Sunday, November 25, 2012

Il Giorno dei Vini a Montefalco (The Day of Wines in Montefalco)

So I have a bit of a story for you! Approximately a week ago (last Monday) I was hanging out with some friends, sad about how I hadn't visited a winery yet. After chatting for a bit about it, I got some friends who were interested in doing one and I ended up planning a trip to a winery known as Arnaldo Caprai in Montefalco, Umbria (North of Rome, East of Tuscany). During the planning process, my friend Bobby invited me to go out to dinner with him and a couple of our other friends that very night. The most strange coincidence happened, at the restaurant, Bobby bought a bottle of wine for the table, one known as Rosso di Montefalco. It was served to us in wine glasses from the Arnaldo Caprai winery, and was a damn good wine. I was so dumbfounded at the coincidence that I became super excited for our weekend trip, and got a group of about 7 people who wanted to go.

However, the night before the trip, every single person cancelled on me, aside from Bobby. So here is the story of our little day trip into Umbria! 

First we took a train to Foligno, the nearest town to Montefalco that has a train station, and meandered about for a bit. These first two photos are of the Church in the center of town, known as Basilica Cattedrale di San Feliciano. It was a truly gorgeous church, with a near identical copy of the Baldacchino that exists in the Vatican. For more information about what that is, here is a link.

Another interesting aspect of the church was that inside of it was a massive textile produced by the Arnaldo Caprai winery, which you can see here. The winery seems to be somewhat famous....

Here is a shot of Bobby in the Piazza della Repubblica, where the Church is located, right in the center of town in Foligno. We explored this area a lot and even did a bit of shopping in the main shopping district, where I bought myself a scarf for the first time. (You can see the scarf in the later photos)

We meandered about Foligno without a direction quite a bit, merely taking in every bit of the cool medieval architecture and getting LOTS of coffee and (real) hot chocolate.

Here is a shot of Bobby acting all Assassin's Creed-like and looking pretty badass wielding the sword that is attached to a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi.

And here is the sign of a restaurant that we passed that I found rather humorous... Hope you do too!

We didn't spend too long in Foligno, excited to continue onto Montefalco for our 2:30PM winery tour. Unfortunately most of the day the entire region was covered in a dense fog layer, but for a brief time after our arrival in Montefalco, it was gorgeous with blue skies everywhere.

Fields just next to Montefalco

Montefalco really impressed me with a LOT of medieval architecture and castle walls.
The castle walls of Montefalco
But what struck as particularly interesting is this next photo's similarity to the entrance of Monteriggioni (see my earlier posts). The whole town seemed nearly the same at Monteriggioni with the primary difference being that Montefalco is significantly larger.

Medieval stone buildings to the left and right, leading up to the Piazza del Comune
Montefalco has only one Piazza in town, but it was pretty cool! We ate lunch at Enoteca Federico II outside in the Piazza and really enjoyed ourselves, eating some delectable treats at a wonderfully low cost.

Piazza del Comune
Bobby & I at lunch
Taking our time with lunch, we were under the assumption that we would be able to easily procure the services of a taxi to take us to the Arnaldo Caprai winery, but we were sorely mistaken. Unfortunately, at 2:15PM (15 minutes before our tour started) we found out that the nearest taxi had to come pick us up from Foligno, meaning that we had a 30 euro bill by the time we got into the taxi. The final cost of our ride to the winery was 40 euros for a 5 minute car ride, and we still missed the tour.

However, we were happy to have finally reached the winery, and so I took a few photos while waiting for the tour we missed to return.

Arnaldo Caprai

Part of the vineyard

The very modern and classy bar at Arnaldo Caprai
So now for a little backstory on the winery. From what I understand, the Sagrantino grape (name derived from the term "Sacramenti," referring to the religious services that the wine was probably used in in the first century B.C.) has a mysterious history of undetermined origins, although the lack of similarity to any other existing grape leads many to believe that the wine is exclusive to the Montefalco region. Supposedly the grape, being a particularly low-yield variety, at one point was in very low production, brought back to life and widespread fame by the Arnaldo Caprai winery, producing the now internationally popular "Sagrantino di Montefalco." We eventually learned that although other wineries claim to produce the same Sagrantino di Montefalco, they are all clones of the grape that is produced at the Arnaldo Caprai winery, which was awarded the honor of being the 2012 European Winery of the Year.

So back to Bobby and my story: we refused to let missing our tour get us down, we decided to at least partake in the wine tasting. However, we soon found out that the winery was running a tour at 3:30PM as well, however it was exclusively in Italian. Fortunately for Bobby and I, we both speak rather fluent Italian and decided to give it a go and see how well our Italian Language capabilities matched up to a winery tour. It was at this point that I realized how lucky it was that everyone else who was going to come cancelled because no one else speaks Italian sufficiently to have understood what was going on during the tour.

I was thoroughly pleased by my comprehension abilities, able to garnish nearly all of the information that the tour guide very clearly provided to us. This really made me proud of myself; I felt like I passed a more legitimate test of my Italian ability than anything that an Italian class could possibly offer me.

So now for some photos of the tour! Here are a couple shots of the vineyards, where the produce their wide selection of grapes that result in their exceptional variety of wines, which are accessible at this website.They also grow some experimental grapes as a result of collaborations with various Universities that are involved in grape production.

After showing us the vineyards, the tour guide took us into the fermentation room, teaching us about the fermentation process. As shown in the below diagram, they include the grape seeds and skins in the fermentation barrels, resulting in an uneven density of wine in the barrel. To fix this issue, they use a pipe to send the pure wine from the bottom of the barel back up to the top, so as to create a more balanced liquid.

The actual fermentation barrels

Next, she showed us down to the room where the fermented wine is aged in French oak casks for varying amounts of time, up to 2 years depending on the wine.

Casks on casks on casks...

Following this, we got to taste 4 different wines:
1) The classic white wine of Arnaldo Caprai: Grachetto DOC
2) The basic red wine of Arnaldo Caprai: Rosso di Montefalco (the same wine we drank at dinner last Monday)
3) A very balanced and well-structured red that has slight vanilla flavors: Sagrantino di Montefalco: Collepiano DOCG
4) A thick sweet wine with a powerful cherry accent: Sagrantino di Montefalco: Passito DOCG

Unfortunately, they don't offer their #1 wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco: 25 Years DOCG, in the wine tastings because it is such an expensive and exceptional wine (1 bottle ranged from 55-85 euro).

Our winery tour experience was really fun and a really great Italian and wine cultural experience. I certainly felt extremely cultured upon departing. 

We were very ready to walk all the way back to Montefalco, refusing to pay another 40 euro for an idiotically short taxi ride. Fortunately, as we were leaving, one of the Italian couples that had also gone on the tour offered to give us a ride part of the way back, for which we were extremely grateful. In the end we only had to walk about 20 minutes and even found it a rather enjoyable stroll through wine country at night.

Upon arrival in Montefalco, we were really excited to try another highly-touted restaurant known as Enoteca l'Alchimista, but were sorely disappointed because it didn't open for dinner until 7:15pm and we had to get on a bus at 8pm. So, we chose to go to another restaurant that was recommended to us by the Italian couple that gave us a lift, Il Verziere (The Orchard).

It turned out to be a really cool dinner spot! They were currently in the process of putting up lights for Christmas and were extremely friendly, albeit possibly a little buzzed from their excitement for Christmas and some wine. 

They had really cool decorations, including instruments all over the walls and ceilings as well as currency from all sorts of different countries.

And they even had Al Capone's Gun!

Bobby and I had a great dinner, again at a wonderfully low price. I once again got to experience the famous Italian hospitality, being provided with an interesting, albeit small seafood platter for free at the beginning and a rather interesting experience at dessert. When we ordered (admittedly a rather expensive) desert that included 5 different items in it, they additionally brought us out 2 small bottles of Limoncello and Amaro (two after-dinner liquors) and 2 shots glasses for us to enjoy at our leisure. I am continually astounded by Italian generosity and hospitality. The generosity and slight inebriation of our hosts led Bobby and I to develop the phrase "Il Cuoco ubriaco √® il cuoco libero," meaning "The drunk Cook is the free (generous) cook."

Here's a goofy series of photos that Bobby took of me at dinner...

Needless to say, we had a truly wonderful dinner and day in general. It was so jam-packed that it could have been a whole weekend trip! I really loved my time in Umbria and would highly recommend that others attempt a similar day trip, although with the suggestion of renting a car as the public transportation is not the most convenient for travelers. Thanks for yet another amazing experience Italy!


  1. Awesome that you took the Italian tour!!!! can't believe you are that good. Actually of course I can!

  2. Hahaha well it was mostly just listening and comprehension, but yeah I am really proud of myself!