5 wines to taste in Umbria

Wine production in Umbria dates back to ancient times. Archaeological artifacts show evidence that the Etruscans engaged in viticulture along the banks of the Tiber River well before the Romans here. But when they did arrive, they too developed a taste for these wines. Around the 12th Century, Orvieto was a summer retreat for the Popes, and the then thick, sweet white wine from this area was shipped daily to Rome.

Wine

Winemaking in Umbria has always competed with olive oil production and grain cultivation. Centuries ago, the grapevines were not laid out in the neat, regular vineyards we see today, instead, they were interspersed among trees such as maple, elm, and even olive. The trees acted as natural trellises, raising the grapes off the ground so they could ripen without rotting. As recently as the 1970s, wine production in Umbria was basically a farmhouse operation making wines for local consumption. Today, a few of these family producers have transformed themselves embracing modern production methods and controls, and are now producing high quality wines worthy of international attention.

There are now 13 DOC and 2 DOCG wine zones in Umbria. Five distinctive Umbrian wines to enjoy on your next visit include:

Grechetto

Grechetto is a white varietal found in central Italy, particularly in Umbria. It is believed to be of Greek origins, and related to the greco grape of Campania. It is primarily used as a blending grape, though now some varietal (single grape) wines are being produced.

The producer Antinori describes Grechetto as “small, dark-yellow, thick skinned, highly acidic, low-yielding, notable tannic Umbrian grape that produces creamy wines with unique spicy, herbal, freshly mown hay flavors, good structure, good aging potential, and elegance.”

Orvieto

The classic white wine from Umbria, probably the most well-known outside the region. Traditionally made using native strains of Trebbiano, some of these are now becoming very interesting as producers add varietals such as Grechetto and Chardonnay to the mix.

Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG

In 1968, Torgiano was the first zone to be awarded DOC status in Umbria, and was elevated to DOCG status in 1990. The success of this zone is largely the work of one farsighted producer, Lungarotti, who was the first Umbrian wine maker to become a true commercial entity. Lungarotti now operates a winery, hotel, restaurant, enoteca and several museums, one for wine, one for olive oil, all located in Torgiano.

Torgiano Rosso Riserva is a blend of Sangiovese (50-70%), Canaiolo (15-30%), and Trebbiano (10%), with other red grapes such as Ciliegiolo and Montepulciano allowed, up to a maximum of 5%. It must be aged a minimum of 3 years, beginning November 1 of the year of the harvest.

Sagrantino di Montefalco and Sagrantino Passito

If you wish to find the one wine unique to Umbria, it is the Sagrantino di Montefalco. Sagrantino di Montefalco is a single varietal wine, produced exclusively from the Sagrantino grape. This varietal of unknown origin – some claim it hails from France, others claim Greece – is very rarely grown outside of Umbria, and almost disappeared even here until rediscovered in the 1970s. Today, there are only a handful producers that make this wine, and only about 250 acres under production.

Two types of Sagrantino are produced; a dry red, which much have an alcohol content of at least 13%, and a sweet wine, with a minimum alcohol of 14.5%. The dry style, Sagrantino Secco, must age for 30 months, 12 of which must be in a cask. The sweet style, Sagrantino Passito, must also age for a minimum of 30 months. As Sagrantino grapes have a particularly high concentrations of polyphenols, it requires a bit of skill to produce a drinkable wine with this grape, one in which the tannins don’t overwhelm everything else. These long periods of aging allows the tannins to mature, resulting in a more balanced, less aggressive wine.

Kathy Bechtel is Owner of Italiaoutdoors.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Renuka says:

    Since Umbria is one of my dream destinations, I like to read about it as much as I can. Although I am not really a wine lover, I am curious to know about wine-making and participate in the wine-tasting ritual. I am glad now I know about some Umbrian wines :)

  2. Alina says:

    Great post. Love Italian wines – can’t wait to be back in Umbria to taste some of these, especially accompanied by delicious local food with porcini mushrooms…..

  3. Corinna says:

    Umbria is for winelovers!:) Your entry is very informative and I am always happy when I find good articles about my region!
    As already said, a part from Lungarotti and a bunch of other few big wine producers, Umbria is spotted by a lot of small wineries usually run by the same family since ever. You will meet lovely people who will be happy to share their world and passion with visitors.
    For those who travel to Umbria and love wine, do not forget to taste the Ciliegiolo (red wine in the Terni area) and the Trebbiano Spoletino (white wine in the Spoleto area) assuming that the king of Umbrian wines is Sagrantino.

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