Peter Ranscombe samples wines from Cantina Goccia in Umbria, which have just landed in Scotland.
FEW Italian regions strike such a chord with tourists as Tuscany; from Tony Blair and Terry Wogan to Stevie Wonder and Sting, celebrities have flocked to see its Renaissance art and to walk among its lavender fields and olive groves.
The region is equally famous for its wines, including Chianti, Brunello and the 1970s “Super-Tuscans”, which rewrote the book, breaking the strict appellation rules to produce wines that put the area on the international vinous map.
Hiding to the south-east in Tuscany’s shadow lies Umbria, a province that grows the same sangiovese red grapes but whose wines have not yet reached the dizzying notoriety of its more-famous neighbour.
Umbria’s wines gained a new celebrity connection over the summer though when one of their number was served at The Hunter Foundation’s charity dinner in Edinburgh, at which Michelle Obama – the former first lady of the United States – was the guest speaker.
Wine merchant Woodwinters has recently started importing bottles from Cantina Goccia, a family-run Umbrian winery where Ceri Parke and Steve Barber focus on producing high-quality wines from sangiovese, pinot nero, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, grechetto and vermentino.
Woodwinters selected the 2016 Cantina Goccia 3Q (£17, Woodwinters) to serve at the dinner; made from a blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the wine is aged for 12 months without wooden barrels.
The result is ripe blackcurrant on the nose and then tonnes of both red and black fruit on the palate, with the blackcurrant joined by blackberry, redcurrant and black and red cherries.
The acidity is fresh, and the tannins have enough grip to handle roast meat or other hearty food.
Stepping up a gear, the 2012 PNero (£24) spends 12 months in French barriques, adding caramel and vanilla touches to the concentrated red cherry, red plum and cranberry flavours, which are already developing some mushroom notes.
There’s a pleasantly-surprising amount of tannin from the pinot nero – as pinot noir is known in this part of the world – which again makes it a food-friendly wine.
Steve reports that pinot nero can be challenging to grow in Umbria and so they don’t make this wine every year – although he adds that the 2017 pinot is already showing promise.
A wee drop of magic
Sangiovese is where the real action is when it comes to red wines in Umbria and Cantina Goccia – whose name translates as “drop” – offers two styles.
The first, the 2012 Nodo (£22), is placed into used oak barrels for two years.
Redcurrant, caramel and black and red cherries on the nose lead into classic sour cherry, blackcurrant, redcurrant and cranberry flavours in the mouth, with cream and caramel notes and plenty of warmth from its 14 per cent alcohol.
For me, the winery’s flagship, the 2009 Nesso (£30), displays much better-integrated oak – a mixture of new and old French barriques in which it spends two years – thanks to its age.
Its tannins are classically Italian, firm and dry, but well integrated, and balanced by complex flavours of redcurrant, cranberry, red cherry, vanilla and caramel, with a twist of milk chocolate on the finish and a rounded mouthfeel.
Also worth a mention is the winery’s only white, the 2016 D’Oro (£17), made from the local grechetto variety and matured for between six and eight months before being released.
This is no boring Italian white – it’s packed full of melon, pineapple and lemon rind, with crisp acidity to match the ripe fruit.
If there’s vermentino in their vineyards then I can’t wait to see what Ceri and Steve will do with one of my favourite white grapes if they decide to add it to their already impressive range.