Umbria
5 Sep 2008 by Jancis Robinson

In a nutshell: Almost Tuscany but with its own grape specialities.

Main grapes: Sangiovese, Sagrantino (red); Trebbiano, Grechettto (white).

Umbria, effectively a south-eastern extension of Tuscany, is potentially the most interesting region in central Italy and has changed the most in recent years. Lungarotti was for long the dominant producer, with a creditable track record of long-lasting Torgiano (now DOCG) wines showing fruit to the end. Antinori also have some highly successful vineyard holdings in Umbria, notably at Castello della Sala where the finely oaked white Cervara is made, increasingly demonstrating just how good a grape the local Grechetto can be. Some interesting Pinot Noir is being produced as well as barrel-aged full-bodied dry whites (and nobly rotten muffato sweet wine) from such local grape varieties as Grechetto, sometimes blended with Chardonnay and/or Sauvignon Blanc. For long the region's most famous wine was Orvieto, a full-bodied Trebbiano-based white which is usually dry but may be slightly sweet or amabile. Bigi's is better than most.

But the producer who has put the top wines of Umbria on the map in the last decade or so is Arnaldo Caprai (run by son Marco), whose softening work on the intrinsically tough local grape variety Sagrantino made Italian wine connoisseurs scurry to their maps to locate the little town of Montefalco in the hills north of Spoleto in the southern Apennines. This hard-working textile family has since been rewarded with the compliment of the sincerest form of flattery, and granting of DOCG status to Sagrantino di Montefalco in the early 1990s. These wines positively crackle with life and can last for many years in bottle, however much they display modern winemaking techniques. Sagrantino is often blended with Sangiovese, the most common red grape of Umbria and particularly successful in the Colli di Trasimeno, around the classically famous lake of Trasimeno.

The other producer who has made the wine world take notice of Umbria is Riccardo Cotarella who, with his brother Renzo, long-term technical director of the Florentine merchant house Antinori, runs one of Italy’s most dynamic wine consultancies from a base on the border of Umbria and Latium. Applying modern winemaking techniques whereby fruit must be super-ripe and barrel treatment ultra-suave, he has turned out a stable of wines which could be criticized for being more international than Italian but could not be reproached for quality or value. He consults to a list of wine producers which extends from the far north of Italy to Sicily but his achievements are particularly notable here on his home ground in Umbria and Latium.