This past April the Formaggio Wine Team took a pleasant trip to visit Sergio Mottura’s estate on our way to VinItaly 2014. We flew into Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning and drove north-east towards Umbria. We eventually split off from the crazy A1 autostrada onto small, one-lane roads. Just along the northern border of Lazio we reached the medieval hamlet of Civitella d’Agliano, and the home, hotel and cantina of the Mottura family.
The Mottura family’s history here dates back several generations. When we arrived at the Mottura’s hotel, La Tana dell’istriche, Sergio and his son Giuseppe immediately led us to their underground tasting room, where we sipped their lovely sparkling wine and filled up on warm focaccia fresh from the oven. We settled into our rooms and lunched on huge porchetta sandwiches with big glasses of Sergio’s red Civitella Rosso. Yum.
After lunch, Sergio whisked us away in his car to tour the local countryside and visit the vineyards around his house. Although most of the Orvieto D.O.C. is in the region of Umbria, the part of the D.O.C. where Sergio’s property lies is just over the border in Lazio. The family holds approximately 130 hectares in total, all farmed carefully and organically. Sergio took time out to show us the plants growing between his vines and point out different types of flowers and weeds that help keep the soils healthy.
Before the property was converted to organic viticulture in the 1960s, the local “istrice” or porcupines stayed away. As the land became cleaner, the porcupines became more frequent visitors, running around under the vines and eating the grapes that fell to the ground. Now, Sergio puts the little porcupine on all of his wine labels to celebrate the cleanliness of his organic farm. Today the Mottura’s property is rife with the little creatures; Sergio even had to build a serious fence to protect his vegetable garden!
The tufo caves under the hotel in which the Motturas’ best wines are aged are incredibly deep, and perfectly cool. Tufo is a type of rock created from volcanic ash, and it’s common in the Umbria/Lazio area. To reach the caves, we descended to the basement of the hotel, and then down two more levels until it seemed we were miles below the surface. The cave ceilings and walls were draped with cobwebs and fluffy white moldy strings, making for a creepy and fascinating setting.
My favorite part of our visit was the multi-course homemade dinner we had with the family. All of the wines made a showing, each at a different part of the meal, and we ate lovely local dishes like homemade farro pasta (made with the family’s own fresh eggs!), shaved fresh artichokes, and rich red wine braised chicken, falling off the bone. Giuseppe Mottura recommends his white wines with classic Lazio dishes like Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini all’Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe. A distinct saltiness in the wines melds with lovely salty Roman cheese like Pecorino Romano.
Orvieto has long been Umbria’s most famous and most exported wine. One of just a few D.O.C. wines in the region, Orvieto was once known for its rich honey flavor and off-dry style. Historically, Orvieto was made from blends of Grechetto and Malvasia, long aged in prehistoric cellars cut from volcanic rock. Sergio’s entry-level white is a pretty little Orvieto made from a blend of local grapes including 25% Grechetto (Sergio’s favorite white grape). It is fermented in stainless steel so there are no woody aromas or flavors – just pure, fresh, juicy wine. Not heavy, this refreshing wine has green fruit and a slight grassy note, as well as a pleasantly bitter aftertaste like bitter almonds. This everyday, light-bodied white is quenching and works wonderfully as an aperitivo. Sip on its own or paired with younger sheep’s milk cheeses like the pecorinos from Pienza. This Orvieto’s salinity pairs especially well with seafood and bitter greens.
Sergio and Giuseppe believe that Grechetto is their most important white grape; the one with the most character and with the most potential for aging. The name Grechetto comes from the grape’s origins in Greece. Over the years Sergio has identified and isolated specific clones in his vineyards that he believes produce the most complex and characteristic wines. Grechetto can potentially add richness and a slight nutty note to wines it’s blended into, and when vinified on its own it makes for a lovely, complex, medium-bodied white. The Poggio della Costa Grechetto is grown in a 7 hectare plot of clay soil atop a small hill (or “poggio”). After a soft pressing and slow fermentation, the wine is aged throughout the winter and spring on its lees. You’ll notice that this wine is richer in body and darker in color than the Orvieto. Look for juicier fruit notes like peach and pineapple and a warm, somewhat stony finish. Despite a fruity tone, this wine remains dry and well-balanced. Mottura’s Poggio della Costa Grechetto is especially good with salty and savory foods like roasted pork and aged pecorino cheese. Try with a big plate of homemade spaghetti alla carbonara!
Although the Motturas certainly love their Grechetto, the Orvieto region’s temperate climate and volcanic soil provide excellent conditions for a range of red varieties as well. Sergio grows Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, producing a variety of wines aged in both oak and stainless steel. Although he uses so-called international grapes, Sergio manages to escape the tendencies of imitation and makes wines that are distinctly fresh and not too heavy. He grows his Merlot and Montepulciano in a 6 hectare hillside or “Civitella Rosso” vineyard, which benefits significantly from veins of gravel that break up the mix of tufo and clay. The grapes are fermented and aged for 6 months in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity and freshness of the fruit characteristics. This is not your average soft and fruity Merlot – the Montepulciano gives it a little kick and a bit of a woodsy undertone. Pretty cherry and blackberry fruit does show here, as well as a hint of spice, making for a lovely spring or fall red to pair with pork and duck!
If you’re ever planning a trip to the Lazio/Umbria area please let us know so we can give you information and directions to Civitella d’Agliano so you can visit the Mottura family too. They love visitors from the states and encouraged us to encourage YOU to go visit them!