In this series on Italian wine regions, we are highlighting a single red and white varietal that are most distinct to each wine region. In this fifth installment, we stop in Umbria, which is nestled in the center of Italy and referred to as “the green heart of Italy.”
Umbria is often overshadowed by Toscana, her more famous regional neighbor to the west. The two regions share a similar climate of cold, rainy winters and hot, dry summers.
Umbria boasts a colorful past of almost unceasing wars alongside humble piety. Umbria has produced some of the world’s most well-known and beloved saints, among them St. Francis of Assisi, from the Umbrian town Assisi.
Wines from Umbria: Orvieto
One of the most interesting cities in Umbria is Orvieto, an ancient town near the Tuscan border that sits high atop volcanic tufa, essentially rising from the earth on this tuff mesa.
Orvieto produces about 80% of Umbria’s overall wine production, of which 60% is white. Orvieto is not only the name of the town but also the name of Umbria’s best-known white wine. The Orvieto wine is a crisp, peachy white made primarily from the Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. Grechetto will be our white varietal of focus in this article.
Wines from Umbria: Grechetto
According to wine-searcher.com, “Although it is believed to have its origins in Greece, Grechetto has been grown in Italy for so long that it is now widely regarded as being native to Umbria.”
Historically, Grechetto was used as a blend in drier whites suffusing them with a nutty richness. Because of its thick skin, Grechetto can ripen longer on the vine without succumbing to rot. Grechetto grapes allowed to linger longer on the vine are often used to make Vin Santo, a wine made from dried grapes.
Wines from Umbria: Sagrantino
As Orvieto has practically exclusive bragging rights to Grechetto, so does the hilltop town of Montefalco claim propriety over Sagrantino, one of the most tannic and robust reds in production – and our red varietal of focus in this article.
Sagrantino is basically synonymous with Montefalco, as this is essentially the only place in the world where it is grown. This grape’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Greece? France? The Middle East? According to intowine.com, “Among the wine cognoscenti…, it is now Umbrian at its soul.”
Intowines.com does a great job of explaining that this wine is special in large part because of the geography. “The vineyards sit in a bowl surrounded by the Apennine Mountains. The soil is mostly clay with limestone and sand. The climate gets very hot in the summer (and cold in winter), but the clay soils keep the roots cool as they search for water deep in the ground. The mountains provide cooling breezes especially at night. During the hot days a drying breeze called the Tramontano comes from the north, limiting rot. The growing season, like much of Italy, is lengthened by the Mediterranean. This climate results in a grape that has lots of tannins yet also sweet dark fruit.“
Formerly an almost forgotten varietal, in the last 30 years, Sagrantino is making a big name for itself and its small town of origin.
This bold, tannic red is best served next to robust food: roasted meats, strong cheeses or wild game. You might want to temper Sagrantino’s aggressive flavor with a humble statue of gentle St. Francis to balance your table J
If you’ve tried Grechetto (probably in Orvieto) or Sagrantino, please share your experiences with us.