In Umbria wine has got a long and glorious tradition! Here is a short guide to know everything about the most famous wines of Umbria, their ancient history and food pairings
In Umbria wine and viticulture have relatively recently taken on an approach oriented towards quality, but the production of Umbrian wines date back, even before the famous Greek influences, to the Etruscans and the Romans.
The wines of Umbria were conceived differently from what we know today: their production was aimed at quantity, rather than quality. The vine training system, which once characterised the area and also much of central Italy, was the “vite maritata” (in English, married grapevine. It consists in “marrying” a grapevine – the bride – to a living tree – the groom – that supports the vine’s growth).
A cultivation that has allowed Umbrian grapevines to survive well over time and to resist the attack of phylloxera, but brought negative results on the quality of traditional Umbrian wines.
Orvieto was an exception: the close relations of this city (called Velz-na or Volsinii) with Greece led to the spread in the countryside of a different vine training system, the sapling, much more similar to that used in the Hellenic territory. Umbrian wine from these areas is still very popular today.
In the nineteenth century, some innovators tried to improve the Umbria wine industry, especially in the area around Montefalco, where the famous Sagrantino di Montefalco was created. But only in the second half of the 1900s did a specialised crop begin to develop and quickly changed the history of Umbrian wine.
Umbria wine region: some data
This wine region is around 13,000 hectares, of which 70% is hilly and the rest is mountain.
900,000 hectolitres of Umbrian wine are produced every year: red wines, together with rosé wines, slightly exceed white wines in percentage (53% against 47%).
The wine labels from this territory should not be taken for granted, because they can hide pleasant surprises. Regarding DOCG wine labels, in Umbria we find two important names: Montefalco Sagrantino wine DOCG and Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG.
There are 13 wines of Umbria with DOC wine labels (Controlled Designation of Origin).
Umbrian wines IGT (Typical Geographical Indication) instead are 6.
In Umbria wines & grapevines to discover
In this wine region, native grapevines are around 75. In particular it is important to underline that for Umbria wine means white and black grape varieties, almost in equal quantities.
The 4 most cultivated grape varieties are Sangiovese, Tuscan Trebbiano, Grechetto and Merlot.
The grapevines used for the finest Umbrian red wines are Sagrantino, in the Montefalco area, Montepulciano, Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo Nero, Barbera and Gamay (especially in the Trasimeno Lake area).
There are also some interesting Umbrian white grape varieties, in addition to the aforementioned Grechetto (an important grape variety used alone or blended): Malvasia Bianca, Verdello, Procanico and Canaiolo Bianco.
We also find international grapevines. Among the most important ones: Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero and Cabernet Franc.
In Umbria the territory is extremely suited to viticulture and some areas have got peculiar characteristics.
In the Martani Hills, Altotiberini Hills, Perugini Hills and Lake Trasimeno Hills, the height above sea level allows for good exposure and a mild climate. The wines of Lake Trasimeno also benefit from the humidity of the area and the soil.
The area around Torgiano, Bevagna and Montefalco in the province of Perugia is the place where the famous DOCG wines from Umbria are produced. The clayey, lignite, sandy and pebbly soil and the climate, mitigated by the Apennines, provide ideal conditions for wine production.
The ancient wine-growing area around Orvieto is characterised by a sedimentary and calcareous soil, which is very important to make Orvieto DOC.
In general, to date, the most widespread vine training systems are the Guyot and the Spurred Cordon.
1. Wines of Umbria DOCG
These two DOCG wines are both red wines:
- SAGRANTINO DI MONTEFALCO DOCG
- TORGIANO ROSSO RISERVA DOCG
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG is produced with the homonymous grapevine in the province of Perugia, more precisely in the municipality of Montefalco, Gualdo Cattaneo, Castel Ritaldi and Giano dell’Umbria, a very small territory of about 660 hectares.
Among Umbrian red wines, it is the one that has brought more fame to the region. It was created as a sweet wine and only in the 1980s became the dry wine we know today.
There are 2 versions protected by the DOCG:
- Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG “Secco”
- Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG “Passito”
In both versions, we can find the main characteristic of Montefalco Sagrantino: tannicity. This Umbrian red wine acquires this peculiarity thanks to the mandatory ageing period of at least 33 months (12 of which in oak barrels for the dry version) and a further 4 months in bottle for both the dry and passito versions.
Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG has got an intense, very dark ruby red colour tending to garnet with age. Wild fruit, black cherries and a hint of anise make up the olfactory bouquet which, on the palate, finds its concreteness in the good alcoholic presence and persistent tannins.
In the passito version, the spicy notes and fruits aroma are more accentuated.
Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG
Produced in the area around Torgiano in the province of Perugia, it was the first Umbrian wine to receive the DOC and subsequently the DOCG.
Sangiovese grapes from 50 to 70%, Canaiolo from 15 to 30% and Trebbiano up to 10% are used, to which other grapevines are added for a maximum of 15%.
The minimum ageing period is three years (with a period of 6 months in bottle). This period contributes to forming the main characteristics of Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG: a bright red colour with a delicate vinous scent, as well as fruity and floral aromas.
2. Wines of Umbria DOC
There are 13 DOC wines in Umbria. Below you will find, in addition to the updated list, the description of these Umbrian wines with DOC label.
- AMELIA DOC
- ASSISI DOC
- COLLI ALTOTIBERINI DOC
- COLLI DEL TRASIMENO DOC
- COLLI MARTANI DOC
- COLLI PERUGINI DOC
- CORBARA LAKE DOC
- MONTEFALCO DOC
- ORVIETO DOC
- ROSSO ORVIETANO DOC
- SPOLETO DOC
- TODI DOC
- TORGIANO DOC
Amelia DOC (formerly Colli Amerini DOC)
Many Umbrian grapevines (Ciliegiolo, Grechetto, Malvasia, Merlot, Sangiovese) are used for the production of this wine together with the main grapevine, which in the dry white version is Tuscan Trebbiano and in the red version is Sangiovese. These grape varieties make light wines, which fully reflect the characteristics of the grapevine used. Their particularities change according to the grape variety and so does the name.
In the same way, Assisi DOC is made with the main Umbrian grapevines with an addition of Grechetto (10%) for the white wine and with an addition of Merlot for red and rosé wines. In the area around Assisi and Spello, they produce Bianco, Grechetto, Rosso, Rosato and Novello versions.
Colli Altotiberini DOC
We are talking about the area around San Giustino, Cisterna, Città di Castello, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, Montone, Umbertide, Gubbio, Perugia and its province. It is an area with an ancient winemaking tradition. Under this wine appellation, they produce a straw yellow white Umbrian wine with a characteristic aroma, as well as a red and a rosé wine.
Colli del Trasimeno DOC
As we can assume from the name, this Umbrian wine orignates from the province of Perugia around Lake Trasimeno. The wine appellation includes a Bianco (still, sparkling and selected white wine) a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva, a Gamay and a Gamay Riserva, a Grechetto, a Merlot and a Merlot Riserva, a Rosato and a Rosso (still, sparkling, new, reserve and chosen red wine).
Finally, we find the classic method sparkling wine from Colli del Trasimeno – also in the rosé version.
Colli Martani DOC
This is a wine area with a good aptitude for ageing, thanks to the exposure and altitude of its vineyards.
The following wines are produced: Bianco, Trebbiano, Grechetto, Grechetto di Todi, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Rosso, Sangiovese (and Riserva), Cabernet Sauvignon (and Riserva), Merlot (and Riserva), Spumante (brut) and Vernaccia Nera (passito wine).
Colli Perugini DOC
The favourite area for the cultivation of native Umbrian grapevines that make up the Colli Perugini DOC extends south of Perugia where a clayey soil and a good limestone component favour the cultivation of ancient varieties.
Here too, different types of Colli Perugini DOC are produced: White, Chardonnay, Grechetto, Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Rosso, novello, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Spumante and Vin Santo.
Corbara Lake DOC
This Umbrian wine DOC is produced in the province of Terni, in the municipality of Baschi and in a part of the territory of Orvieto. It is vinified both alone and with the addition of other grape varieties such as Grechetto, Vermentino, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero. These DOC wines can also be found in the Riserva or Passito versions.
Montefalco wine comes from the municipal area of Montefalco in the province of Perugia and in part of other municipalities such as Bevagna, Giano dell’Umbria, Gualdo Cattaneo and Castel Ritaldi.
We find more types:
- Montefalco Bianco DOC
- Montefalco Rosso DOC
- Montefalco Riserva DOC
Montefalcone Rosso DOC has got a beautiful intense ruby colour tending to purplish. It suggests the berries and the blueberry that we find in the wine aroma.
The vanilla notes intensify with the barrel ageing of the Riserva version. We can certainly place it among the best wines of Umbria.
With Italia Delight you have the opportunity to stroll through the vineyards around Montefalco. You will taste local wines and discover a land rich in art, history, food and wine traditions.
Orvieto DOC is a very ancient wine, always appreciated by illustrious people. It finds its place among the most famous Umbrian wines.
The wine-growing area is limited to some municipalities in the provinces of Viterbo and Terni. This area obviously includes the municipality of Orvieto, which hosts the spectacular city.
Orvieto DOC is a white wine produced with Trebbiano Toscano (here called “Procanico”), Verdello, Canaiolo bianco, Tuscan Malvasia and other local grape varieties.
Orvieto wine has got a straw yellow colour and a delicate smell. Its characteristics change according to the type we find: “secco”, “abboccato”, “amabile” e “dolce”.
In addition, it may have the term “Classic” or “Superior” based on the wine-growing area and the release for consumption.
Among the sweet versions, we find the “vendemmia tardiva” (in English, Late Wine Harvest) and the “muffa mobile” (in English, Noble Mold), which give further sweetness and elegance to the wine.
Rosso Orvietano DOC
This is the red version of Orvieto wine. It can be obtained in the same production area as Orvieto DOC with different grape vines: Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Aleatico, Canaiolo nero, Ciliegiolo, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Nero.
A variety such as to put under the same wine appellation wines that sometimes do not resemble each other in percentage of grape variety used, but which are all fruit of the same territory.
In the municipality of Spoleto, we find the Umbrian grape variety called “Trebbiano Spoletino”. It characterises the vinification of this wine appellation under which there is the Spoleto Bianco DOC (where the grape variety is used for a minimum of 50%), Trebbiano Spoletino DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Superiore DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Spumante DOC and Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Passito DOC (the main grape variety is used for 85%).
The most profitable area of the Colli Martani DOC has been enhanced with this additional Umbrian wine DOC. It includes the municipalities of Todi, Massa Martana, Collazzone and Monte Castello di Vibio.
A Bianco, a Grechetto (Superiore and Passito), a Rosso (and Superiore), a Sangiovese (and Superiore) and Merlot (and Superiore) make up the wine appellation of this historic territory.
We are in the province of Perugia, in the territory of the municipality of Torgiano. Here we find the perfect environmental conditions for the cultivation of vineyards and the production of Umbrian wines under this wine appellation: White, Red, Rosé, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot grigio, Riesling, Cabernet, Pinot nero, Spumante, Vendemmia Tardiva and Vin Santo.
3. Wines of Umbria IGT
There are six IGT wines:
- ALLERONA IGT
- BETTONA IGT
- CANNARA IGT
- NARNI IGT
- SPELLO IGT
- UMBRIA IGT
Food pairings with Umbrian wines
Umbria wine is perfect to be paired with traditional foods made up of meats, legumes, vegetables and cereals. Extra virgin olive oil is used to season freshwater fish from Lake Trasimeno as well as cheeses and cold cuts, usually paired with a glass of Umbrian wine.
An excellent product to pair with traditional Umbrian wines is truffle: truffle hunting is an ancient tradition handed down from generation to generation. The region holds the primacy of black truffles in Italy.
If you want to discover the thrill of Umbrian truffle hunting, you are in the right place: Italia Delight takes you to the truffle ground of a local farm where a food expert, together with his faithful dogs, will accompany you in search of the prized “black gold”.
While talking about the perfect food pairing with Umbrian wines, let’s start with a symbolic dish: torta al testo. Stuffed with cheese, rocket, salami or porchetta, the recommended pairing is with Umbrian red wines, spiced or not according to the strong taste of the filling. A Colli Perugini Rosso DOC, a Sagrantino di Montefalco DOC or a Colli del Trasimeno DOC Gamay can be the right choice.
With grilled roasted meats traditional Umbrian wines complete the dish at their best. Excellent choices can be a Colli del Trasimeno Rosso DOC, a Cabernet Sauvignon Torgiano DOC, a Torgiano Riserva DOCG, an Amelia DOC and a Montefalco Rosso DOC (also in the Riserva version); pork rind, used to flavour legume soups or pasta with lentils, can be paired with an Umbria IGT Grechetto.
We can also pair a Rosso Torgiano DOC with game. This wine is very popular in the region and can also be used for the traditional ragu recipe.
Stuffed pasta, pappardelle and cannelloni are on Sunday tables. It does not matter if the tablecloth is stained with sauce and a few drops of an empty bottle of Colli Amerini DOC, because conviviality will be the master.
Stringozzi with truffle want Montefalco DOC. Lake fish finds interesting pairings with the best Umbrian wines, such as Bianco di Torgiano DOC or Novello Colli Amerini DOC.
White meats, cheeses, dry biscuits with almonds or hazelnuts pair well with Orvieto DOC and its light bitter aftertaste.
The Umbrian Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito DOCG wine enhances the local pastry, including tarts and the famous “tozzetti” (typical Umbrian biscuits). But the real star, in the pairing with Umbrian desserts, is Vin Santo.
We have already seen it in many versions, but I will show you one more. This time without a wine appellation, but which is worth knowing: I am talking about the Upper Tiber Valley Smoked Vino Santo.
The grapes of this Umbrian wine are dried in rooms full of smoke: a millenary tradition that starts from the chimneys situated in the homes of the Tiberina Valley inhabitants and meets the premises used for tobacco production where the grapes were also smoked.
Once, to hide tobacco from state monopoly, it was buried in tin crates placed in the ground. When they were taken out, vin santo was used to soften the tobacco leaves.
A gesture that has remained alive today in the tradition of soaking Tuscan cigars in vin santo and in the tobacco-like smell this Umbrian wine recalls.
Today the Upper Tiber Valley Smoked Vino Santo is a Slow Food Presidium.
There are many wineries in the region to visit if you want to get to know the Umbrian territory. Italia Delight helps you to organise your perfect custom experience.
You can meet the winemaker at lunch or have an aperitif in an 18th century wine cellar, the choice is yours.
Did you like the article on the best wines of Umbria by Nur Migahed, a graduate student in Gastronomic Sciences and Cultures at the Roma Tre University? Travel to this beautiful region with Italia Delight! 😉🚗