The state of Umbria
produces only approximately 35% (1 million hl) of its neighbour Tuscany
, one of Italy's smallest wine production regions. Orvieto
white and Sagrantino
red are the region's most renowned wines.
Its interior, land-locked location brings a deep continental climate with summer temperatures often touching 40 celsius. The spectacular Apennine backdrop brings vineyard elevation, especially round Montefalco, as well as a variety of soils: deep sandy calcareous clays around Orvieto and finer free-draining stony soils in the best Montefalco sites.
During the Middle Ages
the region was so famous for its sweet white Orvieto
that its production was tax-exempt. A far cry from the mainly anonymous dry white version now bottled in large quantities, mainly by northern merchants; indeed of the 120 bottlers of Orvieto, only 25 are actually resident in the state. As recently as thirty years ago, Orvieto was rated more highly than either Soave
; now it is lagging far behind. Recent initiatives to increase the proportion of Grechetto
ignores the importance of the better quality/smaller Trebbiano clone, Procanico
, as a key component of top Orvieto.
More important though has been the rise of the full-bodied dry/Secco red wine Sagrantino di Montefalco. First documented in 1549, the richly tannic Sagrantino grape was prized for its ability to produce sweet 'Passito' wines; the trend towards dry/Secco wines has only outstripped the sweet over the past 15 - 20 years.
Lacking the infrastructure of its wealthier neighbour Tuscany, Umbria quickly fell behind, aggravated by Communism; it became a relatively poor agricultural state reliant upon cereal, sunflowers, olives and grapes. The olive oil issuing from the presses of Trevi and Spoletto is considered among Italy's finest and they refer to its elixir in exulted tones. The centuries old trees claim the best, stoniest, sunniest sites, while the more recent newcomers, grapes, often have to contend with the deeper clay soils lower down.
Since being awarded the DOCG status in 1992
(in an attempt to kick-start the potential) the number of wineries making Sagrantino di Montefalco
has rocketed: rising from 15 in 2000 to 42 (a total of 660 ha) in 2008. Many seek to ape the commercial American success enjoyed by Arnaldo Caprai,
employing consultants to push the grapes to even darker, more extracted & alcoholic levels. While this might suit American scribes, the wine's natural balance and long-term ageability is called into question. Added to which a vineyard's very best fruit is still often reserved for the production of 'Passitio'.
Sagrantino di Montefalco
has one of the lowest maximum yields at 48 hl/ha and must be aged for 30 months pre-release, of which 12 mths must be in wood - increasingly French barriques. Montefalco Rosso
is an earlier drinking blend of Sangiovese
(10-15%), Cabernet Sauvignon
Recent great vintages include 2008, 2007, 2005 & 1998; while 2006, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000 were deemed good to very good. Recommended Producers: Milziade Antano