Adventures In Umbria

Grapes and Olives can be seen growing in the background on the rolling hills of Umbria.

Grapes and olives can be seen growing in the background on the rolling hills of Umbria.

On my recent trip to Umbria, the green heart of Italy, I went in search of the rare and ancient varietal Sagrantino di Montefalco – one of the country’s least known wines and also planned a trip to Orvieto to sample the wines of the Palazzone estate.


Along the way I found a few surprises—like wandering into Orvieto’s amazing Duomo to find Zubin Mehta conducting an orchestra—and made friends with the Pink Floyd loving chef at Fontanella di Porta Sole in Perugia. In addition to wine, I sampled many of the regions
“prodotti tipici” (typical food products) which I smuggled home in the form of increased abdominal girth.

Before leaving for Italy I discovered that many people had never heard of Umbria and if they had, were only vaguely aware of where it might on the peninsula. This is probably because its more celebrated neighbor, Tuscany, often overshadows the region, with famous wine names like Chianti and Brunello. So, who could blame the uninitiated for not knowing more about what Umbria has to offer?

With a similar climate to Tuscany, Umbria is home to 13 DOC wines zones (two are DOCG) and at least as much breathtaking scenery. But while the white wines of Orvieto may have been enjoyed as far back as the twelfth century, the commercial wine history of the region is fairly short. According to the book “Vino Italiano”, many of the DOC classified wines of Umbria didn’t exist a few decades ago and eight were created after 1980.

My visit to Palazzone in Orvieto was one of the highlights of our trip. We toured the estate with property manager Lodovico Dubini and sampled the wines including the crisp, mouth-filling Orvieto Classico “Terre Vineate” made from a blend of native varieties.

My Sagrantino hunt took me to a tiny little wine shop, Enoteca Arco Etrusco in Perugia where owners Irene and Giuseppe willingly opened more than a few bottles to illustrate the differences in taste between traditional producers, who age their wines in large casks known as botti, and the modern-style producers, who use small barriques for a softer style. My favorite: the dark, wild and brambly Fattoria Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso.

Another trend on the Umbrian wine scene is what are known as the “Super Umbrians”. These blends of Sangiovese and international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and any number of other grapes are aged in small oak barriques to enhance their international appeal. But while many of these wines are sure to be crowd pleasers, I believe they may further solidify the region’s “Second Fiddle to Tuscany” image. And call me old- fashioned (or as Will and Travis do, just call me old) but I think “Cinghiale all Cacciatora” (spicy wild boar stew) and “Baffo” (salted pigs cheeks and wild sage) are better paired with something a bit more rustic!

For more on my adventures in Umbria check out my on-the-scene posts for New Jersey Monthly Magazine

http://njmonthly.com/blogs/on-the-vine/2009/3/26/taking-umbria.html

http://njmonthly.com/blogs/on-the-vine/2009/3/31/hunting-the-rare-sagrantino.html

http://njmonthly.com/blogs/on-the-vine/2009/4/2/in-orvieto-some-vintage-surprises.html

http://njmonthly.com/blogs/on-the-vine/2009/4/9/food-wine-and-floyd.html

By Sue Guerra

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2 Comments »

  1. Glad you enjoyed Umbria. I enjoyed a Milziade Antano Sagrantino I had the other day too!

  2. Gary Tonucci said

    Umbria is not as unknown as it used to be. As far as real estate prices are concerned,it’s become the new Tuscany, and why shouldn’t it? In addition to the beautiful cities of Perugia (the regional capital) and Orvieto, it features the Spoleto music festival, the beautiful ancient towns of Assisi and Gubbio, beautiful vistas around Lake Trasimeno and its islands, and its own fabulous food and wines, highlighted by Sagrantino wine and pork products from Norcia (famous throughout Italy). Its central location makes it convenient as a base for excursions to Tuscany, Lazio, Le Marche, and Abruzzo. It is worthy of an extended visit.

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