Monday, May 23, 2016

Montefalco, Bevagna & The Arnaldo Caprai Winery

Umbria is scattered with picturesque hilltop villages, and Montefalco is one of the prettiest. The name of this cobbled hill town which means 'Falcon's Mount', celebrates its position high above the Spoleto valley, although according to legend it's actually named after the falcons of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. In 1249 he was all set to destroy the old town of Cocccorone on this site when his falcons landed here and decided to rename it Montefalco. Known also as 'la ringhiera d'Umbria' - the balcony of Umbria - for its high vantage point over the valley that runs from Perugia to Spoleto, Montefalco began its life as an important Roman settlement on the Via Flaminia. This tiny hill town, enclosed by 14th-century walls, is the birthplace of eight Italian saints, including St Chiara di Montefalco. Surrounded by renowned vineyards, this is also the land of the famous red Sagrantino di Montefalco. Vine cultivation in the Montefalco area dates back to pre-Roman times and remains one its main agricultural treasures.

Though small-scale cultivation of Montefalco's indigenous grape dates back to 1549 (monks used it to create a sweet sacramental wine), the grape all but disappeared in later centuries and was nearly extinct by the 1960s. Only in the late 1970s was Sagrantino revived by a handful of winemakers who learned to tame the grape’s aggressive tannins. Wine producers such as Arnaldo Caprai, Scacciadiavoli, Perticaia, Colpetrone, Le Cimate, and Tenuta Bellafonte are now exporting their dark and dense wine around the globe. Sagrantino, with its powerful footing and a fruity bouquet is perfect for pairing with rustic and hearty fare such as prime cuts of steak, game meat, and aromatic cheeses-based dishes. There’s also now an official wine trail, the “Strada del Sagrantino,” marked by purple signs that guide tourists from one winery to the next, that allow everyone to explore their favourite wines, one taste at a time.

14th-century Porta Sant'Agostino of the 'centro storico' of Montefalco

Vi Cavour is the main street through Montefalco

Piazza del Commune, the main square of Motefalco

The Chiesa di San'Agostino was built in 1279

The quiet interior features some glorious frescoes

The Madonna and Child from the 14th-century

The frescoes are still quite colourful despite their age

Madonna and Child with Two Saints from the 14th-century

Bevagna's Porto Foligno is part of the of the town's Medieval walls

Tribute to Garibaldi above the entry gate

A more artistic vantage point of the crest

Bevagna's Piazza Filippo Silvestri with 19th-century fountain in front of the Chiesa di San Silvestro

The barrel-vaulted interior of San Silvestro
12th-century Chiesa San Michele Arcangelo

The beautiful carved entry doors to Chiesa San Michele Arcangelo

An Italian pigeon grooming above the doors to the chiesa maintaining her 'bella figrura'

A lovely carved sign hangs outside the 12th-century parish church

14th-century interior of the chiesa

My favourite Italian wine producer in Umbria is Arnaldo Caprai, which led the way to reviving Montefalco's indigenous Sagrantino grape variety. The family operation began in 1971 when textiles entrepreneur Arnaldo bought the Val di Maggio estate in Montefalco. His lifelong dream was to produce a wine of his own and discover the potential of the local varieties, in particular Sagrantino. In 1988 his son Marco started managing the winery and with his passion and determination gave the necessary impetus to the production of top quality wines. The Arnaldo Caprai winery is now the acknowledged leader in the production of top quality Sagrantino di Montefalco, a wine produced exclusively from Sagrantino, a native grape variety that has been growing in the region of Montefalco for more than four hundred years. Thanks to a commitment to ongoing research and long term experimentation, the Arnaldo-Caprai winery now produces top quality wines that show unique character and depth. Needless to say, after enjoying a special wine tour of the estate, we came home to Casa Boronia with a case of wine to enjoy over dinner during our stay in Umbria.

The entry gates of Arnaldo Caprai Winery outside Montefalco

The lush vines of Arnaldo Caprai

Marco Caprai

After a tour of the vines, our guide led us through to the stainless steel vat room in which the red wine is fermented

The wine is then transferred and aged in French oak barriques

Aged for at least 30 months, the wines are then bottled in their state-of-the-art bottling machine

The wines are finally labelled, boxed and ready for sale around the world

After the behind-the-scenes tour, our guide welcomed us into the wine tasting room to sample some of Arnaldo Caprai's fine wines

Grecante is Arnaldo Caprai's lovely white wine made with Grechetto grapes

Montefalco Rosso, my favourite Arnaldo Caprai red wine at 12 euros a bottle!

The Collepiano a modern and refined interpretation of a traditional wine once made by monks

Aged for 22 months, the Collepiano is polished and spicy with velvety tannins;
we left the vineyard with a half a case of each wine

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