Adrenaline and local wine refueled our band of weary just-off-the-plane travelers as our charming hosts from Orvieto toured, wined and dined us our first day in Italy.
On a frosty second day, our first stop (prior to getting down to business at the International Wine Tourism Conference) is Barberani Wine Company, a family run winery.
The entire familia greets us with a round of firm handshakes, friendly nods, and name exchanges, including Jango, the winery pup, who gives us each approving sniffs and a tail wag.
Bernardo Barberani tours us about the azienda (winery and property) pointing out that Umbria is known as “ The Green Heart of Italy.” I can understand why. Even in late January the sprawling hills are a soft grey-green. I continue to survey the sprawling landscape around me and envision an Umbrian summer—verdant vineyards that slope toward the Lago Di Corbara, lush groves of ripe olives, and leafy vines heavy with grapes that soften and turn color as harvest approaches.
Barberani Wine Company is barely 50 years old, but the crumbly dirt scuffing our boots is as old as the surrounding hills. Since the Estruscans were here wine grapes have been planted on this volcanic, chalky soil that comprises Orvieto Classico. Barberani practices sustainable farming and uses up-to-date winemaking techniques, but they never forget the local terroir (pronounced tair-wahr), which in simple terms and in the case of wine, refers to the combination of soil, climate, and land and its influence on viticulture and viniculture (growing grapes and making wine).
Originally nonno(grandfather) Barberani grew native varieties (particularly white Trebbiano-Procanico) for wines to serve in his cafes in the town of Orvieto. (Sangiovese, Tuscany’s noted grape, has a history in this region as well.) Non-traditional grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, and Chardonnay were introduced to the vineyards after the winery was built in 1961. Bernardo Barberani is sales manager and brother Niccolo the winemaker. Both remain wedded to the land.
While Bernardo delights us with family history and viticultural philosophy on our tour of the winery, in the tasting room mamma and figlia (daughter) slice local salumi and thick slices of crusty bread for us. And, of course, there is wine. (Our iPhones strike 11, but we know it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.)
First up is Grechetto. Fresh and crisp, this 100 percent varietal tastes of apple, pear, and mineral. A prize-winning Castagnolo Orvieto Classico Superiore 2010 (superiore is not an indication of quality, but indicates a degree or so more alcohol than is typical for a particular wine) is a blend of traditional and non-traditional varieties. Grecchetto, Procanico, Malvasia, Drupeggio, Verdello are given an extra burst of flavor courtesy of Riesling and Chardonnay. Delicious. Neither of the wines is particularly complicated, yet each combine that “tufa” zip with racy fruit, the hallmark of good Orvieto.
We enjoy two reds too, Foresco 2009, a grippy young blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, and a sturdy Polvento Villa Monticelli 2006, that tastes of dried fruits and crushed herbs. (Both would be terrific with roasted meats.)
Noble Rot’s Sweet Success
What really seals the deal, though, is “muffa nobile” Orvieto Classico Superiore Calcaia Vini Dolce (2006). Muffa nobile or “noble rot” is a kindly fungus that shrivels and concentrates the sugar in wine grapes. The resulting wine is a thing of sweet beauty.
During the Middle Ages, Orvieto was only sweet. The pope at the time decreed sweet wine a sin so the wine was made abboccato—dryer, but still with a bit of residual sugar. The style remained popular well into the 20th century. Though abbocato (or amabile) is still made, today’s taste for dry wines demands dryer fermentation.
But bless those Barberani miscreants for turning back the clock a few hundred years. Calcaia is a lush and lovely (and these days totally sanctioned), anachronism–delightfully heady with ripe apricot, almond and nougat flavors. Calcaia demands nothing of you, but sheer enjoyment. Our troop gladly contributes to the family coffers for a bottle or two of this elixir.
The morning’s mood has been cheery and casual, and we’ve barely noticed the chill, but alas, it’s time to toddle off. With lots of arrivederci tossed over our shoulders in thanks to these fine folk we scramble back to the bus, our bottles clinking merrily in our packs.
If Umbria’s Orvieto Classico landscape is a part of Italy’s green heart, the Barberanis surely contribute to its soul.
Barberani offers this tour and tasting visitors for a nominal fee and an advanced heads up. I highly recommend it.
– Story and photos by Julie Pegg, RFT Wine Editor, Canada
Barberani Wine Company www.barberani.it
International Wine Tourism Conference www.winepleasures.com