I knew relatively little about Umbria before I hatched my wine enrichment plan. Other than its geography, placing the region squarely in the center like a buckle around the boot, the fact that it included the much-prized white wine producing city of Orvieto, and the principal red grapes being Sangiovese and Sagrantino among other international vines…there was still a fair amount to learn. Fearing that I would not be able to find enough wines from Umbria to make it through the month, I decided to expand my search, including red wines of central Italy—Lazio and Marche too. What better way to learn about central Italy than pairing the wines with foods hailing from the same regions? This is my firsthand account of central Italian red wines via Los Angeles wine shops and local farmers markets.
Delving into my wine books, memorizing the short passages about Umbria, it looked to be overshadowed by Tuscany. I traced out some short notes about Montefalco and Orvieto, cementing my knowledge about the DOC and DOCGs. Trebbiano, or Procanico (the local name for the Trebbiano grape), dominates the white wine production in this scenic and historic region. Truffles constitute a huge part of the food scene, but as a wine buyer, and not an importer, I would most likely leave that off the menu I had planned for uncovering some of the great Umbrian wines.
My first glimpse into Umbria this year would be through a seven-fifty of 2009 Falesco Merlot. Falesco, as I found out, was made famous by a brother-team of oenologists (Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella) that have done a lot for the recent revival in winemaking in Umbria. I had friends over and counted on this wine to be an easy introduction to a less common region of Italy, pairing it with appetizers. The bottle received a glowing review from the Wine Advocate, stamping my thirteen-dollar purchase with a 92 point score that made me confident in my selection.
I uncorked the bottle of 2009 Merlot for the arrivals, honing my newly acquired sommelier skills. The Merlot released an earth-based fragrance, loaded with spices, minerals and darker fruits that had me sniffing eagerly to extract all the nuances from the complicated nose. The wine was clean on the palate but fairly simple. Its flavors of berries and plums barely lasted on the taste buds leaving behind impressive structural components—awkward. The body of the wine bred in the partly volcanic and sedimentary soils was medium and the acidity was slightly higher (medium plus). The wine was balanced but disappointing, considering the score and the finish. It blared loudly in the beginning only to be bested by its disappearing act in the finish. The Falesco Merlot might have done better if paired with heartier foods rather than the spicier salami (calabrese) and olives but that remains to be seen.
In the course of the evening we drank through three bottles of wine, with the Falesco Merlot ranking last for me. Despite the less-than-stupendous showing I still remain positive about the prospects of Umbria. The land of St. Francis (as in St. Francis of Assisi) will undoubtedly show better, especially when paired with some ragù d’agnello (lamb ragù) or anatra muta a porchetta (stuffed roast duck). We are only going up from here.