Spello is very close to Assisi, and is probably often overlooked by tourists. The parking is free, the narrow streets are completely charming and there seems to be an overabundance of fine restaurants in the place. Our room was in a shady lane with a cool courtyard, which was very welcome after the hot glare in Assisi.
After a nap, we strolled through the village in the late golden light, getting a bit lost but with a specific destination in mind.
And that was Enoteca Properzio, one of two venues run by Roberto Angelini, master sommelier.
The man himself welcomed us (along with his son) and we were seated under the trees in the garden. Instead of choosing from the menu, we asked to be served whatever they recommended, along with some interesting local wines. Indeed, the entire dinner was transformed into a tasting of special wines, resurrected in Umbria and only recently being recognized in the international wine community, with the guidance of the proprietor who showed us some books and magazine articles referring to the region’s wine and also it’s incredible olive oil – crude and harsh for some, but delicious when served over a bruschetta either pure or with fresh tomatoes.
Paired with a superb white Grechetto, it was a delicious start. This was followed by wide noodles with truffles and butter, which is basically (in its most refined version as tajarin con tartufo bianco from Piemonte) the last meal I want to eat on this earth.
It was paired with Sagrantino – a wine that is gaining some prominence due to its profound rich palate. A bit heavy on the tannins for me, but made very enjoyable with Mr. Angelini’s enthusiasm. A light salad course with a sweeter red wine topped of the meal and we left feeling delighted having enjoyed an educational and highly entertaining evening.
But it wasn’t over yet! On the way home we walked passed another venue, La Cantina di Spello, which looked so inviting from the outside that we couldn’t resist going in and taking another glass of wine.
And although it was getting late, we locals welcomed us to their table and partook in conversation that went deep into the bottle and far out into politics… until my Italian language skills ran out and we finally made it through the labyrinth of small streets to bed. We ended up seeing very little of the town from the outside, but we certainly enjoyed the best of what it had to offer “inside”.
We were a bit late arriving for our visit to the winery of Arnaldo Caprai which had been organized by our dinner host the evening before. Even worse, we were completely unable to sample any wine at all. However, we took a small tour the vineyards and learned some interesting facts about the history of the area.
For instance, that the first attempts to make a dry wine out of grapes classically used for sweet wine were an epic failure and required considerable scientific research and careful treatment to create the wines now coming into the limelight. Also, we finally found out why the bread in Umbria and even more so in Tuscany is so tasteless – to the point of being inedible: the fact is that in the past, a tax was imposed on salt. As a form of protest, people stopped putting salt in their bread. They did continue using it to cure prosciutto, which also ensured that they had enough salt in their diets. This tendency lasts to this day, and is remedied only by sprinkling salt into the olive oil used to dip the bread in. Who knew?
Our lack of interest in wine was balanced out by a substantial interest in food, which we satisfied in the town of Spoleto. Because I didn’t really look into it beforehand, we completely missed the fact that it is home to some important churches. We did notice the remarkable castle at the top of the hill – a hill we once again had to climb in order to find a place to eat.
Unguided by “advisors” this time, I followed my nose to a small osteria tucked away in a corner. The writing above the door stating “Enter only if you drink wine” was encouraging and discouraging at the same time (given our condition), but the sign claiming “Grandma Santina’s cuisine” won us over.
The interior was an absolute chaos of colours and floor-to-ceiling decorations, consisting mostly of various puppets and other artefacts collected over the years by the owner, Fillipo Matto. He welcomed us and proceeded to serve us, with no menu, the lunch meal of the day. Without going into the specifics, I will highlight the bruschetta con lardo e ginebro (lard with juniper berries), the barley risotto with asparagus, and the amazing grilled pork with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We even had a sip of wine to wash away any remains of a hangover and departed after a good two hours completely satisfied.
We trotted down to the car just in time to see the police officer writing a ticket for exceeding the paid parking (how was I to know we would fine such a fine establishment?) – but some friendly Italian negotiation allowed us to pay the extra hour and leave without a fine. And so, an evening and morning of absolute culinary decadence, we continued on our (free high-) way to another highlight of the trip – Civita di Bagnoregio.