The Umbrian wine region of Italy may be small, but its wines pack a powerful punch. The best wines from Umbria are racy and vibrant and many have aging potential. This region is also incredibly diverse; while it’s known for citrusy, dry white wines, Umbria also produces many bold, tannic red varieties that are gaining in popularity among Italian wine collectors. This guide will explore what collectors need to know about this marvelous “green heart of Italy,” including the area’s best-known subregions, finest producers, and most collectible blends.
Umbrian Wine Is as Lush as the Region Itself
Umbria is a tiny wine region located in the very heart of Italy—it’s actually the only wine region in the country that doesn’t border any other countries or coastlines. When you visit this region, the first things you’ll notice are the vibrant green hillsides that surround the historic villages. Most of the vineyards are planted on terraces etched into these incredibly lush hills. What makes Umbria so green? A combination of plentiful winter rain and warm, pleasant summers give the area an ideal climate for growing plants—including grapevines.
Both red and white wines from Umbria are lively and complex in flavor.
The heterogenous Umbrian soil also makes it an excellent location for vineyards; a mix of sand, clay, ancient marl, and volcanic soils soak up water during the rainiest winter months and store it underground. In the summer, when the weather is usually extremely dry, the vines still have access to some of this underground water supply, but their roots have to grow deep enough to reach it, which provides just enough water-stress to keep the grapes concentrated.
As a result, both the red and white wines from Umbria are lively and complex in flavor. They dance on the palate and are overall less muscular than wines made in many other Italian wine regions, such as Tuscany and Barolo. So, if you’re looking for a fruit-forward, nuanced white wine or a tannic, floral red wine, consider investing in some of the best wines from Umbria.
The Best Wines from Umbria: Red and White Varieties You Should Know
Generally, the best wines from Umbria are made in the subregions of Orvieto (located in western Umbria) and Torgiano and Montefalco (both located in central Umbria). The Orvieto subregion is home to some of the best white wines from Umbria, while Torgiano and Montefalco produce the region’s finest red varieties. There are other high-quality subregions in Umbria; however, these three areas make valuable, age-worthy, and potentially collectible wines that have earned global recognition.
If you’re starting a collection of the best wines from Umbria, consider white wines from the Orvieto region. Not only are these some of the most valuable wines from Umbria, but they also have a unique flavor profile. This subregion primarily grows the following white wine grape varieties:
- Grechetto: A thick-skinned grape that is nutty, herbal, and rich. Sometimes winemakers will leave these grapes on the vine late into the harvest season to encourage the grapes to develop more residual sugar; this makes the final blend taste sweeter.
- Trebbiano: A very acidic, citrusy grape. In Orvieto, local winemakers often use a Trebbiano clone called Procanico that is smaller and tastes more complex than Trebbiano from other parts of Italy.
Dry blends from Orvieto are typically more expensive and age-worthy than sweeter styles.
These two varieties are typically blended together. Trebbiano (or Procanico) gives the wine aging potential due to its high acidity. Meanwhile, Grechetto is richer and softer, balancing out the wine’ acidity. Winemakers may also add other white varieties to the blend, such as Pinot Gris or Chardonnay. The final blend can range from very dry (secco) to slightly sweet (amabile) depending on which grapes were used in the final blend and how late the winemaker waited to harvest the Grechetto grapes. In terms of value and collectability, dry blends from Orvieto are typically more expensive and age-worthy than sweeter styles, so if you plan on laying down wine long-term or reselling it on the secondary market, choose a dry wine such as those made by Falesco or Castello della Sala (owned by the prestigious Antinori family).
In the Torgiano subregion, the most valuable wine is Torgiano Rosso Riserva, a red wine created by blending the following varieties:
Torgiano Rosso Riserva is light red in color, almost like a light-bodied red Burgundy wine.
The reason this blend is particularly valuable is that it is made from grapes grown only in the top vineyards of Umbria. Vineyards located in the hills around the Torgiano township itself generally produce high-quality red wine grapes because the soil is well-drained and the fruit is exposed to ample sunlight. By comparison, vineyards in the flatlands of Torgiano taste more diluted because the excess rainwater doesn’t drain off as quickly and the vines receive less sunlight overall. Winemakers are also required to age Torgiano Rosso Riserva for at least three years in the barrel and at least an additional six months in the bottle, ensuring a baseline level of quality.
Torgiano Rosso Riserva is light red in color, almost like a light-bodied red Burgundy wine. You’ll find bright fruity notes of strawberry as well as earthier notes of leather in the best of these wines. Many describe Torgiano Rosso Riserva as smelling strongly of potpourri; they are some of the most aromatic reds in all of Italy. They will age for ten years or more in the best vintages.
Of all of the best wines from Umbria, those from Montefalco are the longest-lived. This region’s top wines are Montefalco Sagrantino and Montefalco Rosso. Both are extremely acidic and tannic; in fact, they are two of the most tannic wines in the world due to their use of the extremely tannic Sagrantino grape.
Montefalco Sagrantino is a single-varietal wine that is indigenous to Umbria. These wines generally have about twice as much tannin as Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives them impressive aging potential—most vintages age for 30 or more years. Before release, winemakers age these wines for at least one year in oak and continue to age the wine in bottles for a total of 37 months, sometimes more. These wines are quite hard to find on the secondary market because they’re difficult and time-consuming to produce. Yields are low as only a few top producers cultivate Sagrantino and only on very small parcels of land. The taste of dry Sagrantino (the most valuable style) is primarily bold black fruit, bitter tannin, sage, violet, baking spices, and cocoa. Over time, the tannins soften somewhat, although even older wines still taste quite tannic. There is also a sweet version of this wine that is made by partially drying the grapes before vinification. The 2000 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito is an example of this style.
If you’re looking for a unique wine to lay down for many decades, buy 100-percent Sagrantino.
If you’re looking for a wine that’s a little less tannic than Sagrantino, Montefalco Rosso is a good option. Made from a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and just a dash of Sagrantino, it’s much softer than 100-percent Sagrantino. However, if you’re expecting a light-bodied, lively Sangiovese like those made in other popular Italian wine regions, you won’t find that here. The Sagrantino still adds a significant amount of tannin to these wines. These wines are oak-aged and generally reach maturity much faster than Montefalco Sagrantino, usually about five to ten years after release. Like other Sagrantino and Sangiovese blends, Montefalco Rosso is bold and racy and also has complex aromas of rose (which comes from the Merlot).
While there are other styles of wine made in Umbria besides the ones discussed above, these are the most important for collectors to be aware of. Ultimately, choosing the best wine from Umbria comes down to personal taste. If you enjoy complex white wines, consider those from Orvieto. For deeply aromatic red wines, stick with producers from Torgiano. If you’re looking for a unique wine to lay down for many decades, buy 100-percent Sagrantino like 2008 Arnaldo Caprai Spinning Beauty or 2013 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni. Or, if you want to drink your wine a little earlier, buy a few bottles of Montefalco Rosso from a good vintage, like 2003 Paolo Bea Rosso di Montefalco Riserva.
Investing in Great Umbrian Wines
To invest in the best wines from Umbria, choose wines from producers known for crafting excellent Procanico, Sagrantino, or Sangiovese blends. Some of the region’s best producers are:
- Arnaldo Caprai
- Cantine Lungarotti
- Castello della Sala
- La Carraia
- La Fiorita Lamborghini
- Paolo Bea
There are many other fine winemakers in Umbria, but these top Italian wine producers make wines that are consistently high in quality every year.
Aging potential is another important factor to consider when you shop for the best wines from Umbria. Only a handful of wines, mainly Sagrantino-based blends, gain in value over time. When you buy these wines young, you may be able to resell them on the secondary market ten or 20 years later for a slight profit. However, the investment potential of even the best wines from Umbria isn’t as great as it is for Tuscany or other trendier Italian wine regions. So, if you think of your wine collection as an asset class and don’t plan on drinking these wines yourself, then you may be better off investing in other types of Italian wine, such as top-rated Barolo or Super Tuscans like Sassicaia. However, if you love to drink Italian wines and want to become more familiar with this unique little region, then Umbrian wines will be worthwhile investments. These acidic, complex wines are singular in style and profoundly striking.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.