Pieve del Vescovo Lucciaio Umbria IGT 2002
Entirely surrounded by three Italian DOC's—the Colli del Trasimeno, the Colli Altotiberini,
and the Colli Perugini—Pieve del Vescovo just west of Umbria's largest city of Perugia
depends on IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) status for its bold blend of Merlot
(45%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) and Sangiovese (15%). The wine is matured in oak
barriques for ten months then in bottle a further four months. The $15 offering puts a lot of
wine in the glass. Nearly opaque, the wine is a deep ruby with garnet tinges at the edges.
Forewarned on some of the major elements, I poured the wine rather aggressively into my
decanter and left it alone for five hours. Without question, this is the type of big baritone
wine that can sustain, and benefit by, a full twenty-four hours of air contact.
I used the time well. I cleared up a confusion of many years, between Perugia and Perugina (with a penultimate “n”). Perugia is the city, and Perugina is the chocolate company located in that city, which produces the ubiquitous Baci—hazelnut-filled kisses—which are known for their multilingual and romantically-worded wrappers. Few wines actually mix with chocolate in any sense, and I wouldn't try it with this powerful and very dry offering, and yet I could swear some of that chocolate factory smoke wafted over just a few kilometers into these grapes. This may well be because both nose and palate of the wine give a fragrance of vanilla (the oak-induced phenolic aldehyde vanillin, for you technical types) so the feeling of chocolate waits in the wings.
The nose and palate are remarkably consistent in this wine, of which Lucciaio is the wine estate, and as far as I can determine the producer. It's a nice mix: cherry, sour cherry, cassis, prune, blueberry, dried mushroom, sage and licorice. The blend is expert. I am not the world's staunchest fan of Sangiovese, it must be known, but I like what a 15% dose does in terms of that sour cherry acidity. The relatively equal employment of the “international” varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is also contributory, but this is by no means a New World fruit bomb. The mathematics of blends don't always play out in a logical way, but they do in this wine; you feel you have nearly a Bordeaux, but instead of 15% Petit Verdot, Malbec or Cabernet Franc, the Sangiovese adds an Italian accent (although the grammar is properly French).
You can hence call this well-made wine properly “European,” an asset in terms of quality,
but perhaps a liability in terms of individuality. The wine is full-bodied to be sure, with
tannins that work through several phases; they dry the mouth initially, then sustain the fruit
through to a flavorful and chewy finish. I like the wine. New World buffs will want a higher
level of fruit, perhaps a layer of dried or caramelized fruit, while Old World purists might
question the Franco-Italian blend. But why not take the wine for what it is, and not what its
neighbors (in any direction) or its cousins in California and Australia may present? If you do,
you will be impelled to score it high.
I try to approach every wine I taste from a zero-sum start, but still the brain plays tricks.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
The lovely Umbrian landscape certainly comes through in the region's wines.