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Wine In Umbria

Umbria & Wine – An Overview

The region of Umbria is located right in the centre of Italy, the landscape comprises hills, valleys and mountains as well as Lake Trasimeno. Most of the wine growing areas follow the Tiber and other river valleys or are found around the Lake. Since the 1990’s the region’s wines have increased considerably in quality, and, although, by no means as famous (or easily found) as wines from neighbouring Tuscany, their reputation is growing steadily. The climate in this landlocked region is continental, hot summers and cold winters with plenty of ventilation for the vines and rainfall throughout the year (but predominately in the autumn and winter).

You may have come across Orvieto Classico DOC, the famous white wine grown on volcanic soil in the south of the region around the town of the same name. Other wines that you may have noticed outside of Italy are the reds Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG and Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. There are several other DOC wines produced in the region as well as a number of excellent IGTs. If you’re not sure what the terms DOCG, DOC and IGT mean, don’t worry, read my post on Italian Wine Classification and hopefully all will become clear!

A View Of The Pian di Marte From The Preggio Vineyard, Umbria, Italy
A View Of The Pian di Marte From The Preggio Vineyard, Umbria, Italy
A wine glass full of Trebbiano Spoletino, a white wine from Umbria
A wine glass full of Trebbiano Spoletino
View towards Ursula's house and surrounding vineyards.
View towards Ursula's house and surrounding vineyards.

Umbrian Wines & Vines

Around 90,100,000 litres of wine are made in Umbria each year, from roughly half red and half white grapes, 45% DOP (DOCG and DOC) and 44% IGP (IGT).

53% of the wines are red or rosé, the main red grapes are sangiovese, merlot, sagrantino, cabernet sauvignon and montepulciano. The main white grapes are trebbiano and grechetto.

Grape Varieties Grown In Umbria

Red Grapes (percentages are of all grapes grown in Umbria):

Sagrantino (8%) is found mainly around the town of Montefalco from where it originates, and is known for making tannic, full bodied wines. There are hardly any wines with Sagrantino in it from outside Umbria. It is used to make Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG (as a varietal) and blended to make Rosso di Montefalco DOC.

Sangiovese is the most widely grown grape in Umbria contributing to 20% of the total. Sometimes blended (often with cabernet sauvignon and merlot) or made as a varietal, it is most famously used in Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG where it is blended with Canaiolo and other varieties.

Ciliegiolo (2%) is grown all over Umbria but has become associated with the town of Narni which produces a varietal wine with this grape. The wine is delicate, fruity and light in tannin.

Canaiolo Nero (1%) is a local grape, usually added to blends for alcohol, body, softness, fruity aromas and a slight bitterness in the finish.

Montepulciano (2%, note this is a grape and is not the town in Tuscany also famous for wine) is grown all over Umbria but particularly around Terni.

Gamay (1%, confusingly, this is not the Gamay grape used in Beaujolais Nouveaux but is actually Grenache, also known as Garnacha or Cannonau if you drink Spanish and Sardinian wine.) This grape is grown around Lake Trasimeno where it is suited to the climate, sometimes called Gamay del Trasimeno.

Merlot (11%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) are the main red international varieties, these are often blended with Sangiovese (frequently used in Umbrian IGTs) and sometimes released as Bordeaux style (Cabernet and Merlot) wines.

White Grapes (percentages are of all grapes grown in Umbria)

Grechetto (11%) is found all over Umbria, in the past it was often used to make rustic wines intended for local consumption, however, with the use of modern winemaking techniques, the quality of wines from this grape is rising steadily and there are now some excellent examples available. The two main varieties are Grechetto di Todi and Grechetto di Orvieto (used with Trebbiano and other varieties to make Orvieto Classico wines).

Trebbiano (15%). The main varieties grown in Umbria are Toscano, Giallo (yellow) and increasingly Spoletino (Spoleto is an Umbrian town). Trebbiano is a high yielding vine and in the past was often grown for this reason, however, if the crop is kept under control with good vine management it can produce wines with a good acidity, structure, citrus and vegetable aromas, sometimes reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc.

Malvasia Bianca (4%) grows mainly in the north of Umbria, where, if you can find a bottle, it produces a delicate wine with good acidity and aromatics. My local vineyard, I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea, blends it with grechetto and a grape from northern Italy, friulano, to make an excellent, reasonably priced white.

Il Verdello (2%) often blended with grechetto and trebbiano toscano to add intensity and freshness.

Chardonnay (3%) and Sauvignon Blanc (1%) are also widely grown in Umbria. sauvignon blanc is used in the famous “muffato” (moldy) dessert wines from Orvieto which are made from grapes dried out by the botrytis mold, also known as noble rot.

Wine Growing Areas In Umbria

Wine Regions In Umbria

There are six principle wine growing areas within the region of Umbria, these are Perugia-Assisi, Torgiano, Lake Trasimeno, Montefalco-Todi-Colli Martani, Terni and Orvieto. I should add that the Upper Tiber Valley, where we are based, is an up and coming wine area where you can find some superb wines at very reasonable prices.

The Upper Tiber Valley is the most northerly wine growing area in Umbria. The vineyards are scattered around the hills of the Tiber and adjoining valleys. Most producers seem to ignore the Colli Altotiberini (Upper Tiber Hills) DOC because no one has heard of it, and instead put out some excellent value for money wines (mainly reds) that usually feature sangiovese under an IGT label. This is the area where most of our rental villas are located, if you come here, don’t expect to drive through endless vineyards but do be prepared to discover some good local wine at a very reasonable price.

Trasimeno, Perugia, Assisi and Torgiano: these four wine regions stretch across the centre of Umbria, Trasimeno borders Montepulciano in the west and, in the east, the Assisi region finishes on the western slopes of the Appennine foothills.

Lake Trasimeno wine area borders Montepulciano in Tuscany, Colli Perugini to the east and Colli Altotiberini to the north. Wines from the Lake area do not command the same price as those from Montepulciano, but, on the western side of the Lake, the vineyards from the two regions are often adjacent. I have drunk many excellent wines from small producers in the Trasimeno area and will be definitely be writing more posts about vineyard visits here in the future. The climate and soils around Trasimeno are suited to growing sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and ciliegiolo. Also look out for Gamay Trasimeno DOC, in reality the grape called gamay trasimeno is identical to grenache. White wines are made with grechetto, trebbiano toscano, pinot grigio and bianco and there is also a small amount of chardonnay produced.

Colli Perugini The area covered by Colli Perugini DOC (Perugian hills) is south of Perugia and is bordered by the right bank of the Tiber. To the west the zone borders the Lake Trasimeno DOC.  The Assisi DOC Sangiovese and trebbiano toscano are the main varieties grown here. Typically, red blends are sangiovese with the local variety ciliegiolo or merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Torgiano A small (250 hectare) wine area to the south east of Perugia that produces wines of great structure with high alcohol content and minerality. The area has its own DOCG, Torgiano Rosso Riserva, (note that only the riserva is DOCG, if a wine is labelled simply “Torgiano Rosso” it will be the less prestigious DOC. Maybe you’re starting to feel confused, I didn’t say this would be easy! Until recently there was only one vineyard that made Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, Lungarotti, who basically had a DOCG created for their wine. They have now been joined in production of the DOCG by their neighbours, Terre Margaritelli. The Torgiano reds are blends of (mainly) sangiovese with ciliegolo and montepulciano grapes. Torgiano Rossa Riserva DOCG is the same blend (supposedly the white grape trebbiano is also permitted, but I would be surprised if either of the two producers add it) and is aged for three years giving it more structure and intense, complex aromas of dried flowers, chocolate and Mediterranean herbs.

Assisi As in the rest of central Umbria, the main grape is sangiovese, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot to make Assisi Rosso IGT. The Assisi Rosso blends that I have tried are reliably good and great value for money. White wines are usually made with grechetto and trebbiano toscano.

Montefalco The Montefalco area is directly south of Torgiano and to the east of Colli Perugini, it is just to the south west of Asissi The countryside around Montefalco and the small towns of Montefalco, Bastardo, Bevagna, Castel Ritaldi, Giano dell’Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo comprise the Montefalco wine growing area which is famous for the uniquely Umbrian grape, sagrantino.

Sagrantino is a thick skinned late ripening variety that (due to its thick skin) is rich in polyphenols and high in sugar (due to late ripening). It is possibly the world’s most tannic grape and needs careful ageing in oak to mellow out. Traditionally made as a “passito” sweet wine, sagrantino’s thick skin means that the grape is ideally suited to being dried indoors after harvest.  The drying process has the effect of concentrating the sugars and when the grapes are pressed a small amount of juice is obtained. Most of the wineries making sagrantino make a limited amount of Sagrantino Passito DOCG (usually sold in half bottles) but these days the grape is most commonly used to make a dry wine,  Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG (also called Sagrantino Montefalco DOCG). Be warned, this is not a wine for the  faint hearted, it is not made for sipping gently on its own, it requires a hearty meal to balance the tannins.

Sagrantino di Montefalco is a deep ruby red, it has to be aged for 34 months before release and 12 months of this should be in the bottle. The nose is usually of dark fruit, sweet spice, tobacco and balsamic notes.

Colli Martani, Todi and Spoleto The Colli Martani district includes both the Montefalco and Todi wine areas as well as some of the Spoleto wine area too. As a result, many of the wineries in these areas will put out a white wine made with grechetto under the Colli Martani DOC. There is also a Colli Martani Sangiovese DOC but I don’t think that I have ever tried a bottle.

The town of Todi has its own variety of grechetto, Grechetto di Todi, this makes a wine high in alcohol and acidity with a nose of tropical fruit, yellow flowers. As with all wines made with the grechetto grape, it usually has a delicate aftertaste of almonds.

The town of Spoleto is best known for the trebbiano variety called Trebbiano Spoletino. This increasingly popular grapes make wines with intense fruit aromas and flavours. I definitely recommend trying some when you come to Umbria.

Orvieto and Lago di Corbara The Lago di Corbara wine area is almost all within the Orvieto Classico region. The Corbara Lake was created by a dam across the Tiber. Here you will find grapes such as aleatico, cesanese and colorino grapes as well as pinot noir and merlot. The lake created ideal conditions for making sweet wines from grapes that dehydrated on the vine by botrytis mold, for this to occur you need regular foggy mornings and sunny afternoons.

The Orvieto wine growing area actually crosses into the region of Lazio in the south and borders the Lago Trasimeno region in the north. It is famous for Orvieto Classico DOC white wines with good structure and minerality thanks to the area’s volcanic soils. Trebbiano toscano and grechetto are the principle grapes but verdello, canaiolo bianco, malvasia and chardonnay can also go into the blend. Traditionally the wine was slightly sweet (aboccato) but these days 95% of production is dry wine.

If you like dessert wines do look out for Orvieto Muffa Nobile, produced around Lago di Corbara by allowing the Botrytis cinerea (noble rot) mold to dehydrate the grapes (see above).

Terni The Colli Amerini (Amelian hills) DOC covers the extreme southern point of Umbria, the local grape variety, ciliegolo, is used in the red wine here but also look out for wines made with malvasia toscana. Sangiovese is also widely grown here and is used in many IGT wines from the area.

5 Umbrian Towns

When you stay on the Tuscany Umbria border you have the option to visit both these Italian regions, here’s a brief guide to some the larger towns in Umbria,.

Perugia

Perugia is the capital of Umbria, it is easy to miss out on thanks to the large amount of urban sprawl below the old city and a one way system that seems designed to confuse the visitor. Negotiating the one way system is easier these days thanks to the widespread use of GPS (I always go to the Partigiani car park). in addition, you can directly access the beautiful centro storico using the Mini Metro transport system (use the large car park near the Madonna Alta exit on the Super Strada).

The Palazzo de Priori in Perugia, Umbria

The Palazzo de Priori in Perugia, Umbria

Don’t miss:

  • Collegio di Cambio – beautiful frescoes by Perugino.
  • Galleria Nazionale del’Umbria – art works by Perugino, Piero della Francesca, Fra’Angelico.
  • Piazza IV novembre – stunning piazza with medieval fountain at the centre of the city.
  • Fontana Maggiore – the fountain at the centre of Piazza IV movembre.
  • Etruscan Well – enormous well constructed by the Etruscans.
  • Underground City – medieval streets that became the storerooms for the pope’s fortress.
  • Arco Etrusco – huge entrance to the city built by the Etruscans.

Also consider:

  • Via Maesta Delle Volte – impressive arches over this alley support the buildings.
  • San Severo – a half finished fresco by Raphael.
  • Sala del Collegio di Mercanzia – wood panelled meeting room for the merchants’ guild.
  • Sala dei Notari – frescoed meeting room open to the public if not in use.
  • Oratorio di San Bernardino – impressive carved facade on this church.
  • Via Acquedotto – medieval aqueduct that is now a pedestrian walkway.
  • San Pietro – a short walk away from the centre, visit the frescoed interior.
  • Museo Archeologico – lots of Roman and Etruscan artifacts.
  • Hypogea di Volumni – Etruscan tomb on the outskirts of the city.

Assisi

The home town of Umbra’s most famous saint, St. Francis, this town has millions of visitors every year so if you don’t like crowds, go early in the morning or in the winter. The town’s buildings have a pinkish hue because of the color of the stone from Monte Subasio, the mountain behind Assisi. Almost everyone is surprised to learn that the town’s patron saint is not St. Francis but San Rufino, an early Christian bishop and martyr. The Romanesque Duomo, rather than the Basilica of St. Francis, is the church built in his (San Rufino’s) honour.

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Umbria

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Umbria

Don’t miss:

  • Basilica of St. Francis – huge church & the world’s greatest collection of medieval painting.
  • Duomo (San Rufino) – Romanesque facade and inside the font used to baptise St. Francis.
  • Basilica di Santa Chiara – huge flying buttresses support this impressive church.
  • The Rocca Maggiore – vertiginous  views from the tower.
  • Tempio di Minerva – Roman temple converted to a church.

Also consider:

  • Roman Forum – under the Piazza del Comune, a collection of Roman remains.
  • San Damiano – small church outside the town walls where St. Francis had a vision.
  • Santa Maria degli Angeli – huge church below Assisi built over St. Francis’ original chapel.
  • Eremo Dei Carceri – monastery in the woods 6km from Assisi.

Gubbio

A medieval masterpiece of a town built on the lower slopes of Monte Ingino. If relatively small towns like Gubbio could build enormous civic buildings like the Palazzo dei Consoli, medieval Italy must have been a very wealthy place. Gubbio is relatively isolated and this means it is not overrun with visitors – another point in its favour. In recent years a lift (or elevator if you speak American) has been installed in the town making it easy to negotiate the steep streets. The first lift connects the lower part of Gubbio with the Palazzo dei Consoli and a second (not so easy to find) lift goes up to the Duomo.

The town of Gubbio in Umbria

The town of Gubbio in Umbria

Don’t miss:

  • Palazzo dei Consoli – huge medieval town hall on the Piazza Grande, worth a look inside.
  • Piazza Grande – large piazza built on enormous supporting arches.
  • Duomo – impressive interior with unusual supporting arches.
  • Funavia – cable car ride up Monte Ingino.
  • Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo – see the blackened corpse of Gubbio’s patron saint in a glass coffin.

Also consider

  • St Agostino – frescoes of the life of St. Agostino, also gruesome scenes of torture by demons.
  • Rocca – views from the very top of Monte Ingino (walk from St. Ubaldo).
  • Ducal Palace – Federigo di Montefeltro’s residence, now used for art exhibitions.
  • Roman Amphitheatre – below the town near the main car park.
  • San Francesco – frescoes of the Life of St. Francis and Life of The Virgin

Spoleto

A medieval town with Roman origins perched above a wide gorge, Spoleto rose to prominence as the capital of a Lombard ruled duchy after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Duchy of Spoleto lasted from AD576 to 1155 when Frederick Barbarossa captured the town.

The Rocca and medieval aqueduct, Spoleto, Umbria

The Rocca and medieval aqueduct, Spoleto, Umbria

Don’t miss:

  • Duomo – elegant facade and frescoes by Filippo Lippi and Pinturicchio inside
  • Ponti delle Torri – enormous medieval aqueduct, 76m at its highest point.
  • Arco di Druso – this Roman arch at the entrance to the forum (now the market).
  • Piazza del Mercato – lively piazza at the heart of Spoleto
  • San Pietro – Romanesque facade and views of Spoleto from across the gorge.
  • Roman Theatre –  the remains of the town’s amphitheatre.
  • Rocca – even if you don’t go in you can’t avoid seeing this impressive fortress.
  • Sant’Eufemia – Romanesque facade & unusual interior.

Also consider:

  • San Salvatore – early Christian church incorporating part of a Roman temple.
  • Museo Diocesano – the highlight is a Madonna & Child by Filippino Lippi.
  • Museo Archeologico – a collection of Roman & Etruscan remains.

Orvieto

Perched high on a volcanic plug in southern Umbria, Orvieto has one of Italy’s finest cathedrals with some apocalyptic frescoes inside. Originally Etruscan in origin and built mainly from tufa, a  soft volcanic rock, the town has a distinct appearance from other Umbrian towns.

The magnificent facade of Orvieto's Duomo

The magnificent facade of Orvieto’s Duomo

Don’t miss:

  • Duomo –  built from striped marble, it has a fine facade and spacious interior.
  • San Brizio Chapel – inside the Duomo, apocalyptic frescoes by Luca Signorelli.
  • Torre del Moro – climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of Orvieto.
  • Pozzo di San Patrizio – deep well with a double spiral staircase.
  • Orvieto Underground – tour the spaces carved out below the town.
  • Crocifisso del Tufo Etruscan Necropolis – Etruscan tombs outside Orvieto.

Also consider:

  • Funavia – ride up on a restored funavia from Orvieto station
  • Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – some interesting medieval paintings
  • Museo Archeologico Nazionale – Etruscan & Roman stuff.
  • Museo Emilio Greco – ceramics collection.

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Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

The town of Orvieto in southern Umbria is perched high on top of the plug of an ancient volcano. The volcano has long since disappeared but the plug, comprising a soft porous rock known as tufa remains. The Etruscans recognised the site as a highly defensible position and built a city there.

The town of Orvieto in Umbria seen from a distance

The town of Orvieto in Umbria

The most impressive building in Orvieto is the Duomo, a cathedral to rival those of many larger cities. The facade is carved with scenes from the bible and topped with relatively modern gold mosaics that catch the sunlight in a most impressive manner.

The Duomo in Orvieto, Umbria

The Duomo in Orvieto

Inside, Luca Signorelli’s greatest fresco cycle is painted on the wall of the right chapel of the transept, the Cappella di San Brizio. The frescoes were painted around the turn of the 1500’s when predictions of impending apocalypse were rife, they show scenes from the Book of Revelations and demonstrate Luca Signorelli’s mastery of the the nude human body. These frescoes were what really sparked my interest in Renaissance art and I recommend anyone to go and see them.

A detail from Luca Signorelli's frescoes in the San Brizio chapel inside Orvieto Duomo

A detail from Luca Signorelli’s frescoes in the San Brizio chapel

After the sack of Rome by German troops in the 1520’s, the pope decided to create a bolthole in Orvieto and ordered the construction of a huge well, the Pozzo di San Patrizio. The design is such that two wide spiral staircases sit on top of each other with a connecting bridge at the bottom, the idea being that pack animals could go down and back up in a one way system, ensuring a steady supply of water. The well was never used, but the exorbitant entrance fee ensures that modern day Orvieto gets a steady supply of revenue, if not water, from this papal white elephant.

The Pozzo di San Patrizio in Orvieto, Umbria

The Pozzo di San Patrizio in Orvieto, Umbria

There are great views from the walls of Orvieto (in reality, the walls are a few blocks of tufa placed on top of an already sheer tufa cliff). Another great viewpoint is from the Torre del Moro, as with the well, there are a lot of steps.

Tufa buildings and the cliff face in Orvieto, Umbria

Tufa buildings and the cliff face in Orvieto, Umbria

Orvieto can be easily reached from our villas on the Tuscany Umbria border, The average time is about an hour and a half by car or an hour by train from Terontola di Cortona station. If you get the train, use the funicular railway from the station up to the town, from there the same ticket allows you to catch a bus to the Duomo.

The Funicular Railway, Orvieto, Umbria

The Funicular, Orvieto, Umbria

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