A land of lush rolling hills, ancient medieval villages, delectable wines, and sumptuous regional cuisine, unforgettable Umbria is an ideal destination for gourmands. Home to iconic towns like Assisi as well as lovely hilltop villages like Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, Panicale, Todi, and Spoleto, Umbria offers an intriguing mix of history, art and culture that serves as the perfect complement to its fine food and wine.
Umbria is Italy’s fourth-smallest region and produces only a third as much wine as Tuscany. Still, the winemakers in this intimate area buried in the heart of Italy are undergoing a period of exciting change as Umbrian wines become more known and respected on the world scene. Although historically Umbria has been overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Tuscany, the wine world is now discovering this beautiful and lesser-known region bordered by Tuscany, Marche, and Latium.
A brief history
Umbria’s winemaking history can be traced back to the Benedictine monks, who were the first to plant vineyards in the calcareous clay and sandy soil that extends over much of the region. A land-locked area in the heart of Italy, Umbria has a climate and geography similar to Tuscany’s, with cold, rainy winters and dry sun-filled summers. An exception is an area surrounding Lake Trasimeno and Lake Bolsena, where a mild, Mediterranean microclimate dominates.
Orvieto, a crisp and peachy white wine produced in the town of the same name, is the best-known Umbrian wine and accounts for nearly 80 percent of all DOC wine made here. This light wine made with Procanico (a local version of Trebbiano) and Malvasia, is one of the best-known in all Italy and is exported all over the world.
The hills surrounding the Umbrian capital, the medieval walled city of Perugia, are the birthplace of Umbria’s best red wines, most of them made with Sangiovese. Especially revered are the bold, powerful Sagrantino di Montefalco wines from the hillside vineyards near the village of Montefalco. Sagrantino is a black grape varietal native to Umbria. The elegant and delicate Torgiano Rosso Riserva is a top wine made in the diminutive village of Torgiano, where the Lungarotti winery runs an impressive wine museum featuring ancient wine artifacts. Both Montefalco and Torgiano boast DOCG status.
Most of the best Umbrian wines are made from grapes cultivated in the picturesque terraced vineyards that line the hillsides here. As their names indicate (“Colli” comes from the Italian word for hill), important red wine DOCs like Colli Altotiberini, Colli Amerini, Colli Martani, Colli Perugini and Colli del Trasimeno are all located on Umbria’s hilltops.
Lungarotti is definitely one of the leaders in the Umbrian wine world. Top boutique producers in Umbria include Caprai, Paolo Bea, Conte Vaselli, Decugnano dei Barbi and Falesco. Capria is notable for their impact in bringing back interest in the native Sagrantino grape. The Falesco estate which produces two lines of wine (in Umbria and Lazio) is owned by the Cotarella family. Renzo Cotarella is also the flying winemaker and general manager for Antinori’s various wineries around Italy and has some big fans including Robert Parker. Some of Umbria’s best-known producers are actually Tuscan trendsetters such as Antinori, Ruffino and Barone Ricasoli, whose experience and know-how have helped transform the Umbrian wine scene and bring it up to speed with its more famous neighbor.
Grape Varieties Used in Umbria
Grape varieties used in white wines include Trebbiano (here called Procanico), Verdello, Grechetto, Drupeggio, and Malvasia. The main red wine grape variety is Sangiovese, although Gamay, Canaiolo, Trebbiano, and Sagrantino (a native variety found only around the hillsides of Montefalco) are also used. Noble varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been used here for more than a century, while relative newcomers Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are only now sneaking into the creations of some of the more modern, forward-looking wineries.