, Colli Martani DOC.