Lets continue our full immersion in the Italian wine regions. I spent most of 2018 in a deep dive on Campania and Piemonte , I also visited many Campania appellations with a visit to all the famous wineries of the region.
Lets move to Umbria, a region which I personally visited in 2017 and discovered so many hidden treasures , mostly unknown in the United States but worth it the try, to expand our knowledge.
Compared to its neighbor Tuscany, the small region of Umbria is a serene, bucolic, understated sort of place. Here, smack in the center of Italy, the landscape is gentle and rolling, and the sunlight is almost as arrestingly gossamer as it is in Tuscany. It seems fitting that Saint Francis of Assisi, Umbria’s most beloved son (and the patron saint of animals), lived here. Indeed, one of the most striking cathedrals in the region is the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi.
While wine has been produced here since at the least the time of the Etruscans, it is only relatively recently that the wines from Umbria have achieved recognition. In 1960s, Lungarotti opened a new era of quality with the release of his iconic wine , Torgiano Rubesco. Umbria became a center of viticultural and winemaking experimentation in the 80s. The explosion of popularity enjoyed by Sagrantino di Montefalco in the 90s strengthen the burgeoning respect for the region. During my trip to Umbria I stopped and verified with my own eyes the quest for quality and the incredible vaste investment made in the local indigenous wines.
The region is called after the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe who settled in the area before the first millennium BC. After the Umbri, the Etruscans and then finally the Romans in the third century BC had a critical impact on the viticulture in the region. The Tevere river was instrumental in the wine commerce with Rome. After the fall of the empire, Umbria followed the same path as every other Italian region. The Barbarian invasion destroyed the viticulture in the area that was left only to the monks around their monasteries.
With the advent of the Renaissance the wine commerce came back to be in vogue. The Umbria wines were traditionally only white and often contained residual sugar. Over time the lively and lightly sweet wines from Orvieto became synonymous with Umbrian wines.
Umbria became part of the papal states until 1860 when voluntarily it was incorporated into the emerging Kingdom of Italy. This created an economic boom for the region , railroads were built and the industrial centers near Terni.
Umbria is the Italian fifth smallest region and one of the least populated. It s in the middle of central Italy and is the only landlocked region in the central and southern part of Italy. Tuscany is on the West, Lazio on the South and Marche on the East.
Forests are a predominant feature in Umbria and occupy a third of the total territory. Umbria is also the hilliest region in Italy with more than 71% of the territory being hilly. The remaining part is Montanious with the range of the Appennines. The region also has an abundance of rivers and streams. The Tevere (tiber) flows across the region for more than 125 miles. It is the third longest river in Italy and the longest in the central/Southern part of the country. Its climate is transitional between Mediterranean and Continental. The rivers and the lakes in the region have key impact o the climate of the region.
Historically a white wine producing region, Umbria is today a 50% red/white producer.
Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape , it can be a varietal wine or blended with the international grapes: Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and often a blending partner of their red star : Sagrantino. Sagrantino is the Umbria most distinctive grape. Known since the 16th century, it produced originally only sweet wines; today the main style is dry. It has the highest content of polyphenols , with a very tick skin and therefore producing one of the most tannic wines in Italy.
The white grapes are Trebbiano Toscano, Grechetto di Orvieto producing light and citrusy wines , Grechetto di Todi ( Pignoletto) only planted around Perugia and Montefalco.
In Umbria there is a large presence of International variety such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, although the trend is now to focus on the indigenous grapes, their presence is still large with almost 20% of the whole planting.
Umbria has 15 Appellations ( 2 DOCG and 13 DOC); they can be divided in two major groups, the ones which surround Perugia (in the Northern and Central part of the region) and and the ones in the province of Terni in the South. The appellations are mostly linked to a single grape as their major production, although in many the other major Umbria grapes are also present.
One of the major appellation in the Perugia Province isTorgiano.
This wine growing is one of the smaller in Umbria. It surrounds the town of Torgiano. Here is where Giorgio Lungarotti has his winery , producing the famous Torgiano Rosso DOCG and his iconic wine Rubesco; one of the best expression of Sangiovese in Italy. The legendary Vigna Monticchio estate is situated on the hill of Brufa in the northern section.
As I drove through the winding roads of Umbria surrounded by beautiful rolling hills , my thoughts were into the peaceful landscape and the vineyards with they leaves already turning read/yellow as the fall was approaching, with its cool nights and warm and sunny day. As we approached the Lungarotti winery , a large gate opened to welcome us. A courtyard made of gravel was in the center of what we figured was the very large production area.
We were welcomed a young woman , with a large smile and extreme politeness. She walked us through the state of the art winery and spent more than two hours to their wine tasting and the proud introduction of all their wines.
Rubesco is a great wine, it is Sangiovese but a very elegant representation; with a good percentage of Canaiolo ; it is matured for 12 months in small oak barrels and finally larger botti and aged even longer in the bottle for a total of 5 years before release. It shows all the beautiful aspects of the best Sangiovese wines, with bright acidity , cherry, leather and a long finish all in a deep ruby color.
Our next blog on Umbria we will move to Montefalco, the great producer of Sagrantino. If you can find Rubesco in US at a price of $40-$60 , try it.... It is worth