Saturday, June 26, 2021

Summer Is Here With These Refreshing Pleasures from L'Ecole

This year I have had a privileged opportunity to be part of an Ambassador team getting to know L’Ecole No. 41 located in the Walla Walla Valley on Washington state.  This is a 3rd generation family run winery founded in 1983 when there were only 20 wineries in the state (now over 1,000) and this being the 3rd winery at the time in the Walla Walla Valley.  The winery takes great pride in making 100% of their own wines and have been leaders in developing the Walla Walla wine region.  They are located in the Frenchtown District just west of Walla Walla.  The area was initially inhabited by French Canadians in the early 1800’s and is located in the 41st district hence L’Ecole paying homage to the historial dwellings of the area.

L'Ecole No 41 winery Schoolhouse district Walla Walla
Copyright of L'Ecole

These suggestons today were some of my recent favorites at great price points that I have been enjoying.  Both of these wines today are part of L’Ecole’s Heritage Collection marked by the black label that are branded to be consistent representations of the terroir and quality expressions of the grapes themselves. 

L'Ecole Chenin Blanc and Grenache Rose

2020 L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc Old Vines: L’Ecole has been producing this old vine 100% Chenin Blanc since 1987.  The founder, Jean Ferguson, was found of making this Chenin Blanc in a Vouvray style.  The grapes are grown from 3 separate vineyards: Willard Farms, Phil Church and Upland Vineyard, all planted in 1979 in the cool climate upper Yakima Valley AVA.  This Chenin Blanc is L’Ecole’s first white wine released every year.  Winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, takes great pride in making aromatic whites like this Chenin.  One third of this wine goes through malolactic fermentation to calm its bracing acidity and give the wine some weight. 

2020 L'Ecole Old Vine Chenin Blanc Yakima Valley

A crisp, refreshing white with vibrant acidity bursting with citrus, grapefruit and stone fruit.  Good structure and fulfilling mouthfeel.  This wine was suggested to be ageworthy for 10-15 years if one can wait that long.  ABV 13.5% SRP $17

2020 L’Ecole No 41 Grenache Rose’: This wine is grown in the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  The Alder Ridge Vineyard is situated high on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River with a rather warm climate.  L’Ecole has been producing rose’ since 2009.  This wine is made in a Provence style made from 100% Grenache.  The wine is produced using the maceration method where the red grapes are harvested early for acidity and spend about 3-4 hours on the skins for their pale salmon color.  ABV 13.5% 

2020 L'Ecole Grenache Blanc Horse Heaven Hills
With 1,000 cases produced unfortunately this wine is sold out at only $16.  This is one of the perks of being a club member to get early access to these wines without missing out.  Marcus recommended a mouthwatering suggestion of pairing this wine with prosciutto and melon or a charcuterie plate.  I tried these wines out with vegetarian stuffed peppers stuffed with farro, pinto beans and tomatoes baked with cheese on top.

Vegetarian stuffed peppers

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Part 2: Meet the Wine Producers from Orvieto

About a week ago I gave an overall introduction to the wines from Orvieto including the landscape, grapes and regulations of those produced from the Orvieto DOC.  Today I wanted to feature some of the producers I sampled from the virtual tasting led by Jo-Ann Ross and hosted by the Commonwealth Wine School and the Consorzio Tutela Vini di Orvieto.  Many of these producers are key players in the establishment and continued development of the Orvieto wine industry.  They revolutionized winemaking into the classic Orvieto wines we know today. 

As a reminder the area of the Orvieto DOC spans from the Tuscan border in the north near Fabro through the Province of Terni crossing a short span into the Lazio region in the Province of Viterbo.  The wines of Orvieto actually make up 2/3 of the DOC wines produced in Umbria.  There is a large variety from dry to sweet and even sparkling.  The majority featured today are in the dry style including one Muffa Nobile.  All great wines in different styles and complexities whether more crisp showing more citrus where others showed more florals and body.  All personal preference and style, but I didn’t meet an Orvieto I didn’t like.   

Wineries and wines of Orvieto

Argillae is owned by the Bonello family that is known throughout Italy as one of the top spirits.  The name Agillae, is named after argilla meaning clay.  The estate occupies over 640 acres with around 172 acres under vine, although the winery only produces around 50,000 bottles annually selecting the best grapes to be used for their bottles while seelling off the rest of the bulk.   

The 2019 Argillae Panata Orvieto Classico DOC is produced based on sustainable practices.  It’s mae of 50% Grechetto di Orvieto, 30% Procanico and 20% Chardonnay.  Pale yellow with a tinge of green in the glass.  A very aromatic and grassy nose.  Zesty acidity right up front with apple and lemon pith.  An approachable and delightful wine.  ABV 13% SRP $18  

Cantina Altarocca 

A few miles from the city center of Orvieto in Rocca Ripesena is Cantina Altarocca located at the foot of the tuff on volcanic soil with some clay.  Owned by the Ceprini family and part of the Al Molino Gualtieri Estate, the winery also hosts a resort to stay at.  The winery owns about 27 acres of vineyards producing about 50,000 bottles, which is only half of their potential choosing only the best for production.  As of 2015 Altarocca is growing grapes following organic practices. 

The 2018 Cantina Altarocca Albaco Classico Superiore DOC is made of 50% Grechetto di Orvieto, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Procanico.  The Chardonnay spends some time in old oak barrels with the rest of the grapes in stainless steel.  This wine was more yellow in color in comparison to the others.  The Chardonnay allowed the wine to be more round with fruit present including lemon and melon.  The wine was well balanced with a nice finish. 13% ABV SRP $17  


Luigi Barberani is an important figure when it comes to Orvieto wines.  He is one of the first to bottle Muffato.  The winery is situated nearby to Lake Corbara and the 135 acres of vines are grown on soils rich in clay and sandstone.  The climate, including humidity, from the lake help with the botrytis that these grapes receive to produce the Muffa Nobile wines.   

The 2016 Barberani Calcaia Muffa Nobile Classico Superiore DOC was the only Muffa Nobile I tasted for this tasting.  Made from Grechetto and Trebbiano Toscano this wine is amber colored with enticing notes of apricot and honey, balanced and not cloying.  Very smooth and without a heavy body perfect as a dessert wine.  ABV 10.5% SRP $68 

Views from Orvieto
Views from Orvieto

Cantine Bigi 

Part of the Gruppo Italiano vini portfolio, Cantine Bigi is located on around 336 acres of clay terrain in the Classico area of Orvieto.  Originally situated in a Franciscan monastery the winery was moved in 1972 to where it is located today in Ponte Giulio.   

The 2018 Bigi Vigneto Torricella Classico DOC is pale yellow in color.  I enjoyed the florals of this wine.  Very aromatic with peach notes.  On the palette the wine was clean and crisp up front showing more grass, lemon and grapefruit. ABV 13.5%  

La Carraia  

The owner, Odoardo Gialletti, had been making wine for his hotel business since the 70’s until he partnered up with reknown Riccardo Cotarella and started La Carraia.  Today Riccardo serves still as part shareholder and consultant to the winery.  Odoardo’s sons, Mauro and Marco, have also joined the business producing about 600,000 bottles on about 125 acres of vineyards. 

The 2019 La CarraiaPoggio Calvelli Classico Superiore DOC is made of 50% Grechetto di Todi, 30% Procanico and 20% Chardonnay.  This wine wasn’t big on the nose or the palatte, but the volcanic soil showed on the palette with saline and minerality.  Fresh and easy drinking and a good value at $10 a bottle.  ABV 13%  

Decugnano dei Barbi 

The winery was established in 1973 by Claudio Barbi, but wine had been produced in the area since 1212 from the vineyards of the Church of Santa Maria in Decugnano that were using it for Mass and local consumption.  Today Claudio is joined by his son Enzo in the operations.  They operate on 74 acres of vineyards at about 300 meters above sea level on the north side of Lake Corbara.  The soils there are mostly sand and clay with fossilized shells.  Decugnano dei Barbi is the first to produce the botrytized wines in Orvieto that we spoke about last week known as Muffa Nobile.  They also produce Metodo Classico wines that honor the origins of the family originally from Brescia, near the amazing sparkling wine region of Franciacorta. 

The 2018 Decugnano dei Barbi Mare Antico Classico Superiore DOC was a brilliant straw color with floral aromas and green apple.   On the palette was mouth-watering acidity, especially on the finish.  It wakes your palette right up!  Rather light on body with a heavier profile of citrus with grapefruit and hints on almond on the finish.  this wine is made of 50% Grechetto, 20% Vermentino and 10% Procanico, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.   ABV 13.5% SRP $18 

Tufo caves in Orvieto Pozzo della Cava
Etruscan cistern and medival caves of Orvieto at Pozzo della Cava


Palazzone has been owned by the Dubini family since the 60’s.  The winery produces about 130,000 bottles on 60 acres of land.  The 2019 PalazzoneTerre Vineate Classico Superiore DOC is made of 50% Procanico, 30% Grechetto and a blend of 20% Malvasia, Verdello and Drupeggio.  This wine was best defined as the most representative to what the wines of Orvieto are all about.  Medium straw colored that is well-balanced showing some saline, good acidity with notes of lemon, grapefriut, apple and pineapple.   ABV 13% SRP $15 

Marchesi Antinori Castello della Sala 

The winery is owned by the famous Antino family since 1940.  The Castello della Sala dates back to 1350 and is set at a high elevation on cliffs made of fossils and clay.  The winery has been operated by Renzo cotarella since the early 80’s and is quite large with close to 400 acres. 

The 2019 Marchesi Antinori San Giovanni della Sala Classico Superiore DOC is comprised of 50% Grechetto di Orvieto, 25% Procanico, 15% Viognier and 10% Pinot Blanc.  A very different blend compared to some of the others at the tasting.  Due to the viognier this wine showed more florals and seemed to be more lush versus the others.  ABV 12.5% SRP $18 

Tenuta di Salviano 

Tenuta di Salviano is located on the southern part of Lake Corbara.  The winery is owned by the famous Incisa della Rocchetta family known for producing Sassicaia.  The winery has been producing Orvieto Classico since 1914 and occupies almost 5,000 acres with around 173 acres dedicated to vines.  It is part of another winery, Titignano, located on the other side of the lake.   

The 2019 Tenuta di Salviano Classico Superiore DOC is grown on both clay and limestone. This wine is made of equal parts 30% Procanico and Grecchetto di Orvieto with the remaining percentage of Verdello and Sauvignon Blanc.  A floral nose showing apple and mostly citrus with a tangy acidity on the palette.  Light-bodied and easy drinking.  ABV 14%SRP $15  

Tenuta Le Velette  

The property originally was a church that was later purchased by the Felici family of Orvieto in 1877 whom ran it as sharecropping property.  This winery has been operated by the Bottai family since 1950 starting with Marcello Bottai and now his children Corrado and Cecilia as well.  They occupy over 270 acres of vineyards.   

The 2019 Tenuta Le Velette Lunato Classico Superiore DOC is made of 40% Grechetto di Todi and Grechetto di Orvieto, 20% Procanico, 20% Malvasia, 15% Verdello and 5% Drupeggio.  These grapes were grown on volcanic soils and the wine spends some time on the lees.  Straw-colored and bright with a nose of almond and lemon.  Light to medium-bodied, dry with crisp, tangy lemon notes.  Very simple and straightforward.  ABV 13% SRP $20  

Orvieto wines and vineyards
Must have been my lucky day visiting Orvieto!