Situated in the centre of the Italian peninsula – the only region which is both landlocked and doesn’t share a border with another country – Umbria is 16th (out of 20) in terms of size and 17th in terms of population.
Historically, viticulture has not been as important in Umbria as in neighbouring regions like Tuscany. Orvieto, however, the region’s best-known wine, was once the most celebrated Italian white wine, praised for its semisweet (abboccato) style. Today, Umbria produces approximately 6 million cases of wine annually (15th in Italy in terms of production), less than one third that of Tuscany. There are 2 DOCGs, 11 DOCs, and 6 IGTs in the region.
Geographically Umbria is mostly hilly or mountainous, dominated by the Apennines to the east, with the highest point in the region at Monte Vettore on the border of the Marche (at 2,476 m amsl.) In contrast, the Tiber valley basin forming the border with Lazio to the south is the lowest point in the region at 96 m amsl. The climate is Mediterranean (warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters), and the soils in vineyard sites mainly consist of calcareous clay and sand that is rich in limestone. Rainfall in the winter months is sufficient for the vines, and the region has many lakes – including Lake Trasimeno, Italy’s 4th largest lake – springs, and rivers, making it lusher than Tuscany
Principal wine centres include Assisi, Orvieto, Terni, Montefalco (known for Sagrantino) and Spoleto, all mainly in the western, and southwestern parts of the region. While slightly more than half of the region’s production is red wine, the white wine Orvieto represents over 80% of DOC production. While Umbria is quickly realizing its potential, quality (DOCG and DOC) production currently accounts for only about one quarter of total annual production.
The flagship wine of Umbria is Orvieto – the region’s largest single DOC and produced near the medieval hill city of the same name – a blend of mostly Trebbiano, with Verdelho, Grechetto, Malvasia, and other local varieties allowed (up to a maximum of 60% in total.) There are two production zones, with Orvieto Classico representing more than 75% of total production. Sweet and semi-sweet versions of Orvieto no longer dominate, now making up less than 5% of total output. Typically dry, light and fresh, with aromas and flavours of ripe pear, apple with spice and mineral notes, more interesting (expressive) versions are a result of winemakers decreasing vineyard yields and using higher percentages of grapes like Grechetto in the blend.
Sangiovese, best known in neighbouring Tuscany for wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, is also the principal red-wine grape in Umbria, most notably in the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG. It is also the main grape in most red DOC blends, many of which will age well for many years, while others are better consumed in their youth. Perhaps what differentiates Umbrian Sangiovese most is that it is blended with a range of different grape varieties, from the traditional indigenous Canaiolo (like Chianti) to French varieties like Gamay and Petit Verdot to international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In the Montefalco DOC, Sangiovese is blended with a small percentage of the indigenous Sagrantino grape. Unique to Umbria, Sagrantino has ancient origins, that some say can be traced back to Spain. Total production of Sagrantino is small and mostly centred on the hilltop town of Montefalco, this tannic grape is capable of greatness in the right hands. It can constitute 100% of the blend of the much-coveted Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, and sweet versions – made in passito style – can take on port-like status.
For white wines, Grechetto grapes show the most promise, while Chardonnay and Sauvignon can be good too. Our 100% Grechetto Bianco del Cavaliere Colli Martani DOC from Cantina Franco Todini is particularly good, and we urge you to consider giving it a try.
Umbria is also one of the most fertile regions in all of Italy, and is Italy’s prime source for black truffles. Umbria is also a major source of dried pasta (even though it’s homemade egg pastas have few rivals), legumes (lentils from the town of Castelluccio are protected by IGP), meat (beef and pork), olives (and DOP olive oil), and vegetables. Lake Trasimeno is a source of freshwater fish and eels.
Typical dishes include hand-rolled egg pasta (cariole and stringozzi), Porchetta, unsalted breads baked in a wood oven (panne casereccio), and sweet buns like pan pepato (with almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and raisins). In Perugia, the home of the famous Baci kiss, chocolate is considered “food”.