Umbria Time

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Exploring the wines of Italy's "Green Heart"

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator  Oct. 31, 2014

With its perched medieval towns and its rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards, central Italy's Umbria can look like a twin of its northwestern neighbor, Tuscany.

But there is no Florence here, no cultural icons to rival Michelangelo's David or Brunelleschi's Duomo. And Umbrian wines have yet to achieve the stature of Brunello or Chianti. For wine lovers, though, Umbria's obscurity can be a good thing. The region, nicknamed "Italy's green heart" more than a century ago by Tuscany's Nobel Prize winning poet Giosuè Carducci is a bonanza of exciting diversity and excellent value.

Umbria is Italy's heartland—the only region that doesn't border the sea or a foreign country. The small region's annual wine production is roughly a third of Tuscany's.

As in Tuscany, Sangiovese is the most planted red grape, but here it is blended into wines that are generally more approachable than their Chianti counterparts. Umbria's rippling landscapes and its dizzying number of microclimates also offer some dramatic surprises—from powerfully structured bottlings of indigenous Sagrantino to stellar white blends based on native Grechetto and Chardonnay.

"Umbria never reached the success it deserved," laments Renzo Cotarella, an Umbria native and longtime managing director of Tuscany-based Marchesi Antinori, whose Castello della Sala near Orvieto makes the remarkable Cervaro della Sala, a Chardonnay-Grechetto blend. In terms of potential, Cotarella says, "it's a wonderful area to produce great wines." 

In recent decades, high quality wines from Umbria have been shaped by the vision of a few strong-willed winemakers.  Read the full article in the Wine Spectator