Orange is the New Red: Paolo Bea Santa Chiara & Umbrian Steak #ItalianFWT
#ItalianFWT Visits Umbria
Umbria is one of the few landlocked regions in Italy. Situated in between Tuscany to the west, Le Marche to the east, and Lazio to the southwest, Umbria is known as the “Green Heart of Italy”. Winewise, it’s best known for the white wine Orvieto, and for red wines made from Sangiovese and Sagrantino grapes.
Paolo Bea is A Step Away from the Ordinary
In researching Umbria I drank a variety of wines from the region and will likely post more this month. I was intrigued most of all by the wines of Paolo Bea. I discovered Paolo Bea back in our Lazio exploration with a wine he makes for the sisters in a convent, Coenobium Ruscum. While his wines are a bit different from the typical wines of the region, they are linked to the history and native grapes that grow in Umbria. The Paolo Bea website is beautiful, but it doesn’t have a lot of information, you’ll find more info on the Rosenthal Wine Merchant site.
About Paolo Bea from Rosenthal Imports
“References in the archives of Montefalco, the beautiful hill town in Umbria, document the presence of the Bea family in this locality as early as 1500. This tiny estate is the classic Italian fattoria, producing wine, raising farm animals for trade and home consumption and working the land to produce olives, fruits and vegetables. To this day, the Bea family raises and produces much of what they consume on a daily basis. Paolo Bea, the senior member of the family, is the guiding force behind the production of this series of intense and idiosyncratic wines. He is assisted by his two sons, Giuseppe, who farms the vineyards, and Giampiero, who assists in the vinification and is responsible for all commercial aspects of the winery. (click on any photo to view full size slide show)
The entire property encompasses 15 hectares: 5 of which are dedicated to the vineyards, 2 to olives, and the remainder to the fruits, vegetables and grains that are grown. Sagrantino is the predominant grape, covering 60% of the vineyard surface. The remaining 40% is planted to Sangiovese and Montepulciano, with a small parcel planted to several white varieties. The vineyards are cultivated organically, all grapes are harvested manually and all wines are bottled without fining or filtration.”
The Paolo Bea reds are a bit different from many of their Umbrian contemporaries. It seems many Umbrian Sagrantinos are aged in barrique, Paolo Bea ages theirs in much larger botté. I also noticed a willingness to allow a touch of oxidation in the reds, also not noticed anywhere else. The reds are very nice wines, but the white wines are like few others anywhere, Umbria or not.
Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Umbria Bianco
Again, from Rosenthal: “A white wine produced from Grachetto, Malvasia , Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Garganega, in approximately equal proportions, planted in the “Pagliaro” vineyard, a site with alternating layers of gravel and clay at 1300 feet above sea level with both east and southwest facing parcels. After crushing, the juice spends at least two weeks macerating on its lees; sulfur is never added. Fermentation occurs in small stainless steel vats at low temperatures. Two rackings are done early in the fermentation process to remove the heavy deposits and a third is done after three weeks. This wine is then left on the fine lees in stainless steel for one year before being bottled. Approximately 4500 bottles of wine are produced annually.”
The wine is in a dark bottle, so when you see “Umbria Bianco” you might be expecting a white wine. Imagine your surprise when you open the bottle and pour! Skin-fermented white wines are made in the fashion of a red wine. This means the fermenting juice is not separated from the grape skins and seeds until well into the fermentation. In the case of the Santa Chiara, 25 days with the skins (translated from the front label). This produces the orange color, the unusual aroma and some tannins.
“Orange” wines are often considered some kind of hipster creation, but quite the opposite is true, especially in Italy and some other regions such as Croatia. This was the traditional method of making white wine, and only fell out of favor in the 20th century when winemakers discovered how to create bright, fresh flavors by separating the juice immediately on crushing.
Antica Az. Agr. Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Umbria Bianco IGT 2012 ($40 from Sunfish Cellars)
Eye: Clear, dark intense orange. Very unusual
Nose: Deep and rich, roasted tangerine/orange rind
Mouth: Rich, smooth, a bit tannic. Close your eyes, you could believe it’s a red wine. Structure comes primarily from the tannins, not the acidity. Acidity is there, but not in front. This wine will stand up to a steak or a big piece of meat, but would also be comfortable with chicken.
Very impressive wine. Like many orange (skin fermented white wines), it’s not for everyone, but a definite yes for me. I loved it. Even our resident orange wine hater (Julie) declared it to be “OK” and ‘interesting”. This is high praise indeed!
Sagrantino di Montefalco – a Great Steak Wine, but…
This post started out as an exploration of Sagrantino di Montefalco as a great pairing with steak cooked on a hot grill. You very rarely see a simple grilled preparation for food in Italy, although I suspect there are more than a few charcoal grills to be found! Sagrantino di Montefalco is a great steak wine, and I don’t want to detract, but the Santa Chiara was something else entirely.
Umbrian Steak with Roasted Carrots and Fennel
The Santa Chiara was uniquely suited to this combination of foods. With the exception of the citrus qualities in the nose, the wine has the body and structure of a very nice red wine, right down to having some tannins. That body allowed it to go just beautifully with the steak. The citrus qualities in the nose seemed a perfect match for the roasted vegetables on the other side of the plate. If you have an open mind and are willing to give an orange wine a try, this would be a great place to start!
Don’t Forget the Sagrantino!
As mentioned, I did sample a wide variety of Umbrian wines, and so I also served a Sagrantino with dinner. Sagrantino is a native varietal of Umbria, and you see it almost nowhere else in the world. In the last 30 years, Sagrantino has enjoyed a resurgence in Umbria. Traditionally, Sagrantino was only produced as a sweet Passito style dessert wine (also subject of a future post). More recently, winemakers started to produce a dry, dinner wine. Sagrantino wines are very tannic, so you’ll want to serve them with appropriately rich foods.
Sagrantino di Montefalco received the DOCG designation in the 1990s. In the continuing mystery of Italian wine naming, you’ll see many wines listed as Montefalco Sagrantino, not Sagrantino di Montefalco. Go figure.
Colpetrone Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2008 ($24 from Sunfish Cellars)
Eye: A touch cloudy, dark opaque center with a brick red edge, I would guess it’s unfiltered.
Nose: Dark blue fruit, not stewed at all. Clearly oaky, reminds me of a California Cabernet. The barrique aging is evident but not overdone.
Mouth: Very tannic, but tannins have smoothed a bit with time. I notice mostly fruit, fresh blueberries. By itself, noticeably oaky, but still nice. With food, the oakiness disappeared as did the tannins.
This was a fabulous wine to serve with steak, it was just overshadowed by the surprise of a skin fermented white being such a perfect match. Honorable mention for sure!
I tried multiple Sagrantino based wines from the region, and with the exception of Paolo Bea, all were aged in barrique. Interesting, as using barriques to age the wine is considered modern and “French” in much of Italy. Perhaps due to the impressive tannins, the wines need to have their rough edges polished a bit.
Italian Food Wine & Travel Posts on Umbria
Take a look at all the great Umbrian posts this month! If you’re available on Saturday Oct. 3 at 10am CDT, we’d love you to join our Twitter conversation at #ItalianFWT.
Vino Travels – Immersion in Umbrian Wine with Sagrantino
The Palladian Traveler – Marcello’s Big Fat Italian Christening
Orna O’Reilly – Castelluccio di Norcia: On the Rooftop of the Apennines
Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Roasted Flank Steak with Zucchini Mint Pesto with an Umbrian Merlot
Italophilia – Visiting Assisi in the Enchanting Umbrian Hills
Flavourful Tuscany – Umbrian Cuisine and Fun Facts
Rockin Red Blog – Beauty and the Beast
Enofylz Wine Blog – Umbria’s Sagrantino: Call It a Comeback
Food Wine Click – Orange is the New Red: Paolo Bea Santa Chiara & Umbrian Steak on FoodWineClick
The Wining Hour – Taste Umbria – Black Truffle Linguini with Shrimp & Montefalco Sagrantino
Cooking Chat – Rigatoni with Collard Greens & Sausage with Wine from Umbria
This recipe is adapted from Julia Della Croce’s excellent “Umbria: Regional Recipes from the Heartland of Italy” Steak Ingredients Roasted Carrots and Fennel Ingredients Instructions
Umbrian Steak with Roasted Carrots and Fennel
This recipe is adapted from Julia Della Croce’s excellent “Umbria: Regional Recipes from the Heartland of Italy”
Roasted Carrots and Fennel Ingredients
- Exceptional pasture raised, grass-fed steaks from Sunshine Harvest Farm
- Carrots and leeks from vendors at Kingfield Farmers Market
- Fennel, alas, is not in season locally, picked up at the grocery store.
- Paolo Bea wines are available at Sunfish Cellars and South Lyndale Liquors
One final note: our cute little puppy, Otto, is not so little anymore. He weighs in at 50 lbs now, and has discovered he can reach the counter. While I was downstairs taking the photos above, Otto helped himself to the second steak, tenderloin, no less! So Julie and I had a super healthy dinner, sharing the steak you see in the photo. Otto likes my blog…