Chiesa del Carmine – an authentic taste of Umbria
Chiesa del Carmine is a restored estate in Umbria, some thirty minutes north of the twin delights of Perugia and Assissi. It’s near the Tuscan border, in a small limestone valley accessed from the river valley of the Upper Tiber (Fiume Tevere). This short article is about why their wines are worth seeking out.
The previous tenant farmers abandoned this beautiful valley decades ago, and so it slipped into decay, then ruin. However, in 2009 it was bought by a British couple, Jacqueline and Jeremy Sinclair. With the help of a talented local team, it’s been gradually re-established over the past decade.
As with many estates, there’s more than wine on show here. For example, there are five varieties of old olive trees too, which have also been brought back into organic production. There’s even a forest plantation for truffles. Meanwhile, at the centre of the estate lies the restored church (the Chiesa), which dates from the eleventh century. Along with a nearby farmhouse, they are now luxury holiday accommodation.
The vineyards needed replanting, and their first vintage was in 2013. Consequently, there’s about 6 ha making around 20,000 bottles per year from certified organically farmed grapes. At around 300 metres altitude, they comprise white Trebbiano Spoletino plus the reds of Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The acclaimed Giovanni Dubini is the winemaker. Currently, his winery, Palazzone, undertakes it. Hence Chiesa del Carmine shares space with some of the best Orvieto Classico DOC. However, a new winery is under construction on the estate so that everything will be in-house. This move will also enable the wine to become organically certified by 2021.
The Chiesa del Carmine range comprises six wines, and four of these are featured below. The wines are all labelled Umbria IGP (IGT as was), the regional catch-all designation. Somewhat geekily, I think that some of them might theoretically fit into the local DOC Colli Altotiberini. However, that’s an obscure DOC that doesn’t convey any advantage in terms of recognition.
Trebbiano Spoletino, Umbria Bianco IGP, 2018. 12.5%
I’m fascinated by Spoletino (no ordinary Trebbiano, this). It’s a recovered rare grape variety that’s still little known but has a big future. This example equals the best from the more famous Montefalco area, an hour to the south. It’s hand-picked, whole bunch pressed, fermented in stainless steel and kept on the lees to pick up extra aroma and flavours.
Spoletino is the estate’s sole white wine, and there’s an awful lot to enjoy. It shows a pale golden colour, with gentle floral and white fruit aromatics. On the palate, there’s a full-body that belies its modest alcohol, with flavours of lime and quince. Again, excellent balance, before a long length with a savoury and smoky finish. There’s no wood maturation involved, though you might think otherwise, given the smooth texture and hints of smoke.
It’s a terrific example that food-wise is deserving of something Umbrian, so a simple dish of pasta with Umbrian olive oil and black truffles worked brilliantly.
While drinking well now, it’s also worth ageing if you can resist temptation. Five thousand bottles made. £20.00
Rosa della Chiesa, Umbria Rosato IGP, 2019. 12.5%
100% Sangiovese. In colour, this rosé is that lovely (and fashionable) onion skin pink – a rosé has to be pretty in the glass. It suggests minimal skin contact to get this colour from Sangiovese. Aromatically, hints of violets and bergamot, while the palate has delicate raspberry and rhubarb. Excellent cleansing acidity, bone-dry, with the slightest mineral rasp on the back palate. It’s a rosé full of personality and varietal character that’s true to this place and can please white and red wine lovers in equal measure.
Best with food, where it shines. Hence Pappardelle pasta, with homemade wild garlic pesto slathered over grilled chicken strips, made for a joyful experience. Three thousand bottles made. £20.00
Rosabella della Chiesa. Umbria Rosato IGP, 2019. 13%
100% Merlot. This Rosé has quite a similar name to the one above, but there the similarities end. This rosé is in complete contrast. The colour is a deep reddish pink. A little fuller-bodied too, but again well-balanced alcohol to fruit and acidity. Dry in style, this wine is all about vibrant red berry fruits.
It makes a good aperitivo, and food matching is easy – that acidity cuts through anything fatty or creamy, and the fruit flavours are more pronounced. This time I chose something traditionally British. Lincolnshire Haslet, served in thin slices with potato salad, was an excellent match for a summery lunch. I hope the famous pork butchers of Umbria would approve!
Many Merlot rosés are available in the UK, but too many are clumsy, bland and confected. This one shows how it should be, so I’d like to see it in the UK. Three thousand bottles made.
Il Campanile, Umbria Rosso IGP, 2016. 13.5%
80% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 5% Merlot. Fermented in stainless steel, then matured in 225-litre French oak barrels for nine months. This red blend is in a similar style to DOC Montefalco Rosso, though with less maturation time. Sagrantino is a great-quality variety but also one of the world’s most tannic grapes. In this Rosso, time and blending tame it. Decant it for two hours beforehand, as it has considerable sediment.
Garnet hued, with aromas of cherry and peony. The palate still has chewy tannins, so it takes a while to open up in the glass, even after decanting. Then patience is rewarded by sour cherry and plum fruit and a long, peppery finish. There’s plenty of development potential with this wine. Best kept for a year or two yet.
As far as food matching, this wine style is ideal with roast or grilled meats. Maybe Umbrian wild boar would probably be best, but failing that, a thickly cut rare Steak, merely threatened by a flame, was the ideal match. Aged hard cheeses (think artisanal Cheddar or a mature Pecorino) are also good. Eight thousand bottles made. £19.00
The UK wine stockist is Provenance Wine, in Wimbledon, London. I placed an order via their online shop.
There are only small quantities of the two other wines, so these sell locally. Rosso del Carmine is 100% Merlot, with 1,000 bottles. Bell’Angelo is a red blend of 65% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Sagrantino, with 1,800 bottles.
Next time I’m in Umbria, I’d like to visit and discover more about Chiesa del Carmine.
This estate is one to watch!
Chiesa del Carmine
Strada Castiglione Ugolino 70
06134 La Bruna
For the Chiesa del Carmine Estate Manager, David Lang, I may never have discovered this estate without whom. However, I’m sure I’ve driven past it on the SS3 to Perugia!