Featured in this issue

In the shadow of Tuscany: Umbria

Perhaps it’s not the first (or even the 5th) region that springs to mind when thinking of Italian wine, and that’s understandable considering that Umbria’s commercial wine industry only dates back to the 1970s, but it is an important one in terms of quality. For most of its history, winemaking had been a decidedly local affair, with talented producers creating “farmhouse” wines that were gulped down going back as far as the 12th century summering popes. Orvieto is easily its most recognized wine and is one of thirteen DOC-classified zones, a number so high it puts Umbria in the top six (of twenty) Italian regions for the most quality wine appellations. As for reds, Torgiano is the reigning town, sporting its own museums -- one devoted entirely to wine and the other to olive oil (Umbria makes the most extra-virgin olive oil in the country). Another superb and sought-after red wine comes from the town of Montefalco in the Colli Martani and is made from the Sagrantino grape, considered to be the most chemically complex grape in the world. Top producers include Lungarotti, Antinori, Ruffino, Barone Ricasoli, Colpetrone, Lamborghini (yes, that Lamboghini) and Caprai. Umbria may sound like the Italian word for “shadow” (“ombra”), but it is slowly emerging from its status as an extension of its neighbor Tuscany into a full-fledged wine region all its own.

The Blend’s Monthly Featured Producer: CASTELLO DELLA SALA (Antinori)

The Antinori family has pretty much owned central Italy since the 15th century, but somehow all that fabulous wealth hasn’t ruined their good sense for making great wine. Of course, they are famously (and rightly) known for the superb Tuscan reds Solaia and Tignanello, but white Umbrian wines? Well, yes. In fact, their Orvieto is probably the most recognized in foreign markets. Because of Umbria’s relaxed laws for DOC wines, interesting blends can be achieved by forward thinking winemakers and Castello della Sala offers an array. The estate was originally built in the 14th century and became a symbol of familial reconciliation after a century of medieval Hatfields and McCoys finally gave up their fighting and married off their cousins to patch things up, setting them up in the old castle and putting them to work to rebuild it. It changed hands over the years from the church to the state until the Antinoris purchased it in 1940. Today, about 400 acres of the 1,240 acre property are planted to vine. Recently, a new cellar was built and some of the wines and labels have been revamped.

Recommended Wine:

wine label This blockbuster wine (whose name means “Stag of the Hall” – something to do with the previously mentioned Hatfields and McCoys), is something of a legend among Italy’s white wines and is perhaps the most recognized label from Umbria. It first landed on the scene with the 1985 vintage and has garnered “three glasses” from Italy’s Gambero Rosso every year since 2000. The blend of Chardonnay with Grechetto takes advantage of Umbria’s best native white, and adds a penetrating aroma to the heft and minerality of the Chardonnay. The soils on this property are so rich in alluvial deposits that marine fossils are commonly unearthed. You may not associate Chardonnay with Umbria, but the cool climate and limestone/sand/clay rich soils bring out an almost Burgundian minerality in the Cervaro. The aromas are complex with tropical fruit, citrus, pears, and mint leaves, blending with vanilla and a toasty, smokiness from the oak. It’s also got a great structure and a super long finish. Gambero Rosso called the palate “quite simply monumental.” Pairs well with roasted game birds, pasta with truffles (an Umbrian specialty), grilled salmon, and various cheeses such as smoked mozzarella or a mild cheddar. About $40 USD. (Importer: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)

Catalog this wine in The Personal Wine Curator cellar software like this:
  • Producer: Castello della Sala (Antinori)
  • Wine Name/Appellation: Cervaro della Sala
  • Vintage: 2004
  • Varietal:Chardonnay
  • Type: White
  • Vineyard/Sub-sub:
  • Sub-region:
  • Region: Umbria
  • Country: Italy
  • Body: Full
  • Drink after: 2007
  • Drink by: 2016

PWC Tips and Tricks

I.D. labels are a great way to make inventory easier. Take it one step further by updating your inventory using the "Update by I.D." function. Take a look. CLICK HERE.

Did you know: “perceptive expectation” influences how we taste wine?

Ever wonder why The Wine Spectator can review a wine and come to a completely different conclusion than The Wine Advocate? Or how a magnetic “aging” device can claim to alter the flavor of a tannic Cabernet? Maybe you’ve been surprised by your own negative assessment of a top shelf Bordeaux after tasting it “blind” in a side by side comparison with a decidedly delicious, but nonetheless low brow pretender. Is it really all just a matter of taste, or do we approach wine with a preconceived notion of how it should taste?

A French cognitive psychologist named Frédéric Brochet once applied American psychologist’s Jerome Bruner’s theory of perceptive expectation, a phenomenon whereby the subject perceives what he or she has pre-perceived and finds it difficult to back away, to the study of wine tasting and found that pretty much everything we drink is influenced in some way by our pre-perception of it. When red dye was added to white wine, the subjects described the flavors as those typical in red wine. When a cheap table wine was labeled as an expensive grand vin, the subjects lauded the cheapy and turned their noses up when the labels were reversed.

In a double-blind randomized cross-over trial of the effects of magnets on the taste of cheap red wine conducted by James Rubin et al of King’s College, London, tasters were given samples of both “magnetized” and non-magnetized wines under double-blind conditions and could not distinguish between them. How is it, then, that some people say they can taste the difference when they know that the wine has been “magnetized?”

More insight comes from a study by neuroscientist Read Montague from the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, TX, who was unconvinced by the market results of Pepsi 30 years after the famous “Pepsi Challenge,” and wondered why if people actually preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke (according to the Pepsi commercial), Pepsi was not the dominant cola beverage. So a few years ago he set about to figure out why people would buy a product they didn't particularly like. His study of the brain's responses to ads, brands, and all the other information we’re bombarded with, indicated how easily the brain is influenced by these outside forces. Montague had his subjects take the Pepsi Challenge while he watched their neural activity on an MRI machine. Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of them said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too.

Having an open mind when trying a new wine may be a lofty goal, but our own neuro-psychological behavior may thwart us at every pour.


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