“Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono.” ( In small barrels, there’s good wine)
Originality, purity and sustainability are such keywords nowadays. Together they make up a trio of characteristics which influence much of today’s focus on agriculture and to achieve any one of these is considered no small triumph. So, when each standard is met equally and together, it is truly a cause for celebration.
Cantina Raina (Rah-EE-na) is a project of Francesco Marianni, a chef and winegrower. Together with his friend and assistant, Andrea Mattioli, they established a biodynamic winery in the village of Montefalco, Umbria. This region of Italy is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and the Village sits atop the mountain giving its residents and visitors a panoramic view which can be equalled only by a very few places on the planet. With a history dating back to the 1500’s it is an historian’s delight with its many churches and protective walls, while also giving a nod to modern day travellers with friendly people, small, quaint restaurants and welcoming hotels.
Cantina Raina was established in 2002 and bears the nickname of the previous owner of the land. This was done purposely to establish a link between the history and the land. On roughly 25 acres of land you will find grapes such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Montepulciano and Sagrantino among others, grown organically (certified), with each stage and operation of the vineyards carried on in house. As an aside, the Sagrantino grape is grown primarily here in Montefalco and is indigenous to the region of Umbria. Possibly introduced by monks, it was first used to make a sweeter wine consumed during the Easter season to pair with lamb. Currently though, it is used more in wine blends.
Modern, sustainable methods are very important in this winery. Water for the winery is heated by solar panels and comes from their own well, while water for irrigation comes from their own lake, known as “Pacino.” This allows for very strict standards of purity, which is constantly monitored. No chemical herbicides are used and fertilizer is biodynamically garnered from their own formula. Grapes are harvested by hand when sufficiently ripened, so there is no real timetable for harvesting. Rather, the grapes will tell you when they are ready, a much longer and drawn out process. Grapes are then fermented, with skins for 15 days in stainless steel tanks. The aging process is complex: 24 months in oak barrels, 6 months in stainless steel and another 6 months in the bottle. The finished product is neither clarified nor filtered.
In the bottle the wine is a deep red, leaning to scarlet in color. It will benefit from a long, two hour decanting to thoroughly aerate. Aromas of plums and black fruit are easily noticed as is kind of a toasty smell. While the Merlot gives this wine a kind of a softness, the Sangiovese gives it some body and heartiness, while the Sagrantino lends a sweetness. On the palate it delivers a nice, lasting finish with a curiously different flavor. At first it kind of reminds you of a vermouth, but that taste does fade after a while leaving you with a familiar feeling that you can’t quite place.
We paired this wine with a meatless meal, a soup of beans and broccoli with some home made bread, and it stood up very well. I can see it together with more delicate meats, like lamb or duck. While the taste of the wine will not be overcome I would not recommend beef with it only because of the slight taste of the vermouth, a product of the Sagrantino grape. So when the monks drank this with lamb, I guess they knew what they were doing.
This wine was different for me because of the bordering on the sweet side. Normally I prefer a very dry wine. This, as I said, is different. A pleasant change, but in all honesty, not a wine I would drink too often. Although the quality of the product shines through and the process is a very noble effort, it was not really my taste. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but rather to say I would use it sparingly.
Alcohol – 14%
Price – $18
Rating – 6 out of an unattainable 10 grapes