Tucked away on higher ground north-east of Rome and south-east of Toscana, is Umbria, a lesser-known wine region but one of those gems waiting to be truly discovered. Even though it may be one of Italy’s smallest producers in terms of quantity, Umbria is considered Italy’s “greenest” region and offers enough diversity in vines and agriculture for an entire meal. Convenient! — from easy-drinking, fruity whites and reds, to structured, full-bodied Sagrantino and elegant sweet wines.
Focus on white wines
Umbria focuses its production on white wines, especially Trebbiano, which is the most planted grape variety of the region – and cultivated in many other Italian wine growing areas - and the indigenous white Grechetto. The whites made from Grechetto (its name hinting to its Greek origin) are crisp, dry wines boasting flavours of wild flowers, lime and a fresh almond finish. The Trebbiano grape is used to produce wines in different styles including both still and sparkling.
The weather favours great winemaking in Umbria. In the centre of Italy, the mountains provide for cold winters with ample rainfall and hot summers, cooled with fresh mountain breezes during the days and nights – a weather of choice for happy grapes.
Soils are predominantly limestone, sand and chalky clay which provides excellent conditions both for retaining water and drainage on the hillsides. So, Umbria has a lot going for it and this combined with increasing local efforts going into quality winemaking, the region is set for a great future. As a wine lover, if you haven’t yet had the chance to try wine from Umbria a great experience awaits you.
Which is the most known Umbrian wine?
The Orvieto DOC is definitively the most well-known wine from Umbria, covering almost 80% of the vined area. Orvieto Classico is based on Grechetto and Trebbiano, where Trebbiano provides fresh acidity the Grechetto adds to the body. The wines typically display lemon and apple, with the “Superiore” styles showing much more concentration and complexity. Wine lovers can find dry, off-dry and also sweet wines from the “appassimento method” and from grapes affected by “noble rot”.
As in Toscana, Sangiovese is the leading red grape making up more than 50% of red grape production, followed by Merlot and the local hero Sagrantino. Sagrantino is indigenous to Umbria and is grown mostly on the hillside of Montefalco and the surrounding area.
The grape is used both in pure form as single varietal wine and in blends, in particular together with Sangiovese. Sagrantino is believed to contain more tannins than any other wine, providing a life span in the cellar of 30+ years. But there is no need to wait that long to enjoy a great bottle of Sagrantino.
Grechetto is great with herbal food
White wines based on Grechetto pair wonderfully with acidic and herbal foods such as fish and white meats with citric sauces as well as light tomato-based pasta – though you don’t want to forget fatty cheeses made from sheep, goat and cow milk. The red wines based on Sagrantino and Sangiovese are food friendly and pair well with both pizza and pasta – and of course, anything with black truffles, the Umbrian speciality!
Which of the two DOCG wines below do you think can age for longer?
Umbria prizes two red DOCG appellations: Torgiano Rosso Riserva and Montefalco Sagrantino. Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG it is made from a blend of around 50 -70% Sangiovese, 15 -30% Canaiolo, up to 10% Trebbiano and other Italian red grapes like Ciliegiolo or Montepulciano with a percentage of up to 15%.
The Riserva style has to age for at least 3 years with a minimum of 6 months bottle aging. The producers select the grapes from vineyards situated at higher altitudes around the town Torgiano and they never use the grapes from the flatlands. They keep a constant quality and each vintage delivers elegant wines with red fruit and floral characteristics with long aging potential.
By contrast, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is produced from a single red grape grown in Umbria around the small hillside village of Montefalco. Sagrantino needs sunshine and heat to ripen well and prefers the hilly areas, with south-easterly exposure and good drainage. Production has grown rapidly in the past few years and its quality is gaining it worldwide recognition.
Sagrantino – and its benefits
According to a study by the Edmund Mach Foundation, Sagrantino contains the highest quantity of polyphenols of any red grape variety. The study compared Sagrantino to Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and many others and found that it had more tannins than any of the other wines tested.
The structure in Sagrantino’s tannin is similar to that of pure cocoa, whose health benefits are well known. Sagrantino wines that are cellared properly can be enjoyed for many years as most are quite harsh in youth, they need a long aging period before release.
There is also a dessert-like wine style, called Montefalco Sagrantino Passito. It is produced using partially dried Sagrantino grapes. The wines are complex and balanced with refreshing acidity, with black fruit flavours and creaminess.
Great value whites, crisp with lemon and apple. Powerful dark berried red wines.What are the most popular grape varieties in Umbria?
Sangrantino for sure is the best-known red grape. For whites try the mineral, delicately floral Grechetto and Trebbiano.What types of food works well with wines from Umbria?
Light reds: Prosciutto di Norcia, charcuterie or aged cheddar. Full-bodied reds: work with cooked lamb or beef burgers. Whites: black cod, salmon and chicken.