Drink to Procanico, Grechetto and Aleatico!

Thursday, 6 December, 2012
Kristina B, CWM
These white grape varieties should not make you frown. These autochthonous grapes make wines which are under Italy’s Top 100 Best Buys!  Maybe memories of a sweet partially botrytised wine of Grechetto and Procanico (also known as Trebbiano elsewhere) may bring a smile to your face, or is it that you remember that Napoleon drank Aleatico while in exile on Elba?
All three of these grape varieties have progressed ‘from their sweet beginnings’, into serious wines of DOC and IGT status in the southern parts of Tuscany. For Procanico and Grechetto let us go to Orvieto, the town, and the wine region Orvieto DOC.

Orvieto has its origins in the 8th/9th century BC when the volcanic hill was first inhabited by the Etruscans. The town became an important papal seat in the 11th /12th century. The striped travertine and basalt Cathedral and the 1200 grottos underground are not the only 2 incredible sights to see in Orvieto. The two lakes nearby, Lake Bolsena and also Lake Corbara, are wonderful ‘agri-turismo’ destinations. Sightseeing  of many archaeological sites like Campo della Fiera, Sugano, San Lorenzo in vineis, and a little further away, the ancient town of Pitigliano make your travels between the interesting winery visits even more spectacular.
The Orvieto DOC wine region goes over 2 provinces, Umbria and Lazio. Umbria has 16503 hectares of vineyards, some 11 DOC and 2 DOCGs, producing 740000 hectolites of wine annually. This landlocked region has exceptional soils of limestone and tufa, and the rolling hills permit animal and food farming. 58% of the wines from Umbria are white wines.

Lazio has 25 DOCs (of which 20 are white variety based), for example there are two around the Lake Bolsena e.g. Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone DOC and Aleatico di Gradoli DOC. Lazio, with its capital Rome, has an annual wine production of 2 million hectolitres. The Italian website www.winecountry.it even admits to a decline in quality of the wines from Lazio, because of a huge demand of low- cost wines in the principal city.
Orvieto DOC is now best known for its white dry wines, a blend of 4-5 white varieties: Procanico, Verdello, Grechetto, Drupeggio (also known as Canaiolo Bianco) and Malvasia.

Baberani Wine Company is on the hills of Lake Corbara, part of a dam linked to hydroelectric plants, a few minutes from Orvieto. There are 50 hectares of vineyards, guyot -trained, in different sites. The farm also offers ‘agri-tursimo’, rustic, traditional, yet practical accommodation right in their vineyards. This traditional family winery uses modern techniques from vineyard to winery, and tries to preserve the authentic taste of each terroir. Their wines are from the Orvieto DOC (white wines in dry, medium sweet and sweet/noble rot style), Lago di Corbara DOC (red wines) and also Umbria IGT.

A quaffing Orvieto DOC Classico Superiore is their dry Castagnolo, at around Euro9.50, made of Procanico, Grechetto, Chardonnay and Riesling. Other white wines are a Orvieto Classico (made up of the expected blend in the area i.e.: of Procanico, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, and Drupeggio) their Vermentino, a Grechetto, as well as their noble rot and Moscato wines. Calcaia, their botrytised  Orvieto DOC Classico Superiore was a wine mentioned under the Italy Top 100 Best Buys from Wine Enthusiast some years ago. A wine called VI NO SO2 is an incredible effort to show how the white Grechetto grapes, (which have unusually high tannins), and Procanico grapes, can be made into a wine without any addition of chemicals. Dr. Baberani says that this is achieved through meticulous physical treatments from vineyard to bottle and thus the only sulphites are those “originating from the fermentation of the yeast”.

Then there is Castello della Sala, near Ficulle, about 18km north of Orvieto, an estate of 500 hectares,with 160 hectares of manicured vineyards of Procanico, Grechetto, and also Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, the non- traditional varieties for this area. This Antinori property produces  2 Orvieto  DOC Classico, the  Campogrande and the San Giovanni della Sala, and then red and white Umbria IGT wines like the Chardonnay-based Cervaro and the Sauvignon Blanc-based sweet Muffato della Sala, and a Pinot Nero. The winery and medieval fortress portray the wealth and knowledge of the Antinori empire:  the use of modern technology and an eye for the preservation of tradition.With the wine tasting of 3 wines, at Euro 20, came a plate of cured meats and cheeses. The shop sells only these wines, which are not light on your pocket, but are serious white wines with ageing potential.

From Orvieto, a good two and a half hours drive west, past the Lake Bolsena, and past the historical towns of  Sovana and Pitigliano, we reach the Tuscan Maremma, where we find some smaller vineyards of Aleatico. Aleatico can also be found in Elba (only DOCG, dedicated to a passito style) and also in the southern Apulia. Fattoria Aldobrandesca is a charming but very practical winery, also an Antinori property.  In the first degree, the big vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc provide juice /wines for the central winemaking plant in Cortona.

Bought in 1995, most of the vineyards were planted with red Bordeaux varieties as well as 9.3ha of Aleatico and some Sangiovese.  This lush area of the Maremma, to this day has wild roaming boar, and many of the vineyards are protected with  low electrical wiring.The 4 different soil colours of volcanic tufa presented in a tall glass in the tasting room, and many photos of the area, make this a very welcoming winery. The tasting consisted of a 100% Malbec, Maremma Toscana IGT, (which Robert Parker gives 90 points), a structured new Rosé and a red sweet dessert wine of the Aleatico grape. I was impressed with the Rosato (rosé), shiny royal pink in colour, upfront fresh wild berries on the nose, light bodied, yet serious red fruit and good acidity on the palate. Aleatico is a dark skinned grape, which ripens late, has floral, muscat and herbal aromas on the nose, wild berries, lychees on the palate, and makes dark and dense sweet wines which can complement any cheese platter.

This region, south of Tuscany, away from the bustle of Florence and Rome, is a part of Italy with wine history and culture. Producers like Antinori and Barberani are just two wineries investing in terroir niches and maintaining the diversity in Italian wines, by preserving these indigenous varieties: drink to Procanico, Grechetto and Aleatico!

Kristina Beuthner, CWM

Kristina found her passion for the wine world in a glass of German Riesling Sekt, which inspired her to open an import and distribution company in Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia.

She has a BCom degree, worked in Germany and France. She started learning wine in SA, at the CWA and worked as a specialized client manager for New World Wines in Johannesburg until 2009, when the company was sold.She established contacts among winemakers through regular visits and participation in trade shows. She completed her Cape Wine Master in 2010,and wrote her dissertation on “The future of Riesling in SA and what we can learn from the recent improvements in Germany (example the Rheingau)”.

In 2014 she became the Principal of the Cape Wine Academy,  specializing in tertiary and public wine education, formed by the industry in 1979. Towards the end of 2018 she resigned, and is involved with wine education and consulting, marketing/sales, translations, judging in wine.

She has travelled extensively, and visited the wine lands of the world, including Napa, Bordeaux, Languedoc, Rioja and many German and Austrian wine regions, always in pursuit of "typicity" from the area.

She is member of the wine-club, the Wild Yeasts, in Johannesburg, is member of the Commanderie de Bordeaux, and often entertains or consults to corporations and institutions.She is a lecturer (for the courses at the Cape Wine Academy), a certified educator for WSET courses, and has completed a Sherry Educator program in 2018.

She judges at the prestigious IWSC in London, UK and in South Africa. She has also judged at local competitions, amongst others at the biggest competition in South Africa, the Veritas Awards, the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier competition and the Distell Interhotel Challenge.

She writes articles for  www.wine.co.za and the Mastercopy of the Institute of Cape Wine Masters (www.icwm.co.za).