Like many other things, the wines of Umbria exist mainly in the shadows of their Tuscan counterparts. This is perhaps all the better for those of us in the know as there is quite often a deal to be had. There is plenty to discover here and plenty to appeal to the wine romantics amongst us. Viticultural history here goes back to the Etruscan civilisations. The industry also thrived in the Middle Ages and while walking the medieval streets of Perugia, Assisi, Torgiano or Orvieto, one needs little help in imagining 12th century popes and aristocrats washing down a hearty meal with the local wines.
Surrounded on threes sides by the Apennine Mountains, Umbria shares many of the geographical and climatic characteristics so celebrated in Tuscany. Cool breezes come off the mountains to the east while the warming currents of the Mediterranean create excellent conditions for the ripening of grapes. Despite all this Indigenous white varieties such as Grecchetto, Trebbiano, Verdello and red varieties such as Sangiovese and Sagrantino are being joined by increasing plantings of Cabernet and Merlot. Despite this, eight of the thirteen DOCs in the region were created after 1980. We are still in the early days of modern Umbrian wine making.
For white wines look no further than the charming medieval town of Orvieto, perched majestically on a tuff cliff. It’s Gothic duomo, a one time summer retreat for the Papacy, makes for an impressive focal point. In recent decades though the wine of the same name has won as many enemies as it has friends, accused at times of being fairly innocuous and bland. But things are changing. Trebbiano, Grecchetto di Orvieto and a liberal amount of many other varieties are blended (according to the intricacies of the vintage) to produce a light and refreshing wine. Aromas of apple, melon and lemon grass in particular characterise these wines. It is true that these wines will never find themselves in the high echelons of the world’s white wine elite, but they should not be overlooked so hastily.
Sangiovese is by the far the most planted red variety in Umbria and by implication the wines often draw comparison with their Tuscan neighbours. Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG is one such Sangiovese based wine and shows cherry fruit aromas, with soft, supple red fruit flavours. The basic Torgiano DOC appellation allows for the production of several varietal wines, Cabernet Sauvignon for example or Pinot Nero.
It is hard to discuss the red wines of Umbria with any credibility without some praise for the cult wines of Montefalco. Sagrantino di Montefalco, course and ugly in youth but deep, complex and highly interesting in it’s senior years, is a wine not to ignore. Fill your cellars, be patient and then marvel as inky flavours of forest fruits merge with leather, charcoal and spice. It is only in these clay and limestone soils around the town of Montefalco that the temperamental Sagrantino grape grows. Just a mere 165 hectares or so are planted with the variety.
Few Umbrian brands have made much of a dent in the international consumers conscience, except perhaps Lungarotti, whose wines continue to improve and fly the flag, despite producing an eye watering 2 and a half million bottles annually. Smaller producers in Montefalco have made respectable names for themselves, Paolo Bea, Madonna Alta, Arnaldo Caprai and Rocco di Frabbri should all be tracked down.
Montefalco DOC is a red and white wine appellation in the heart of Umbria in central Italy. Once considered the baby brother to Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, its red wine blends produced primarily from Sangiovese are now highly credible in their own right and worthy of investigation, especially riserva versions. White wines are also made from Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino.
Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is a full bodied red wine produced entirely from the Sagrantino grape that originates from the town of Montefalco in Umbria. Sagrantino has achieved cult status amongst lovers of Italian wines over recent decades, for despite its challenging nature, when managed correctly in the vineyard and cellar it is capable of producing world class wines. For now it remains slightly off the beaten track, but there are some real gems to be found here.
The IGP appellation of Umbria covers winemaking throughout the region, allowing producers greater flexibility in terms of the grape varieties they use and the wine styles they choose than the more traditional DOC appellations provide. Consequently Umbria IGP wines range from very inexpensive table wines to very serious boutique wines capable of ageing many years.
The wines are Colli Martani are grown and produced just south of the Umbrian town of Perugia. White wine blends rely on Trebbiano Toscano while reds require a minimum of 50% Sangiovese. Some producers use one of the two official subzones of Todi and Cannara.
Colli Perugini is a DOC wine found in the hills close to to the Umbrian town of Perugia. A broad range of grape varieties are permitted here but Grechetto di Orvieto, Trebbiano Toscano and Sangiovese dominate. International varieties are also well represented.
Orvietano Rosso is a relatively new DOC created to facilitate red winemaking in an essentially white grape growing territory. The wines of Orvieto are famous across Italy and beyond, but some producers are keen to add a red to their portfolio, and Orvietano Rosso facilitates this.
Spoleto is a small winemaking territory in Umbria in central Italy known predominantly for its white wines. The Trebbiano Spoletino grape is the historical variety of the area and over the last decade or so it has started to create a lot of hype. Although there are only two producers in the village of Spoleto, a number of producers from neighbouring Montefalco are capitalising on the variety’s potential. It produces zesty wines characterised by citrus fruits, with aromas that can tend towards brioche and kerosine with age.
Todi is home to the rather interesting Grechetto di Todi grape variety, known in other areas as Pignoletto. It produces crisp white wines with distinctive citrus aromas. It is often considered to be a better grape variety than Grechetto di Orvieto, which is also allowed within Todi DOC wines.