Umbrian wines from Italy on the ascendancy

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It doesn’t matter how much you know about wine. If your computer is down, you can’t write about anything. I wish to thank a computer wizard, Mr. Miller, (who advertises in the County Compass) for coming to my house and getting everything running again. I can only urge you, if you have a problem, to contact this gentleman at 252-249-0394 and he will fix it.

For those of you who have been following my wine and food journey thru Italy, I am now leaving Tuscany and heading east to the area known as Umbria – the only region in Italy without a coastline or international border!

This is a wonderful region comprised of rolling hills and historic towns such as Assisi and Orvieto. The latter is where wine has been produced before Rome ever existed!

The climate of Umbria is much the same as its more famous neighbor Tuscany but with about a third of the wine production. The most notable grapes grown in Umbria are: Sangiovese, Sagrentino, and Procanico (known as Trebbiano every place else).

White wine accounts for about 80 percent of the output. It is called Orvieto, named for the town on the western edge of the region. For many years, Orvieto was the most well-known (and forgettable) white wine to come from Umbria.

In the last 15 years, efforts by local winemakers have begun to yield results. The general quality of the Orvieto has improved. Example of noteworthy wines being produced in this area:

  • Orvieto Classico Superiore Poggio Cavelli — a white blend comprised of 50 percent Grechetto (a grape brought from Greece more than 2000 years ago), 25 percent Chardonnay and 25 percent Procanico (Trebbiano).

With a short period (less than a year) of aging in French barrels, this is a much richer version of ordinary Orvieto and still this wine sells for only $16. It has a straw yellow color with aromas of ripe peaches, nuts, vanilla and honey. It has a pleasant after taste and a decent finish. This wine pairs well with grilled salmon, seafood and shellfish.

Although white wine dominates the production in this region, the term Denominazione di origine controllata (“Controlled designation of origin”), which is a quality assurance for Italian food products (especially wines and various cheeses), has been awarded to two red wines produced here. The native grape Sagrantino is used to make powerful wines in the Montefalco area and the second DOCG is Torgiano Rosso Riserva.

Again as in Tuscany, DOCG wines tend to be expensive but there are examples of secondary wines that carry many of the primary wine characteristics but will not bruise the wallet so severely.

As with other regions of Italy and other countries, the flagship wines tend to be expensive. By concentrating on the secondary wines, money is saved and the experience gives the taster a good idea of what the region can produce.

  • Castello Celle Regina Rosso di Padvernovo — a red blend comprised of 80 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Syrah and 10 percent Montepulciano. This wine sells for about $15, and has dark berry aromas and flavors combined with a medium body. It pairs well with grilled and roasted red meat.

  • Another secondary wine is Montefalco Rosso — a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Merlot grapes. The Sagrantino grape, which is rarely grown outside this region, gives a measure of depth and richness to this blend. The aroma and flavor of this wine is at odds with the relatively low price of around $17. This wine pairs well with game, grilled and roasted meat and aged cheese such as Parmigianino Reggiano. Due to the geography of this region, there is an abundance of wild game including wild boar, often offered on restaurant menus. This wine goes well with this meat.

  • Vitiano Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Merlot and Sangiovese give an intense fruit flavor to the wine while the tannins in the cabernet provide structure. This wine would be great to drink on the back or front porch when the weather gets cooler. Like the other wines mentioned here, this wine would pair well with the food mentioned above, but would also be great with fruit such as pears, cantaloupe and cherries.

Umbrian wines are becoming more available and you should be able to find them with some searching. Send me an e-mail if you are having problems locating them and I will search also.

This region has not yet hit its peak. So this is a good time to explore these wines before the prices go up.

As usual, comments, suggestions or questions can be directed to me via e-mail