Celebrated for its artistic treasures and quiet, green countryside, Umbria is sandwiched between Tuscany, the Marches and Latium, with no access to the seaside. Vitis vinifera has been cultivated in Umbria since Roman times and vineyards continue to figure large in its broad green landscape rich in rivers and lakes [Trasimeno being one of Italy’s largest].
Local grape varieties dominate in the region, from the white Trebbiano, Grechetto, Procanico, to the red Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Sagrantino di Montefalco. Around 20% of the 1 million hectolitres produced annually qualifies for DOC status. The best known of these are Orvieto, Torgiano and Sagrantino di Montefalco . Orvieto is a commercial success as one of Italy’s best-selling DOC whites with a solid following abroad.
Recently, some producers have achieved more character in the wine through lower grape yields and more meticulous selection and by letting the grape skins remain in contact with the juice for a while before fermentation. Just lately Orvieto’s abboccato and amabile versions have made a comeback as dessert wines. Although Procanico (a local species of Trebbiano) and Malvasia prevail in Orvieto, growers in the zone have been working successfully with such outside varieties as Chardonnay, Sauvignon and the Pinot Blanc, as well as the admirable local Grechetto.
The most prestigious Umbrian red is the Torgiano Riserva, which has special DOCG status (though Torgiano DOC appellation covers a range of other wines). Sagrantino, an ancient variety grown only around the hill town of Montefalco, is an intriguing native that makes both dry and sweet wines of unmistakable grandeur. It, too, has been granted a special DOCG, separate from the DOC Montefalco for lighter red and white wines.