Dry full-bodied red-s and crispy white-s, Umbria is one of the top makers of high quality wines in Italy.
Even if the region is one of the smallest producers in terms of quantity, “the green heart of Italy” is able to offer all the wine/food paring options to an entire meal, from an easy starter to a fine dessert.
Together with Sagrantino Passito from Montefalco, Muffato or Muffa Nobile from Orvieto DOC wine area are definitely two gems in the Italian dessert wine production and extremely different one from the other.
The first one, red, obtained only by the indigenous grape Sagrantino whose bunches are harvested in October and then, left to dry on racks for about two months; the second one golden yellow coming from the white varieties Grechetto and Procanico as a result of the alchemy made by the noble rot.
Muffato or Muffa Nobile – the origin
The origin of Muffato wines is quite remote. When in the sixteen century the Turks invaded Hungary, many vineyards where abandoned and the grapes left on the vines for months. As a consequence, due to the peculiar weather conditions in this area, the bunches were attacked by the Botrytis Cinerea, the grey mold that in special circumstances have a unique and unexpected effect on the grapes. Even if the harvest appeared totally wasted, to get some wine, the Hungarians pressed the grapes anyway, let it ferment and the results were extremely surprising, giving birth to one of the most prestigious dessert wine of all time: Tokaji.
Botrytis Cinerea – the ugly & wonderful rot
Botrytis Cinerea is a kind of fungus, which technically attacks and metabolizes the skin of the grapes, forming a mold. Not all grape varieties are suitable as Botrytis needs grapes that have a thick and consistent skin. And not even all the places are ideal: it requires an alternation of humidity and sun, very special weather conditions. In Europe these conditions appear in very few places like in Hungary in Tokaji area, in France, whose first registration of the noble mold dates back to the 1800 and signed by the mythical Chateau d’Yquem, in Rheingau Germany, Loire, Alsace and Austria, other examples of territories kissed by fortune.
Among these legends, there’s Orvieto in Umbria with its Muffa Nobile. As in the other famous territories, here the presence of Lake Corbara, artificial basin along the course of the river Tiber in between Todi and Orvieto, and the indigenous varieties Grechetto and Procanico, both “Botrytis-friendly”, creates the right combination to achieve the magic of the noble rot. In many cases following the regulation of production, here Muffa Nobile is proposed in blending also with the international Sauvignon Blanc, another grape in love with the noble rot.
How can a mold, a rot have such positive effects on the grapes?
Avoiding any technicality, Botrytis attacks the ultra-ripe grape, changing it to a brown colour and slowly withering, wrinkling and, in a certain sense, “drying”it. This extraordinary event leads to an enrichment of sugars, attacking the tartaric acid and secreting some substances that give these wines their unique aroma. The result is an elegant sweet wine, with a high alcohol content, able to age and improves with time.
Wine tasting & Food pairing
As the other famous botrytized-wines, the Orvietan Muffa Nobile has a typical warm, golden yellow to amber colour with an intriguing nose from honey to ripe apricot, jam, candied fruit joined with the mysterious touch of the good mold. On the palate the sensation is rich, sweet, long and silky, perfectly balanced by a good acidity.
Muffato belongs also to the category known as “meditation wines”, meaning a wine that can be enjoyed by itself without a food pairing. It is also very pleasant with dry cookies and dry pastries, even if Muffa Nobile can be truly appreciated with blue cheeses: a perfect marriage, a feast of sensations for our palate.
Where to find it
In Orvieto DOC wine area there are around 6-8 producers who make Muffa Nobile, even if it is not easy to find it abroad; it is a very niche product, due to the very small quantity produced. Therefore you should be lucky enough to know an extremely well-stocked wine shop, or even better, came here and experience it in person!
Our Wine Tour ‘Bordering Lands’ is along the beautiful area of Corbara Lake, home-land of the Orvietan Muffato and it is available all year round.
Ph.credits Botrytis-effect Itinera