Every been to Italy? Yes, there is Rome, and Milan and the other famous places. But if you really want to live like the Italians do, go wine tasting in Italy. One of our favorite places is Umbria. Umbria is a combination of pastoral countryside and mountain wilderness. Nurtured by the Tiber and its tributaries and Italy’s fourth largest lake, Lago Trasimeno, the region is known as the “green heart of Italy” and produces fine olive oil, truffles, grains, tobacco, and livestock, along with its wonderful Italian wines. But Umbria also has a cluster of ancient cities, which offers glimpses into the past. The Umbri, Etruscans, and Romans all left their marks here. Magnificent Orvieto is perched on a plateau and looks down on vineyards below. Its grand Duomo is among the greatest of Italy’s Romanesque/Gothic cathedrals. Perugia’s ancient center embraces a 15th Century duomo, and the city’s most extravagantly decorated church, founded in the 10th Century and rebuilt in the 15th, stands beyond the old walls. Medieval Assisi with its beautiful views and piazzas is the home of St. Francis, who is buried in a basilica frescoed by Giotto among others. And the nearby hill towns of Todi, Spello, Gubbio, and Montefalco blend medieval monuments with Roman remains. Spoleto, surrounded by woods, is the loveliest of the hill towns and hosts one of Europe’s leading art festivals in June and July each year.
Noted mainly for its white wines, such as Orvieto, Procanico, Malvasia, Grechetto, and Trebbiano, the region also produces two noble red wines with special DOCG status, Torgiano Rosso, which is called Rubesco, and Sagrantino, both unmistakably grand wines, capable of aging for decades. The sweet white Vin Santo is a local favorite and is made from semidried Grechetto or Malvasia grapes.
Among the many outside varieties planted in Umbria, Merlot and Barbera have been prominent for more than a century. More recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero have produced some fine wines.
Up until the late 1980s, nearly half of Umbria’s vineyards were mixed agriculture, the vines often trained onto trees or grown alongside other crops. But today, most vineyards are monoculture, using vertical systems on wires strung between poles.