Monday, 21 May 2012

The Wines of Umbria

From Orvieto to Montefalco

Although Umbria is commonly known as the green heart of Italy, unfortunately in terms of wine making it has long been overshadowed by it's neighbouring Tuscany. Umbrian wines such as Orvieto and Montefalco are relatively well known, often despite a somewhat dubious reputation for quality.

The region first began attracting interest from overseas wine buyers when Giorgio Lungarotti from Torgiano instituted his annual wine competition, the Barca d'Assaggio, which has been highly regarded for many years. Torigiano wines were recognised for their up and coming quality when they were awarded DOC status, and DOCG in the case of Torgiano Riserva, but neither wine, despite these declarations of quality, have enjoyed particular international success, which may have been due to Lungarotti being the only producer.

However, in the last ten years nothing has stood in the way of Torgiano's wine development. the best known wine from this region was Orvieto, which still to this day accounts for two thirds of the regions DOC wine production. Orvieto's development saw into transformed from a thin and generally bland, characterless wine that was often drunk by locals as a dessert wine, to a deep, bold, dry white one suitable for the Umbrian regions robustly-flavoured dishes. Most of the wine is produced by no more than three large cooperatives, a few medium sized vintners and a hand full of ardent small producers have been able to make a rising star of Orvieto by developing wine making, wine style and a few lucky experiments. These experiments were focused primarily on Orvieto Classico, the heart of the Umbrian wine region, some excellent table wines resulted, the producers of which still to this day are pushing the envelope of quality and producing better and better wines. As with many other wine regions of Italy success has been found by using none native grape varieties, developing new methods of storing and ageing wines, using more modern cellering techniques and generally having an eye on quality rather than quantity.

These developments have led to most of the region having their own DOC's with a quality rating now of good to very good. The most famous of these comes from the region around the Umbrain capital, Perugia, and from the regions borders with Tuscany. Wines labelled Colli del Trasimeno and colli Perugini are fresh white wines and red wines, which are pressed fro the same grape varieties of their more successful Tuscan neighbours; Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet among the reds and Trebbiano, Grecchetto and Chardonnay among the whites.

The wines of Montefalco, in the north of the region, have also made an impressive leap in quality, especially in the case of it's reds, which are made from the native Italian grape variety Sangiovese and the indigenous Sagrantino grape variety. Sagrantino di Montefalco, the wines made from a single grape variety that has been elevated to DOCG status, is a wine of great strength and fullness, with a intense aroma of fruit and spices, which can be held aloft with any of the other great wines of Italy. Passito, the sweet version of Sagrantino di Montefalco is a sumptuous, full-bodied, fruity wine . . a true Umbrian  star.

Lets take a quick look at the wines of Umbria;

Torgiano Riserva


Umbria's most famous wine is Torgiano Riserva, made from a blend of Sangiovese and other indigenous grape varieties. This excellent, elegant wine is not excessively strong or over high alcohol, it is an excellent accompaniment to the rich meat dishes of the Umbrain region and can age very well, but alas is only offered by one top Umbrian producer.

Colli Martani

Colli Altotiberini, Colli Amerini, Colli del Trasimeno, Colli Martani and Colli Perugini are all Umbrian declarations of origin from the northern part of the region. The white wines are mostly pressed from Trebbiano Toscano grapes, while the reds are pressed from Sangiovese, blended with Montrepulciano, Merlot or other varieties. These wines are largely unassuming and rather light, but unfortunately not as prestigious as other Umbrian wines.

Sagrantino do Montefalco

Sagratino is a variant of the red Montefalco pressed exclusively from grapes of the native Sagratino di Montefalco. These are mostly processed when they have dried slightly, producing a very strong, concentrated red wine with a high alcohol content.


Alongside Soave and Frascati, Orvieto ranks among the most popular white wines in Italy. Orvieto is produced almost exclusively in Umbria, except for a small corner that extends into Lazio. The best growths come from  the Classico zone, and they produced clean, mildly fruity wines with balanced acidity.

These white wines, which are produced the city with it's famous cathedral, are occasionally fermented and matured in small wooden barrels or barriques. This method, however, is only successful if the strength and concentration of the grapes are well above average.

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