Talking with Chiara Lungarotti

Women in Wine: Umbria's ambassador

 


One has to wonder what Giorgio might think. The late Giorgio Lungarotti always thought about the future, and not necessarily for his own benefit -- who else plants walnut trees in his 80s, for example?

So, what would Giorgio think about three women now running the family business? I would imagine he would be very proud indeed of his wife Maria Grazia and daughters Chiara and Theresa. Always a champion of what was local and organic, Giorgio could only be thrilled that his family has not only assumed control of the family business, but also is furthering his vision while continuing to keep Lungarotti at the forefront of Italian wine.
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6 Top Wines from Lungarotti

Click to see a slideshow of 6 Top Wines from Lungarotti

I recently had the chance to sit down with Chiara Lungarotti, CEO of Cantine Lungarotti, and explored what was new, and what was unchanged in the Lungarotti line-up. The truth is there is very little that is unchanged in a pure sense. The Lungarottis have always been, and continue to be, innovators, but the goal has never been to fundamentally change their wine, but rather to tweak what could be, in light of the continuing evolution of the wine industry to allow their wines to move from strength to strength.

Not surprisingly, this was one of Giorgio Lungarotti’s traits, and one that remains ingrained in the family, as can be illustrated by their pursuit of great white wines. Lungarotti was already the driving force in Umbria’s wine business back in 1971 when Giorgio introduced both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to the region. These experimental plots, planted in 1971 from clones obtained in France, led to the production of some well regarded examples of both.

Never one to stick with the status quo, Chiara had been searching for another white grape: something more of a place, something more, well, Italian! Vermentino caught Chiara’s eye and after satisfactory results with some experiments, a wine was produced, blending the Chardonnay with Vermentino. While Italian, Vermentino was not Umbrian and thus Chiara was not fully convinced by the results and her search for something truly Umbrian continued.

After tasting local white wines over and over, finally Chiara found what she was looking for with a particular Pecorino she tasted. While there was a great appreciation for the possibilities of Vermentino and Chardonnay present, the truth is that Chiara, and all the Lungarottis for that matter, will always be more passionate about the indigenous varieties that allow Umbria to express itself the world over. The Vermentino was grafted over to Pecorino and the first commercial release of Pecorino is slated to be 2011!

That desire to bring the best of Umbria to the world stage also started a search that led the family to Montefalco and, more specifically, the Turrita di Montefalco, where the family owns 20 hectares of biodynamically farmed vineyards, again blending tradition with a forward-thinking vision. Here, Sagrantino, perhaps Umbria’s most important red grape, is gently handled in a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow wine cellar. Another project begun by Giorgio in the early 1990s has been nourished and brought along by his wife and daughters, fulfilling a family-held vision.

Some of this pride of region has to stem from what the Lungarotti family, and Giorgio in particular, achieved with their Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio. This hilltop vineyard with its western exposure allows Sangiovese to thrive in a climate that is distinctly hotter than that found amongst the hilltops of Tuscany. Still aged in barrique (25% new), Vigna Monticchio was, and remains, the quintessential blend of tradition in its use of Sangiovese and a rather high percentage (30%) of Canaiolo, and a forward-looking vision that embodies Lungarotti.

The hillside known as Vigna Monticchio was once the sloping basin of a huge lake. The resulting basin offers a mix of sandy and clay soils over a limestone base that require differing combinations of vine clone and rootstock. In light of this variation, and in effort to preserve some continuity over the years, the 250 or so hectares of vineyards have undergone a long term replanting schedule, averaging 10-12 hectares per year, with rootstock and clones specifically selected for each vineyard block.

For the Canaiolo, a surprisingly important variety here, a non-vigorous root stock was selected but vine material was obtained through massal selection. These Lungarotti variations of Canaiolo differed significantly from those supplied by the nursery. In tests these indigenous vines have proven to be richer in polyphenols, bringing more color and structure to the wines than the classic Canaiolo Toscana. In fact, Chiara compares it to Colorin more than the classic Canaiolo.

A fairly recent and significant change at Lungarotti was Chiara’s decision to reduce the time the Rubesco Riserva spent at the winery. Historically the Rubesco Riserva was kept for 10 years before release, though that has been reduced over the past decade or so to approximately five years today. This certainly has had an effect on the current release version of the wine, though the production techniques are essentially unchanged. Rubesco Riserva is a blend produced in the cellar. With so many years' experience the Lungarotti team is fairly familiar with which plots are destined to become Vigna Monticchio, but each plot is still vinified and aged separately, with only the finest lots being blended to produce the Riserva.

While Lungarotti is most famous for their Rubesco Riserva, the base Rubesco is not a wine that should be ignored. In fact, the Rubesco and Torre di Giano are both fine values and wonderfully accessible wines. These are both classic table wines; what one might dismiss as simplicity turns out to be the wine’s greatest asset. These are affordable wines that work magically with food. The Torre di Giano, which benefits from a year on its lees, is the quintessential summertime sipper, yet that lees ageing endows the wine with a shade of extra richness which makes it superbly adaptable at the table. 

That adaptability at the table has always been a driving force at Lungarotti. From father to daughter, no-one here has lost sight of what their wines should be: unique examples of the finest that Umbria has to offer. Wines that express all the joy the Lungarottis derive from their work every time they're paired with a dinner, be it a simple repast or glorious feast. 

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Comments

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,004

    Like your article and am interested in these wines,especially the Torre di Giano for this summer. All I have to do is to find out availability and where to purchase.

    Mar 11, 2011 at 9:27 AM


  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 6,350

    Would love to hear more about the process of grafting root stock at some point, GDP. I know that's pretty geeky topic, but I'm interested all the same.

    Mar 11, 2011 at 9:30 AM


  • Snooth User: bruce84
    702330 3

    During our 5 years of living on the Tuscan/Umbrian border we drank lots of Torre di Giano and enjoyed it greatly. Some years it was superb with the richness you refer to and other years just a fun summer white at a reasonable price. Never got to the prcey Rubesco Riserva, but had a few ordinary Rubesco and wasn't impressed. Found it harsh

    Mar 11, 2011 at 10:06 AM


  • Snooth User: bruce84
    702330 3

    Write your comment here.

    Mar 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM


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