Adoringly named “green heart of Italy”, Umbria is the only region in Italy without access to either sea or international borders, setting its rolling green hills, lush forests, and golden vineyards apart from the rest of the country. Umbria forms the center of a perfect square, which borders Toscana in the Northwest, Marche to the Northeast, Abruzzo to the Southeast, and Lazio to the Southwest. Years ago Umbria was known, if at all, as Tuscany’s less appealing neighbor. Umbria’s Acres of olive groves and bountiful vineyards that flow into scenic hill-side towns have now gained well-deserved attention, making Umbria as celebrated as Toscana or Lazio.
Umbria is a smaller region, made up of only two provinces, Perugia and Terni. The region includes central Italy’s largest lake, Lake Trasimeno and its provinces are crossed by the River Tiber. Terni is home to the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls, which are arguably some of the most beautiful in all of Europe. The Cascate delle Marmore plunges into the River Nera which is surrounded by lush vegetation and scenic waterfront buildings.
THE TERROIR OF UMBRIAUmbria’s absence of a coastline helps the region foster a diverse climate, lush greenery, and rich terroir. Not unlike Tuscany, Umbria faces rainy, cold winters, and dry summers with abundant sunshine. Umbria is best known for its white wine production – 60% of the wine produced is white.
A landscape of rolling hills, pine and oak forests alternating with small urban areas play into the rich Umbrian soil. The majority of the vineyards reside along the terraces that cut into hillsides. The cyclical diurnal shifts from cooling mountain breezes, hot sunny days, and winter rainfall produces soil that is porous and rich in limestone and clay. Umbria’s terroir is easily reflected on the palate, exhibiting robust, complex flavors, especially when tasting the region’s famous Sagrantino wine.
Vines grow in virtually every part of the territory, with 13 DOC wines and 2 DOCG wines peppered throughout Umbria’s towns. The annual output of 600 to 800 million liters is much smaller than other regions in the country, making Umbria 15th of the 20 wine-producing regions by yearly volume.
THE WHITE WINES OF UMBRIA
Grechetto (Bianco) - Although it's said to have its origins in ancient Greece, Grechetto has been grown in Italy for so long that it is now widely regarded as being native to Umbria. Grechetto boasts thick skins and high sugars, making it fitting for the production of dry and sweet wines. It is primarily a blending grape adding richness and structure to other grape varieties. It is commonly used with Chardonnay, Malvasia, Trebbiano, and Verdello. The wine smells of peaches and has herbal and nutty tasting notes.
Trebbiano (locally known as Procanico) - This grape variety is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. In Umbria, it is characterized by scents of aromatic herbs and citrus notes. Intense flavors of papaya and melon leap out of the glass as well as rind cheese leading it to a salty finish.
Verdello - This grape variety produces a delicate, flowery wine, with mango and citrus flavors and good structure. Verdello has bright citrus flavors, high acidity, and complex texture.
THE RED WINES OF UMBRIA
Sagrantino - This is a native grape to Umbria found only around the hillsides of the town Montefalco. Sagrantino is a deeply colored grape and produces one of central Italy’s most tannic red wines, leaving a “furry” sensation on the teeth. Its fruit profile ranges from black cherries to ripe blackberry and has secondary notes of mushroom, earth, and leather.
Canaiolo - This is a black-skinned Tuscan wine grape variety that also grows in Lazio, Sardinia, and Umbria. Canaiolo is used as a blending grape in Sangiovese-based wines. Canaiolo makes a very mellow wine with delicate aromatics and quiet tannins.
Sangiovese - This grape grows in several regions in Italy. Sangiovese shows an affinity for the town Torgiano in Umbria where it enjoys ideal growing conditions in the alluvial soils of the river basin.
THE FOOD OF UMBRIA
The cuisine of Umbria originates from its Etruscan roots. Umbrian dishes are beautifully simple, using ingredients that can be found growing in the regions rich soil, discovered in the lush forests, or raised on local farms. Some of the region's beloved treasures include mushrooms, wild asparagus, loads of fresh vegetables, anchovies from the region’s lakes, and the highly prized white and black Umbrian truffles.
The most typical Umbrian pasta dish is called strangozzi. Strangozzi is related to the word “strangle” in Italian which gives the rough, long and thick noodle its meaning. Strangozzi is typically served with black truffles or a spicy tomato sauce.
Another typical pasta dish is named umbricelli in salsa di Trasimeno. The sauce is made from the local lake fish, shallots, garlic, and chili pepper.
Umbria’s most famous meat dish is the suckling pig. The pig is cooked on the spit in a wood oven and is stuffed with liver, heart, and lungs, diced with pepper, garlic, and local fennel.
Author: Melissa Norton ©