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Umbria Wine

Umbria Wine

Umbria, known as Italy's green heart, is a region where the art of winemaking traverses the shadow of time. Unlike its neighboring regions that bask in viticultural limelight, Umbria's wines are hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered by those willing to veer off the beaten path. This landlocked area in central Italy is characterized by rolling hills, fertile valleys, and medieval towns, with a wine history that is both ancient and refreshingly modern.

The Soil and Soul of Umbrian Viticulture

The topography of Umbria is primarily hilly, and its soils are a patchwork of clay, sandstone, and limestone. This terroir is favorable for viticulture, as it offers excellent drainage and a variety of microclimates due to the interplay of altitude and exposure. This diversity is a boon for winemakers who can craft a range of wines, from crisp whites to robust reds, each with its own personality.

Ancient Vines, Modern Wines: Grape Varieties in Umbria

Umbria's winemaking is a story of tradition with a twist of innovation, told through its grape varieties:

  • Grechetto: This white grape variety is Umbria's flagship, a cornerstone of the Orvieto blends, known for its structure and stone fruit flavors.
  • Trebbiano Spoletino: Unlike its more widespread relative Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbiano Spoletino is a local variety that produces full-bodied and aromatic white wines.
  • Sagrantino: Perhaps the most prestigious grape of Umbria, Sagrantino is used to make the intense and tannic Sagrantino di Montefalco, a wine that has garnered international acclaim.
  • Sangiovese: As in neighboring Tuscany, Sangiovese is a vital red grape in Umbria, where it contributes to the revered Montefalco Rosso and Torgiano Rosso.
  • Procanico: A biotype of Trebbiano, this grape adds freshness and vivacity to the region's white wines.
  • International Varieties: Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay also make appearances, often blended with indigenous grapes or shining on their own in varietal labels.
Umbrian Appellations: The Pinnacles of Quality

Umbria's commitment to quality is evident through its appellation system:

  • Orvieto DOC: The largest and most recognized DOC, Orvieto is primarily known for its white wines, which range from dry (secco) to sweet (dolce).
  • Torgiano DOC and DOCG: Torgiano was the first DOC in Umbria to be elevated to DOCG status for its Riserva reds, a testament to the region's quality-driven approach.
  • Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG: Exclusively for wines from Sagrantino, this appellation produces some of Italy's most robust and age-worthy reds.
  • Montefalco DOC: Also in the Montefalco area, this DOC produces both red and white wines, including the approachable Montefalco Rosso.
Terroir in a Glass: The Winemaking Traditions of Umbria

Umbrian winemaking techniques are as varied as the region's microclimates. While traditional methods still prevail, with large oak barrels and long macerations, there's also a modern touch, seen in temperature-controlled fermentation and the use of small French barriques. This duality ensures that Umbrian wines not only retain their historic character but also meet contemporary standards of quality and complexity.

Wine Tourism: Umbria's Oenological Odyssey

Umbria's wineries are smaller and more intimate compared to those in more famous Italian wine regions. Wine tourism here is a personal affair, with visitors often having the chance to meet the winemakers themselves. Wine tours in Umbria offer a deep dive into the region's history, culture, and, of course, its wines, complete with tastings that often feature local cheeses and cured meats.

The Culinary Canvas of Umbria: Pairings with Local Fare

The region's wines are inextricably linked with Umbrian cuisine, a rustic and hearty affair that complements the profile of the local wines. Orvieto wines, with their zest and minerality, are perfect alongside the lake fish dishes, while the robust Sagrantino demands to be paired with rich meats, truffles, and aged cheeses.

Challenges and Prospects: Umbria's Winemaking Future

One of the challenges Umbrian winemakers face is the relative obscurity of their region in the global wine market. However, with the rising interest in autochthonous varieties and sustainable viticulture, Umbria is well-positioned to grow its reputation. The focus on quality over quantity and the uniqueness of its offerings are strengths that the region is building upon.

Conclusion: The Enological Essence of Umbria

The wines of Umbria are an ode to the harmony between nature and human craftsmanship. As the world becomes more acquainted with the likes of Orvieto and Sagrantino, the narrative of Umbrian wine is unfolding, capturing the palates and imaginations of wine enthusiasts globally.

With its landscape painted with vineyards, olive groves, and medieval towns, Umbria invites not just a tasting but an immersion. Here, wine is not merely produced; it's lived and breathed, offering a sip of its soul with every glass. Umbria's wines, like the region itself, are unassuming yet profound, a serene whisper in a world of clamor, reminding us that the truest forms of beauty are often the quietest. As the future unfolds, it's clear that the wines of Umbria will not just be a footnote in Italy's winemaking legacy—they will be one of its most eloquent chapters.

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Umbria produces wines that have gained respect for their quality and distinctive characteristics. The region's wines are influenced by its hilly terrain, a mix of Mediterranean and continental climates, and a tradition that dates back to the Etruscans.

White Wines:
  • Orvieto DOC - Umbria's most famous white, traditionally a blend primarily of Grechetto and Trebbiano (Procanico), which can be dry (secco), medium-sweet (abboccato), or sweet (dolce).
  • Grechetto - Known for its pear and almond notes, Grechetto is used in Orvieto but also shines as a varietal wine, both in Grechetto di Orvieto and Grechetto di Todi DOCs.
  • Trebbiano Spoletino - An indigenous variety different from Trebbiano Toscano, producing aromatic and structured wines.
Red Wines:
  • Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG - A robust, tannic red wine made from the Sagrantino grape, which can be aged (secco) or sweet (passito).
  • Rosso di Montefalco DOC - Often seen as a younger sibling to Sagrantino di Montefalco, it is a blend that includes Sagrantino and Sangiovese.
  • Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG - Predominantly made from Sangiovese, these wines are known for their aging potential, similar to some of the great wines of Tuscany.
Other Varietal Wines and Styles:
  • Sangiovese - The ubiquitous grape of central Italy, producing medium-bodied wines with a range of expressions in Umbria.
  • Montefalco Bianco DOC - Typically a blend that includes Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino, offering fresh and floral characteristics.
  • Colli del Trasimeno DOC - Produces both red and white wines from a variety of grapes, including Sangiovese for reds and whites from Grechetto and Chardonnay.
  • Colli Martani DOC - Known for red wines from Sangiovese and Merlot, and whites mainly from Grechetto.
  • Colli Perugini DOC - Produces a range of wine styles including reds from Sangiovese and whites from Grechetto and Trebbiano.
  • Lago di Corbara DOC - A small area focused on red wines from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, as well as some white wines.
Sweet/Dessert Wines:
  • Muffato della Sala - Umbria's answer to the sweet botrytised wines, made from a blend of grapes including Grechetto and Sauvignon Blanc, affected by noble rot.
  • Vin Santo - A traditional sweet wine, often made from Grechetto or Malvasia grapes, which are dried to concentrate their sugars.
IGT Wines:
  • Umbria IGT - A designation that allows for a wide variety of grape types and wine styles, including international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and innovative blends that may not adhere to DOC/DOCG regulations.

Umbrian wines, while not as well-known as some of their Italian counterparts, offer an exceptional range of styles. The region's focus on indigenous varieties like Sagrantino and Grechetto gives Umbrian wines a unique place in Italy’s viticultural landscape. The small production quantities often mean these wines are crafted with great care, reflecting the passion of Umbrian winemakers for their land and traditions. Whether it's a structured Sagrantino di Montefalco or a crisp Grechetto, the wines of Umbria tell the story of a region that balances tradition with a dynamic approach to winemaking.

Italian Wines
  • Italian Red Grapes
    • Sangiovese

      • The most well known of the Italian grapes and responsible for the famous Tuscan wines. Using tradional techniques, the wines are earthy, full of cherry fruit and cedar. The wines produced include such famous names as: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso. The "Super-Tuscans", produced for the international market, blend the Sangiovese grape with Bordeaux varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and often used French oak barrels to age.

    • Nebbiolo

      • Translated, the name means: "Little Fog", which refers to the autumn fog common in the region of Piedmont where it is grown. The grape seems to like these conditions but is difficult to cultivate otherwise. It is responsible for the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. Barolo is often kept for more than 50 years, and is considered by many to be the greatest wine produced in Italy.

    • Montepulciano

      • This grape is planted in Abruzzo,and should not be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. It produces a wine with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin, recent bottles have improved greatly on those in the past.

    • Barbera

      • This grape is the most widely grown in Piedmont and southern Lombardy, particularly around the towns of Asti, Alba and Pavia. Previously, the Barbera wines were considered a poor alternative to Barolo, but recently they have improved dramatically. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity. It is being produced increasingly for the international market.

    • Corvina

      • This is the grape that makes Valpolicella and Amarone, the best known wines of the Veneto. Valpolicella has dark cherry fruit and spice. If the grapes are dried, a process called "passito", they produce a wine called Amarone. Some are aged for more than 40 years and can command extremely high prices. Amarone di Valpolicella was awarded DOCG status in 2009.

    • Nero dAvola

      • A native varietal of Sicily, this grape was virtually unheard of a few years ago. Now, the quality of the wine is improving steadily and it is becoming increasingly popular on the international market for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins.

    • Dolcetto

      • This grape is called "Little Sweet One", because it is easy to grow and produces great wines for everyday drinking. It is grown alongside the Barbera and Nebbiola grapes in Piedmont and produces wine with flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs.

    • Negroamaro

      • Translated, the name means "Black and Bitter". It is grown extensively in the region of Puglia where it is used to produce the Salento wines: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.

    • Aglianico

      • Considered by many to be the "Noble Varietal of the south" Aglianico grapes are primarily grown in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from Hellenic, so the grape is considered to be a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are often both rustic and powerful.

    • Sagrantino

      • This grape is native to Umbria. It is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavy tannins, these wines can age for many years.

    • Malvasia Nera

      • Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo (Zinfandel in California), Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia. "International" varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

  • Italian White Grapes
    • Catarratto

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Salaparuta, south western Sicily.

    • Trebbiano

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

    • Moscato

      • Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d"Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino- Alto-Adige.

    • Nuragus

      • An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

    • Pinot Grigio

      • A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers" hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

    • Tocai Friulano

      • A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

    • Ribolla Gialla

      • A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

    • Arneis

      • A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

    • Malvasia Bianca

      • Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.

    • Pigato

      • A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in seafood.

    • Fiano
      • Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
    • Garganega

      • The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It"s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

    • Vermentino

      • This is widely planted in northern Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. Wines are particularly popular to accompany fish and seafood.

    • Verdicchio

      • This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia. As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Riesling, Petite Arvine, and many others.

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