In my first interview for the blog, it’s my pleasure to present Umbrian sommelier, olive oil taster and Perugino doc, Valter Chiabolotti. I had the great good fortune of meeting Valter last May at Ditecheese, the formaggio fest held in the suitably dank and dungeon-like rooms of Perugia’s biggest medieval relic, the Rocca Paolina. A scout and writer for guides like Slowine (the wine lover’s equivalent of Slow Food), Valter’s passions include making olive oil appreciation as relevant and talked about as wine tasting. An ambition, I think, just about anyone who’s tried a really tangy, green Umbrian olive oil will understand.
Valter’s inspiring and very genuine love of Umbria is something I’ve wanted to share on the blog for a while now. I just hope he’ll forgive me for taking this long!
Q. Where does your passion for olive oil and wine come from?
A. My passions come from the countryside around Perugia where I was born, from the flavours I got to know as a child in the houses of the local farmers. But also from my father who used to sell olive oil and wine in a shop in the centre of Perugia and really knew what he was talking about.
Q. As well as a sommelier you are an expert in olive oil. In your experience, what’s the best way to ‘appreciate’ a good olive oil?
A. To appreciate oil you need to get to know the producers and the regions where oil is produced. You need to use your nose and palate, really embrace the differences between oils and, above all, don’t be scared!
Q. You’ve said to me you like to keep your wine appreciation courses non-technical and accessible for everyone. What’s the one thing you’d like everyone to understand about appreciating wine?
A. Everything I’ve just said about oil goes for wine. Rarely have I found people you don’t know how to recognize the qualities of wine. It’s smply a question of time, patience and curiosity. What I’m interested in teaching isn’t the technical terminology of the specialists, tasters and sommeliers. I want to give every person the basic skills they need to recognize and appreciate so that they’re not embarrassed when it comes to choosing wine, and know how to discuss the merits of one or another wine with friends over a glass or two. Then everything becomes like playing a game. A refined game, but fun.
Q. Food is a huge part of the real Italy experience and Umbria is no exception. Tell us about a recent memorable food experience you’ve had in Umbria?
A. I have two especially memorable experiences from last summer: A lunch at Bevagna, a wonderful historic town, in a typical restaurant situated incredibly inside an ancient Roman amphitheatre. I can say is was truly a historic meal! Then there was a dinner on Lake Trasimeno, with fresh water fish cooked in a marvellous way by the Fishermen of San Feliciano: smoked trout and fillet of royal perch. Che delizia!
Q.Tell us about your perfect Umbrian food and wine combination?
A. La Porchetta ( that is, a whole pig cooked in a large oven, the skin all crispy and the inside filled with a special herbed stuffing) combined with Il Sagrantino, a wine produced from a single grape varietal, complex and with a long life span, considered to be among the top 10 Italian wines. Another ideal combination is an aged Pecorino di Norcia cheese with the sweet desert wine (il vino muffato dolce) of Orvieto. A wine as good as the best French sauternes!
Q. Five things you love most about Umbria are…
1. The whole centro storico of Perugia. It’s a full immersion in the Middle Ages with a strong Etruscan presence.
2. The mystical caves (Eremo delle Carceri) above Assisi where Saint Francis and his followers would go for prayer and divine contemplation.
3. The Great Plain of Casteluccio di Norcia during la fioritura.
4. The gentle, hard working soul of the Umbrian people.
5. The green of the countryside, the forests, the hills and, of course, our fine foods and wines.
Q. If you had one day to show a visitor you wanted to impress the BEST of Umbria what would you plan to do and where?
A. I’d like to show them the 5 things that I love about Umbria that I listed already. But one day, or even one week, wouldn’t be enough. Instead I’d want the visitor to feel not a tourist but a traveller who, immersed in the reality of everyday Umbrian life, actually becomes one of us.
Heading to Umbria??? Valter now runs his own boutique wine appreciation classes as well as conducting bespoke mini tours to frantoi, cantine and a shortlist of hand-picked top spots in Umbria. Valter’s all for the small scale, full-immersion travel experience and giving his guests a taste of what it’s like to live like an Umbrian. Just leave me or Valter a comment on this post to find out more.