Umbria is one of Italy’s 20 administrative regions. Umbria is the smallest region in central Italy. It borders with Tuscany to the West, with Le Marche to the East and Lazio to the South. Its capital is Perugia. It has an area of 8.454 km2 (about 3268,10 sq. mi) and 884,608 inhabitants (Eurostat, 2019). It is the only Italian region having neither coastline or common border with other countries. Umbria is also the home of St Francis di Assisi, the nation’s patron saint.
Background: Wine has been made in Umbria since at least the Etruscan times. In 1549, Sante Lancerio writes of Pope Paul III’s favorite wines, for example the Umbrian wine Sucano, produced near Orvieto. Interestingly, the Sucano was a red wine in contrast to Umbria’s main wine production today, which is noteworthy mainly for its white wines. DOC Orvieto, Umbria’s most famous wine is a white wine-only DOC (Rosso Orvietano is the DOC for red wines). Umbria’s first DOC, Torgiano, dates from 1968.
Denominations–DOC: Amelia DOC. | Assisi DOC. | Colli Altotiberini DOC. | Colli del Trasimeno o Trasimeno DOC. | Colli Martani DOC. | Colli Perugini DOC. | Lago di Corbara DOC. | Montefalco DOC. | Orvieto DOC (shared with Lazio). | Rosso Orvietano or Orvietano Rosso DOC. | Spoleto DOC. | Todi DOC. | Torgiano DOC.
Native grapes–Red: Sagrantino. Umbria’s other red grape varieties are: Montepulciano, Canaiolo Nero, Ciliegiolo.
Native grapes–White: The Grechettos. The indigenous Grechetto (of which there are at least two varieties, Grechetto di Todi and Grechetto di Orvieto), Trebbiano Toscano (usually called Procanico in Umbria), Malvasia Bianca Lunga, Verdicchio and Canaiolo Bianco. Note that many believe Procanico to be a superior biotype of Trebbiano Toscano, with smaller grape bunches which produce a finer wine.
Further south the areas of Todi (DOC) and Colli Martani (DOC) are characterized by the Grechettos. Despite changes in style over time, Orvieto (based on the Trebbiano Toscano or Procanico grape) remains the region’s largest DOC and accounts for 80% of the overall wine production. Importantly, the Orvieto wine production area (Lago di Corbara DOC) is particularly suited to the development of noble rot, thanks to its soil and climate influenced by Lake Corbara. Orvieto is one of the few viticultural areas of Italy where noble rot occurs copiously and frequently; its botrytised wines have been known for centuries. Colli Perugini, Colli Amerini and Colli Altotiberini are three other relevant DOCs in Umbria making easy-to-drink wines. The Colli Perugini have long been associated with a local biotype of Grenache, locally called ‘Gamay’.
Vineyard area: 2018 11,900ha (Istat) of which 7,200ha were in Perugia province and 4,700 in Terni province (ISTAT). Umbria has a high ratio of surface area planted to the total hectares available.
Terroir: Umbria is a landlocked region. It is hilly (70%) and mountainous (roughly 30%). Despite the high average altitude of its territory, Umbria’s climate is mild thanks to mountain ranges protecting vineyards from cold winter winds; rainfall is generally evenly distributed over the seasons. Geology: Scienza & Imazio (Positive Press, 2019, p.198) point out that both the Le Marche and neighbouring Umbria regions have many similarities in terms of their geology, as both lie on the same geological plate. The difference between them is how their respective mountain ridges are positioned, transversally (east-west) or longitudinally (north-south), as are the river valleys with respect to the Adriatic sea.
Ian d’Agata (2019, p.267) praises Umbria for its coherence in matching DOC and DOCG boundaries to regional geology and pedology (soil science). He says that from northeast to southwest soils in Umbria vary thus:
– the calcareous-rich soils of the Apennine range
– the sandstone of the pre-Apennine chain of hills and Trasimeno basin
– the fluviolacustrine deposits of the valleys through the mountain and hillside ranges
– deposits of marine origin along the course of the Paglia river
– the volcanic-ignimbrite deposits of lake Bolsena.
Other crops: Tobacco, potatoes, wheat and sugar beet. Umbria is also an important producer of pork-based meat, and truffles.
Burton Anderson, The Wine Atlas of Italy (Mitchell Beazley, London, 1990).
David Gleave, The Wines of Italy (Salamander Books, London, 1989).
Dr Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014), p42-3 (abridged).
Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).
Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.532.
Nicolas Belfrage MW, Life Beyond Lambrusco (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985).
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Barolo to Valpolicella—The Wines of Northern Italy (Faber & Faber, 1999).
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo–The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003).