TWO DAYS IN MONTEFALCO
After having breakfast at our B&B in Norcia, we drove an hour with a view of Umbria’s valleys and mountains to Montefalco. The city and area are mostly known for wine (two wine names refer to the city: Montefalco Sagrantino and Montefalco Rosso), but like the rest of Italy, the views and the small town are worth the visit alone. Like Norcia, Montefalco is surrounded by medieval walls. The town is beautiful and historic so make sure to park the car and spend some time walking around the town. There is plenty of parking outside the walls with scenic views in all directions.
Our first stop was at Montioni for a tour of their winery, a tour of their vineyards and olive tree groves, and of course wine and olive oil tasting. Within 10 minutes of arriving, we were seated in a van and shuttled 10 minutes from the winery to explore their vineyards and olive groves.
We returned to the winery for the wine, olive oil, and food tasting. We did the Emotional Tour which included: a tour of the vineyards and olive groves, the Frantoio (Olive Mill), and the Cantina (wine cellar), a tasting of their products (extra virgin olive oil and five types of wine), paired with three types of bruschetta (olive oil, tomato, and mushroom), Umbrian salami, and caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil). The tour was €25/person and was scheduled for 2.5 hours, but our total time spent there was closer to 4 hours. The food was great, the wine was even better, and we learned a lot about the company and the winemaking process.
Montioni believes in a holistic and natural approach with their wines and olive oils. They don’t use chemicals and still hand rake olives from their 2,500 olive trees. Each harvest produces approximately 30,000 liters of olive oil from two types of olives. They produce two types of extra virgin olive oil: one is produced from 100% moraiolo olives and the other is produced from 50% moraiolo olives and 50% frantoio olives. Both types of olives are typical varieties found in Umbria and both of their extra virgin olive oils are cold pressed.
For their wines, they produce approximately 35,000 bottles across six different labels. Their special label is named after the owner’s two sons, Giacomo and Matteo, Ma.Gia. They use the best of the Sagrantino grapes from a single vineyard to make Ma.Gia. The wine goes into a steel tank for 60 days, is transferred to wood for 30 months, and then spends one year in the bottle. They also produce a sweet wine which they only produce every four years. They also use Sagrantino grapes to produce the sweet wine, but instead of going into a tank after the grapes are picked, the grapes are left to dry for two months and then crushed. During the drying process, most of the liquid evaporates and the grapes are left with their natural sugars. You can read more about their other labels here.
Even though our tour guide spoke English, in my attempt to practice Italian everywhere I go we stuck to a tour in Italian until half way through when I started having questions with unfamiliar words. For the rest of the tour, our guide said everything in Italian and then repeated it in English which was a great way for me to continue learning and verify my translation of the words I could understand. During our tour we were joined by a couple from Terni (a city in the southern area of Umbria) who totally made my day when they asked how long I had been learning Italian and were impressed by how much I could understand and speak (not to fool you, it’s still very little).
The owner, his wife, and the rest of the staff were incredibly welcoming and hospitable. Wine tasting in Italy is a completely different experience than in California and we highly recommend this experience at Montioni.
After Montioni we made our way to Arnaldo Caprai for our second and last wine tasting of the day. Arnaldo Caprai is known for discovering how to make good wine from Sagrantino grapes. In 1971, Arnaldo Caprai purchased 45 hectares (111 acres) in Montefalco. Sagrantino grapes were originally used to make sweet wine because they are so high in tannins it was difficult to make wine using 100% Sagrantino grapes. In 1989, the winery did scientific research on Sagrantino grapes and through different cultivation methods, they were able to find one that allowed them to make great Sagrantino wine. Changing the training method and moving to a late harvest created the first great Sagrantino wine and is now a practice that is well known around the world.
Arnaldo Caprai produces approximately one million bottles annually. Over half of their wine stays in Italy and 30% is exported, mostly to the United States. Their winery houses ginormous tanks that ferment only Sagrantino. They separate the berries, slicing them open to allow for the juice to be released while keeping their skin intact to keep a lot of the flavors, yeasts, and tannins. After 40 days in steel, the skin and flesh are separated. The skins go to the distillery to make grappa and the flesh goes into French oak. Their red wines spend two years in stainless steel and two years in French oak before they’re ready for consumption and can age 15-20 years. For their white wines, they use a special press that uses pressure to separate the skin and the flesh. Because there is no skin in white wine, there is no yeast. The white wine spends only three months in stainless steel before it’s ready for consumption.
Arnaldo Caprai purchases 200-300 new oak barrels every year. Sagrantino needs new barrels every year because it’s such a strong grape and the wood helps balance out the flavor. After the barrels house Sagrantino grapes for two years, they’re washed, sterilized, and reused for other red wines. After four uses they’re resold to private businesses. We’re not sure about the French oak Arnaldo Caprai uses, but Coppo winery in Piemonte told us their barrels cost €1,000 each!
The grapes are Arnaldo Caprai are hand-picked, organic, and no pesticides are used. Originally, none of their wines contain sulfites, but did you know in order for wines to be imported into the United States they must have sulfites added? The added sulfites really only benefit the seller because it gives the wine a longer shelf life, which of course is extremely beneficial when exporting across the world. So if you’re looking for sulfite-free wine from Italy in the United States, chances are you won’t find it.
After the tour, we tasted a few of their wines and had a small portion of bread, salami, and a tomato and lentil appetizer. When the tour was over, we headed back to the city of Montefalco to check into our B&B and take a much-needed nap. Because I wouldn’t be me without gelato, as soon as we woke up I said, “let’s go get gelato.” Montefalco is a small town that inhabits about 5,000 people, so when we searched for gelato around 08:00 pm all the shops we located on Google Maps had already closed. This was one of the biggest differences between the small towns and the larger cities. In Rome you can find just about anything open at 08:00 pm, a lot of people are just starting to head out for dinner. In smaller towns like Norcia and Montefalco, many things are already shutting down for the night. We decided to take a 15-minute drive to Foligno, a larger city with over 55,000 people.
As we were driving closer to the city center, we saw many people parking their cars along the streets blocks away from the center. Thankfully with our tiny Smart ForTwo car, we were able to find parking 10 minutes walking distance to the center. What we found upon entering the city were hundreds of people dressed in baroque clothing. As we made our way further into the city we saw people lining the streets like you would do if you were waiting for a parade to start. So, we sat and waited with everyone else unsure of what we were waiting for or how long we’d be waiting.
After a quick Google search, we discovered we had arrived in Foligno just in time for La Giostra della Quintana, the Joust of the Quintana. Twice a year for two weeks there are historical re-enactments, challenges, and traditional foods in the local taverns amongst Foligno’s 10 districts. You can read more about it here. The parade is free to watch, but you’ll need tickets to enter the stadium for the main event. Seeing as we hadn’t originally planned to visit Foligno we didn’t have tickets for the main event and instead found a gelateria and spent the rest of the evening exploring the streets of Foligno.
The next morning we walked across the street to the market owned by the same family who ran our B&B for a quick breakfast. We enjoyed typical Umbrian foods like salami, cheese, ricotta and coffee tart, blackberry tart, ricotta and marmalade tart, and tozzetti al Sagrantino (cookies/biscuits). We took a drive to Montefalco’s city center, parked the car outside the medieval walls, and strolled around town. It was a bit early on a Sunday and not much was open, but the city is charming and easy to walk so we explored around before having lunch at Enoteca L’Alchimista.
Enoteca L’Alchimista was recommended to us by one of the ladies on our Arnaldo Caprai wine tour and looked to be the most popular restaurant in Piazza del Comune. We shared a bottle of Grechetto wine and mixed bruschetta with eggplant, ricotta and honey, bacon, and yellow pepper with sardines. I had their pasta special which was homemade cappelletti filled with duck served with ricotta cheese and truffles, Jaime had homemade strangozzi with summer truffle and Montefalco DOP olive oil, and we finished with a perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth, mouth-watering beef filet with a Sagrantino sauce, potato purée, and vegetables. If you’re wondering what cappelletti and strangozzi are, they are types of pasta. The pasta we’re familiar with in the United States is so basic!
Umbria has so many amazing cities to visit, no matter where you’ll end up it’ll be rich in culture, history, food, and great wine. If you’re looking for somewhere that isn’t as crowded, but still has a lot to offer make sure you check out Umbria on your visit to Italy. If you have a free day in Rome and don’t mind a 2-hour drive one way, definitely put in the effort to rent a car and drive to Montefalco. We promise you won’t regret it.