In December 2018, after extending our Christmas trip and going completely off my meticulous itinerary, Tom and I ended up in Umbria at the Borgo dei Conti resort for a few days. Nothing about Umbria, beyond Assisi, was in our guidebooks. While we waited for our room to be ready, the bartender started telling us about some of the famous Umbrian wines, specifically Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Sagrantino – deep red wines perfect for a winter’s day. We had our first Montefalco wine on a terrace overlooking the late December sunset at Borgo dei Conti.
No, we didn’t go find Bocale on this trip. We, however, did head to Montefalco for dinner and wonder why it wasn’t mentioned in our guidebooks at all. Montefalco is a stunning Umbrian hill town with its original walls and fortifications in tact. It has a lively town square, famous (and not-so-famous) frescos, and a very local vibe. Beyond the city walls you’re surrounded by vineyards – stunning at any time of year.
And there, a short drive from Montefalco, is where you will find Bocale.
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How I Found Bocale
The further we get from the “beaten track” and traditional itinerary for Italy, the more questions I get about how I find the places we go. In a lot of cases, I don’t remember because I read so much throughout the year in preparation for trip planning. I’m trying to be more intentional about writing about how I find places though.
When Italy re-opened in May 2021, we booked a three-week trip for June. My mom joined us for about half of it, so we had to get from northern Italy to Rome right smack dab in the middle of the trip. Since my mom had been to Florence (and we would be returning in November), I decided that Umbria would be the perfect place to recharge – a few days at Borgo dei Conti to recharge before heading further south to Rome. I wanted to support the places that had made our travels so rich prior to 2020, and I wanted to focus on more local experiences.
Since my mom enjoyed our tasting at my favorite San Gimignano winery in 2019, I started looking for wineries in Umbria. I looked for Umbrian wine tours and cooking classes on Viator, found a few wine tastings that fit our schedule, and off we went. For me, itinerary building is piecing together a puzzle. What is available, what fits our schedule, and what aligns with our interests.
Of all the Umbrian wineries we’ve visited, Bocale is my favorite of all of them. We loved it so much that we went back again in October 2021 for another visit and tour. And to buy more wine.
Next on my list? Visiting Bocale and Montefalco in the late fall to see the vineyards turn red.
Getting to Bocale Winery
The easiest way to get to Bocale is by car. It’s not necessarily somewhere that you can do as a day trip from Rome or Florence, or even Perugia. It’s largely connected by bus, rather than trains, which makes scheduling a bit more challenging.
Umbria is the green heart of Italy, and it is most efficiently reached by car. (Driving in Italy is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be, especially on the autostrada and on the smaller roads. I find driving in the US to be much more intimidating.)
Assuming that you would rather stay in the countryside than in Montefalco (or their hotels are sold out – which often happens during popular times of year), Borgo dei Conti is about an hour a way. It’s not the most efficient home base, but it’s a LOVELY one.
If you wanted to stay at the Roccafiore wine resort, the trip will take you about 35 minutes by car. (The wines produced there are completely different than the Bocale wines, so you’ll get a nice diversity of Umbrian wines.)
And, if you’re like us and just need to pick up a little more Bocale while in Tuscany, it’s an 1.5 hour drive from Cortona.
Visiting the Bocale Winery
Visiting Italian wineries is a little different than visiting wineries in the United States. It’s done by appointment, and this is especially true at Bocale. Personally, I LOVE the appointment system. Rather than being a straight sales pitch or tasting, you get to learn more about the wines, see the vineyard and winery operations, and you connect with the humans who are actually producing the wine. I prefer this sort of experience.
When you arrive at Bocale, you’ll be warmly greeted by Valentino. This is a family-run winery, and you’ll definitely see the Valentini family around. You might see Valentino’s brother driving a tractor around the farm or his dad checking on the vines or the production. Valentino is the face behind Bocale, and he’s excited to share as much as you are willing to learn.
Both of our tours started off with visits to the vineyard. Bocale produces both white and red wines and is completely natural and organic production. This means that they don’t use any chemicals on the vines or in the production process.
What I loved about visiting twice in one year is being able to see the growth of the grapes. In June, the grapes were barely seedlings, though the vines were in beautiful bloom. We visited right after the Sangiovese and Trebbiano Spoletino harvests in October. The Sagrantino harvest was eminent and the vineyards were flourishing. It was incredible to see the growth of the grapes. Valentino even let us try a taste of the grapes that were unfit for harvesting, straight off of the vine. People say that they aren’t the same as the grapes you buy at the market, and that’s true, but Tom and I found them delicious.
After learning more about the operations of the vineyard, Valentino will show you where the wine is made – right there on site. Grapes are picked by hand, fermented on site in steel tanks, and then transferred to barrels – all on site. Since we visited right after the harvest, Valentino let me peek into the steel tanks to see what the fermenting process looks like for wine. I cannot believe how many grapes are produced in this one area. (It was SO cool.)
Bocale produces about 35,000 bottles of wine a year, and after seeing how it is produced, you head upstairs for the tasting.
Bocale Wine Tasting
The other thing I love about Italian wine tastings is that they often pair the wines with local specialties, which gives you an idea of pairings for the wine as an apertivo. In some cases, we’ve even enjoyed an entire meal. Valentino’s wines shine without all of that. He serves his wines with a warm, traditional bruschetta – bread, olive oil, and salt. And, it’s delicious.
Wine tastings in Italy are not rushed affairs, and that is especially true with Valentino. We loved being able to sit down with him, learn more about his life, the history of his family’s winery, and his adventures in wine sales. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always think about how a product gets onto a menu. Valentino provided so much insight on that process, and especially how it was impacted throughout 2020 and beyond. (I think I cheered the loudest when US travel restrictions were eased for foreign travelers in November 2021; I was so excited for Valentino to be able to get back to his business.)
The ability to connect with humans is so severely underrated in today’s day and age. One of the things I loved most about our 2021 travels was the number of experiences we had that allowed people to share their excitement and passion for the things they love. Valentino was no exception. He was warm, engaging, kind, thoughtful, conscientious, and so very open and willing to share about his experiences (and his wines).
We tried 4 different Bocale wines: Montefalco Sagrantino, Montefalco Rosso, Montefalco Trebbiano Spolentino, and Montefalco Sagrantino Passito.
Sagratino is the most famous of the Umbria wines with a grape dating back to the 1500s. In my opinion, it’s the most intense of the red wines and it pairs well with red meat. The Montefalco rosso is a red grape blend that makes it a versatile wine and pairs well with most meats. It makes a nice “table” wine that most people will enjoy.
Italian white wines are largely overlooked, which is unfortunate because some producers make a really nice white wine. Bocale is one of them. The Trebbiano Spoletino is one of my favorite white wines. It’s smooth. Crisp. Perfect for an apertivo or a hot summer day. I say this as someone who is NOT a white wine drinker. My mom, who is a white wine person, REALLY enjoyed it. Unfortunately for us, other people like Bocale’s white wines, too. When we went back in October to buy a few more bottles, he was completely sold out. Sad times. New harvest coming soon…
Last, but certainly not least, is my favorite – the Montefalco Sagrantino Passito. This wine is created from the Sagrantino grapes, but they are not immediately fermented. The grapes are dried out before starting the production process. The result is a rich, sweet red wine that is perfect for dessert or after dinner. (Or any time you want it, if you’re me.) It’s probably the Bocale wine that we have the most bottles of.
OH! Valentino also introduced us to the VinVac wine saver, which preserves your bottles if you don’t finish them. This works really well, as Tom and I don’t generally finish a bottle in a single setting. It is far more economical than some of the other options.
Getting Bocale Wines Home
I have to be honest – the price of Bocale wines (and most European wines we love) is more reasonable if you can buy them at the vineyard and take them home with you. Somewhere between 2016 and 2019, the United States put a significant import restriction and/or tax on wines based on their alcohol content, which has made it pretty expensive to get these wines in the United States. If I can figure out a way to buy them when I’m abroad, I do it.
To do this, you have a few options. First, tell Valentino how you are getting your wine home. He does a great job of packing wine for the plane. In our case, we bought 12 bottles, which he packed in boxes of 6. He has the right material to protect the bottles, and he can put a handle on the box with tape. This can work really well if you have elite status and extra baggage allowance, though paying the extra bag fee is still cheaper than paying for US shipping. We did this on our October trip when we bought far more wine than we expected to between Bocale and Roccafiore.
Second option, and what works best for us (when we don’t buy too many bottles of wine), if you’re a serious wine drinker, buy a wine suitcase. I’ll admit it: when Tom suggested this, I was incredibly skeptical. A suitcase? For wine? Are we those people? Yes, we are those people and here is why. Even if you only pick up a couple of bottles of wine as you travel, it all adds up. You can buy wine skins and put them in your suitcase, but beyond 1-2 bottles, the weight adds up – and it’s not a perfectly foolproof solution. (Tom’s biggest fear is that we’ll break a bottle and ruin my clothes. I’m hard to shop for, it’s true.)
With a wine suitcase, everything is contained in a sturdy shipping container, just like wineries use to ship to the US. It’s perfectly balanced to be within airline dimension and weight guidelines as well. And, the best part? It rolls. You don’t have to just use it for wine either – I find it works great for balsamic vinegars and Christmas ornaments, too.
Lazenne is a European retailer, so you won’t be able to buy it in the US before you go to Italy. You can find it at a couple of different enotecas throughout Italy, or you can do what we did, and have it shipped to your hotel. Lazenne timed the delivery perfectly, and we notified the concierge that we would be coming. Super easy.
Third option, if you’re really lucky and really in a pinch, Eataly Dallas stocks Bocale wines. (The Bocale Trebbiano Spoletino sells out quickly though.) Imagine my surprise when I saw them profiling a virtual Bocale and pecorino tasting while we were in Italy! It’s the first time I’ve seen somewhere I’ve been highlighted in such a high profile way!
Now – what are you waiting for – book your Bocale wine tasting today!