Calgary Wine Life: Tabarrini Montefalco Tasting Seminar @ Model Milk

12 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne and Dan Steeves

We have always been impressed by the selection of Austrian and German wines in Salivate Wines’ portfolio, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to sample wines from one of the importer’s Italian producers, Tabarrini.  Hailing from smack dab in the middle of Italy, in Montefalco within the Umbria region (the only wine region in Italy that does not have a coastline or border another country), Tabarrini is a well-respected winery known for its big, brooding single-vineyard reds based on the Sagrantino grape, as well as for an interesting white wine made from the little-known Trebbiano Spoletino. Although maybe not quite as famous as other Umbrians such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Monica Bellucci or black truffles (a full 60% of the world’s supply of the latter originates from the region), there is no doubt that Tabarrini is producing some serious wines that have rightfully been getting global attention.

Tabarrini’s director of sales and marketing, Daniele Sassi, led us through an informative (and entertaining – Daniele is a natural comedian, and the jokes are not always politically correct!) tasting of three of the winery’s offerings:  the Adarmando Bianco (a white Trebbiano Spoletino), the Boccatone Rosso (a Sangiovese and Sagrantino red blend), and the Colle Grimaldesco Sangrantino (one of the estate’s premium single-vineyard dry Sagrantinos).  Read on for our combined thoughts and notes on each bottle.

2015 “Adarmando” Bianco Umbria IGT (~$36)

Trebbiano grapes are grown all over Italy in many forms — Trebbiano Toscana, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, etc. — but the Trebbiano Spoletino varietal is a unique beast unrelated to its blue-collar namesakes. Unlike the often-pedestrian  workhorse Trebbianos from other regions, Daniele described Spoletino as “very much tied to context”, indicating that to his knowledge only one other producer makes a varietal wine with it.  These grapes are grown using a rather unique trailing method:  the vines climb trees! Each vine, which is planted on its own roots (not grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock), is planted next to a maple tree which it uses for support as it grows up and intertwines with the branches of the tree. Support is crucial for these vines, which individually each produce in excess of 350 pounds of grapes! This “marriage” between plants is a labor-intensive endeavour requiring the use of four different individuals at picking time, with each plant taking 30-35 minutes to harvest. The wine is then fermented in steel and rests on the lees for a year, and according to Daniele can develop a petrol character as it ages, like fine Riesling. It can age for 20 years or more.

Daniele Sassi showing an impressive Trebbiano Spoletino vine growing with its partner in life, a maple tree. A ladder is necessary when harvesting these 10ft tall vines!

The broad, sweeping nose on Tabarrini’s Spoletino initially yields a strong reductive note, recalling struck match or geyser with a little naphtha for good measure, followed by a cavalcade of lemon rind, white pepper, gooseberry (this is not a Sauvignon Blanc — neat!), buttered bread, and faint whiffs of white peach and Froot Loops cereal. On the palate this shifts to NeoCitran splashed over perfumed green Bartlett and brown Bosc pears. Sheer cliffs of rock salt and chalk are enveloped by green apple skins, with a dollop of mushy pineapple and a handful of Pho herbs and almonds. A taut acidity persists into the long lemony finish — and wow, there is a legitimate tannic character here. Somehow the wine is rather woody despite the use of NO wood during aging, likely due to the Spoletino’s lengthy time on its lees. If you return to the glass later you might detect a pungent developing Parmesan note, and those perfumed pears are only gathering steam.

91+ points

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“Adarmando” Trebbiano Spoletino, named after Giampaolo Tabarrini’s grandfather Armando.

2014 Boccatone Montefalco Rosso DOC (~$36)

Daniele has a knack for providing details that seem peripheral if you aren’t really listening (shame on you!), but that turn out to be pivotal if you want to understand the mindset of the people making these wines. Sangiovese may not be the star in this particular region, but it plays a key role nonetheless.  Farmers in Umbria need something to drink while they wait for the weighty tannins of Sagrantino to mollify themselves, so they lean on Sangiovese blends for this purpose.  If I may be candid, anyone who uses Sangiovese as a stopgap measure tannin-wise is a f$%*ing badass.  In any event, here we have a blend that is Sangiovese, Sagrantino, and a little Barbera. Even before fermentation starts there is a full month of skin contact, followed by 18 months in barrel (mostly large 2500L casks, but the Sagrantino goes in old French barriques) and another year in bottle before release.

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Boccatone is a local phrase meaning “a smack to the mouth”, which is a fitting way to describe this wine!

Here the nose greets the drinker with a light slap of bright strawberry and cherry fruit plus a snap of flinty gun smoke.  Vinified in part from a Sangiovese clone said to be long adapted to the Umbrian climate, this yields a pleasant balsamic lift with some rustic tomato juice/stalk character, a strong floral perfume of lilacs and red roses, a solid undercurrent of aromatic Mediterranean herbs and eucalyptus, a dash of Parmesan (again…a regional signature?), and a powdery tannic grenade that is sandy and parching yet balanced by a fruitiness that recalls supple cranberries and black olives. The acidity is moderate and fortunately does not collude with the tannins to make this inaccessible. Daniele intones that this wine is not a “younger brother to a varietal Sagrantino. It is not an ‘A-side’ versus ‘B-side’ situation, where one is better than the other.”  Rather, they are merely different.  This is “closest to a Tuscan wine”, in Danielle’s words; somewhat stark and lean, not for the faint of heart, but a great companion to food.

89 points       

2012 Colle Grimaldesco Montefalco Sangrantino DOCG (~$60)

We arrive at the beacon bottling of this estate, as Daniele explains that Sagrantino vines turn bright red in the fall, which can lead the uninitiated to assume that disease is at work. Not so. These grapes are typically picked during the last week of October or the first week of November, with Daniele drawing a comparison to Nebbiolo. Having small berries with thick skins, Sagrantino is one of the world’s most tannic red grapes, and it in fact might feature the highest polyphenol content of any grape yet recorded. Wines made from this powerful varietal require aging to come into their own with a minimum of 37 months (12 being in oak) being mandated under the DOCG rules; this take features 36 months in barrel plus another 12 months in bottle before release. We brace ourselves and wade in.

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Colle Grimaldesco Sagrantino – Giampaolo Tabarrini’s first single vineyard Sagrantino

A wall of dusty granite and asphalt lays the smack down, and little in the way of respite is coming. Red pepper flakes and black peppercorns are followed by medicinal juniper berries and the barest hint of sweet blueberry and cassis. Daniele describes this as a “wild beast…rather evil”. Yes, there is something that recalls Lovecraft here. Age has done this bottle some good, yet there is still a long life ahead. Olives, both green and black, are present along with dry cured sausages. The fruits emerge over time and recall figs, or perhaps dates, but the forest undergrowth and pavement never lose the contest. Phew. This is chthonic and serpentine, possessing a huge frame, but yet retaining a certain elegant majesty.

91 points

A fantastic introduction to the wines of Tabarrini Montefalco!

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