Thursday, September 15, 2016

Visit to Terre Margaritelli, Torgiano, Umbria

Friday was a "You Day" on our Art in Voyage tour of Umbria and surrounds. A number of our colleagues had opted to go horseback riding followed by a wine tasting and lunch at Terre Margaritelli in Torgiano. I wanted to go visit Paolo Bea and arranged with Jennifer McIlvaine ( to crash the wine tasting and lunch after which we would go on to Paolo Bea. This post reports on our visit to Terre Margaritelli.

The Margaritelli Group is a leading wood-products manufacturer with a focus on indoor and outdoor materials as well as materials for railway superstructures. In the post-WWII period the company was best known for the manufacture of wooden railroad ties. When concrete ties began to increase its market share -- to the detriment of wooden ties -- Fernando Margaritelli turned the business over to his son asking only for a tractor and a plot of land so that he could grow grapes and make wine for the family.This is the origin story of the precursor to the 60-ha estate that is today's Terre Margaritelli.

According to Federico Bibi (Estate Manager), Fernando died in the 1980s and, while the property was maintained in good order, winemaking ceased. In 2000, Guiseppe Margaritelli decided to revive Fernando's passion so he enlarged the existing property and began planting vines. In 2004 the decision was made to push beyond selling the entire grape production and to begin producing a small amount of wine. Federico hd been advising the estate along the way and in 2008 they asked him to come on board to manage the project on a full-time basis.

Federico Bibi in the Terre Margaritelli Vineyard
The estate is located in Miralduolo in the commune of Torgiano, a region accorded DOC status for its wines in 1968 and DOCG status for its Rosso Riserva in 1990. The Torgiano appellations are shown as the orange-colored blotch in the heart of the map below.

The growing area is 60 ha in size with the largest of its two plots measuring 52 ha. The plots rest on clay soils at elevations ranging between 200 and 250 m. The vines range between 9 and 16 years old and are planted at 4000-5000 vines/ha. The primary white varieties are Trebbiano and Grechetto and the reds Sangiovese and Canaiolo but varieties such as Viognier, Fiano, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon can also be found on the estate. In all, a total of 15 different varieties are planted in the vineyard.

The estate's overarching philosophy is one of sustainability and this permeates every aspect of its grape-growing and winemaking activities. The vineyards are certified organic, rendering the estate the largest organic producer in Umbria.

No pesticides are used in the vineyard even though conditions are rainy and the vines are susceptible to downy mildew. In some cases the vines are sprayed with organic preparations. Natural fertilizers are employed to meet any nutrient deficiencies. First, the inter-row spaces are planted alternately to beans/grains and grass. Beans are a well-known nitrogen fixer while grains are rich in organic nutrients. The inter-row residents have shallow root systems so they compete with the vines for near-surface resources, forcing the vines to dig deeper in the hunt for water and nutrients. This stress results in higher-quality fruit.

Grape harvesting at the estate can be done by hand or machine with the final choice determined by the quality of the grapes and weather conditions. If rain is in the offing, for example, and the grapes need to be harvested on that day, they will most likely be machine-picked.

Each variety is assigned to its own block in the vineyard, with each block harvested and vinified separately. There is no selection in the case of machine- harvesting -- as far as I can see -- as the harvested grapes are dumped directly into the destemmer before being pumped into the Press. Fermentation is facilitated by selected yeasts.

Wood is very important to Margaritelli as a group so they wanted to ensure that they were using products that would accrue the benefits of oak-aging without compromising the qualities of the fruit. Towards that end they partneerd with the Wine Institute to determine the impact of different oak forests on wine. They bought oak from 20 different forests while the Institute bought wines from a single producer. Those wines were aged in the different barrels and it was determined that there were major differences between the wines after one year of aging.

Coming out of this experiment, Terre Margaritelli determined that French white oak from the Bertrange forest best met its requirements. Their barrel-maker of choice is Toutant.

After completing our tour of the vineyard and cellar, we went back into the offices for a light lunch and a tasting of selected Terre Margaritelli wines. The lunch was prepared by Jennifer and was stunning. Not a piece of meat in sight for the main courses but freshness and complexity ruled the day.

The first wine tasted was a 2015 Costellato, a Bianco di Torgiano DOC which is a blend of Trebbiano (50%), Fiano (20%), Chardonnay (15%), and Viognier (15%). According to Federico, the Trebbiano contributed freshness, drinkability, acidity, and citrus to the blend while the Fiano contributed perfume and acidity. The Chardonnay was harvested early so that it could contribute complexity and freshness. The Viognier contributed herbal notes. The wine was aged two months in stainless steel and two months in bottle.

Citrus, freshness, melon, salinity, freshness, and a clayey minerality. An Assyrtiko without the sharpness. I liked this wine.

The 2015 Greco di Renabianca is a 100% Grechetto which is labeled Umbria Bianco IGT. This wine is named after a 12th century soldier, recalling the myriad battles between towns that took place in the flat lands below the estate. Aged 2- 3 months in barrique and 1 year in bottle. This wine brought to mind sweet hazelnuts, eucalyptus and white fruits. Lime, spice and a rusticity on the palate. Powerful.

The 2013 Mirantico is a Rosso di Torgiano DOC and is a blend of Sangiovese (50%), Canaiolo (20%), and Malbec (30%). This wine is aged 6 months in barriques and 1 year in bottle. Light in color but powerful. Florality, spice, red fruits with an elegant palate entrance. Light on its feet with nice, long, berry finish.

The final wine was the 2012 Freccia Degli Scacchi, the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG. This was 100% Sangiovese aged 24 months in barrique and 24 months in bottle. Cherries, blackpepper, roses. Powerful on the palate with spice and tannin evident. This wine did not engage my palate to the extent that I expected it to.

This was time well spent. Federico and his team have excellent product but they also have a story to tell; and do an excellent job of telling it.

Now on to Paolo Bea.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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