Umbria - Food and Wines - Wines
Umbria has long been renowned for white wine, thanks mainly to the historical prominence of Orvieto. But evidence grows that the hills of the "green heart of Italy" have an aptitude for a multitude of varieties, white and red, native and foreign. Orvieto was once the most celebrated of Italian whites as a semisweet or "abboccato" wine, praised by the popes, princes, and painters who sojourned in the hill town north of Rome with its splendid Cathedral and sweeping views of the Umbrian landscape. But as tastes changed Orvieto has been modified from a soft, golden wine into a pale, pure, crisp creature of the technology of soft-crushed grapes and free-run musts processed at low temperatures.
Some laud the change, others deplore it as a travesty of tradition. But modern Orvieto is a commercial success as one of Italy's best-selling DOC whites with a solid following abroad. Actually, some producers are turning back a bit, in a sense, striving for more character in the wine through lower grape yields and more meticulous selection and by letting the grapeskins remain in contact with the juice for a while before fermentation. Just lately Orvieto's "abbocato" has made a comeback as a dessert wine. Though Procanico (Trebbiano) and Malvasia prevail in Orvieto, growers in the zone have been working successfully with such outside varieties as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, the Pinots and Gewrztraminer, as well as the admirable local Grechetto.
But the most prestigious Umbrian wine is the red Torgiano Rosso "riserva", which has been given special status as DOCG (though the regular Torgiano red and white remain DOC). A modern classic based on Sangiovese, the "riserva", under the name Rubesco, has been known to age to unique splendour for a decade or two.
Sagrantino, a vine grown around the hill town of Montefalco, is an intriguing native that yields both dry and sweet wines of unmistakable grandeur. Sagrantino di Montefalco has been scheduled for a DOCG separate from Montefalco Rosso, which will remain DOC. Among the many outside varieties planted in Umbria, Merlot and Barbera have been prominent for more than a century. More recently, Cabernet Sauvignon has shown promise, both as a varietal wine and in blends. Even Pinot Nero has given indications of more than the usual class here.
Umbria has numerous curiosities among its vines and wines, though few of the local rarities ever leave the region. Vin Santo, pressed from semidried Grechetto or Malvasia grapes, is usually sweet and most prized by Umbrians as a wine for any occasion.