When we redesigned the WineCountryGetaways Website, this article I’d posted about our wine country trip to Umbria was misplaced and never made it to the blog. I am re-posting the article and if you are considering a wine adventure in Italy, think about Umbria. It is next door to Tuscany, but much less crowded with tourists and it is just as beautiful.
In Umbria wine country
What a fabulous time we had in this beautiful country. During our three-week stay we enjoyed sightseeing, eating many superb meals, visiting wineries, and learning much about the many fine Italian wines. For the first two weeks, we lodged in a villa in Umbria. The last week of our trip was spent in Sorrento, which is located south of Rome in the Bay of Naples. Several weeks before the trip, we visited our local wine shop, K&L Wines in Redwood City, California, and talked to the buyer for Italian wines. He was able to give us plenty of leads on wineries to visit and good restaurants in both Umbria and Tuscany. With this information, we were able to schedule appointments at two Umbrian wineries, Sportoletti and Castello Delle Regine. In Umbria we stayed in a villa known as Calboccia, located at the top of an 1800 ft. mountain overlooking the Niconne Valley. Umbria is less traveled and lesser known for its wine than its neighbor Tuscany, but nonetheless produces some outstanding wines. Learning about Italian wine is a bit tricky, but a visit to a cantina (winery) and taking a tour helps to clear up some of the mystery of Italian wines. If you go into any of the small supermarkets in Umbria, you can find wines of all types, ranging from 5-liter wine jugs to some of the finest Barolos, Brunellos, and Chiantis. We also discovered that you could purchase empty jugs and bring them to the local cantina and have them filled with their wine from the barrel. There are also several wine shops called enotecas that you can find in almost any of the small towns. At an enoteca you can taste and buy local wines. Within the first few days of our stay, we realized that winetasting opportunities are everywhere in Italy. Here is a description of our most enjoyable Umbria wine country experiences.
Castello Delle Regine
Castello Delle Regine is a fantastic new winery (first vintage 2000) and certain to become one of Italy’s best-known wineries. The wines are fabulous. The one white wine produced is the Bianco delle Regine, a unique blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio. We have not tasted anything in the U.S. that is similar or as refreshing. Their flagship wine is a Merlot, made from 100 percent old vine Merlot. The cost is 30 Euros, and it is a fantastic wine drinkable now or to be cellared for a few more years. A recent Wine Spectator rated this wine 92 points. The winery also produces two Sangiovese wines and a red called Princeps. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Merlot. We are given a V.I.P tour that is beyond description. The owner, Livia Colantanio, gives us a complete tour of the estate which is followed by an elaborate tasting of their fine wines and olive oils, and a gourmet lunch of foods common to Umbria. This was one of the most memorable winery experiences we have ever had in our many years of visiting wineries. Castello Delle Regine is located at the southern end of Umbria in the town of San Liberato-Narni. It was about a 45-minute ride from our Calboccia farmhouse. The backroads of Umbria wine country are quite beautiful. One thing I love is the respect that auto drivers show for cyclists, who are quite honored here in Umbria. This is very much the opposite of what you find where I live in the Bay Area.
La Fattoria I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea
This cantina was just down the road from our villa, near the town of Niconne. We visited this cantina often during our stay to purchase their very nice wines for our dinners back at the villa. The cantina building is new with a beautiful tasting room and picnic area and a new winemaker from New Zealand. The winery is owned by the famous Gritti family who also own the Gritti Palace in Venice. This cantina is open during normal Italian business hours and closed on Sundays. One can taste wines without a fee and enjoy the surroundings. During the summer months, they have a weekly English-speaking tour on Monday evenings followed by a tasting and dinner. The cost is 20 Euros each. The tour includes a walk through the vineyards and the tasting of olive oil and four fine wines matched with food. Check the La Fattoria I Girasoli Website for up-to-date information.
Joe in the vineyards of La Fattoria I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea
We travel from our villa to central Umbria to the hillside town of Spello. We are greeted by Daniela, a charming host who speaks English and leads us on a tour of the
winery. The Sportoletti winery has been in existence for years but recently opened a new cantina with state-of-the art winemaking equipment. Sportoletti produces four wines, two whites and two reds, and a delicious olive oil. It is quite common for an Italian winery to produce olive oil in addition to wine. For our tasting we are served the four wines along with bruschetta (this version consists of toasted bread, salted, and dipped in their extra virgin olive oil), a plate of local cheese, followed by thinly sliced salami. Our favorite wine is the Assisi Rosso, a wine made of 50% merlot and 50% Sangiovese. It is a very mellow red wine with complex flavors and a great finish. At about $15 a bottle in the U.S., we consider this wine to be a fabulous value. It is a great food wine. The tour and tasting costs 10 Euros each and is well worth the price.
Orvieto and Orvieto Classico
Orvieto is famous for its awesome Gothic Cathedral and its many ceramic shops and, of course, its Orvieto Classico wine. We stroll this beautiful hillside town beginning in the parking lot at the entrance to the town. As we work our way up to the Piazza Duomo and the beautiful cathedral, we find many wine shops selling Orvieto Classico. Most of these wine shops offer a three-pack variety of Orvieto Classico for under 12 Euros. We discover that these touristy packs should be avoided. It is better to taste or try single bottles in the 7 to 12 Euro range. If you go there, be sure to stop at one of the enotecas and try some good Orvieto Classico. Or, at the Piazza Duomo, you can order a glass of Orvieto at Cantina Foresi, Piazza Duomo 2. What fun it is to sip a glass of this classic Italian wine, relax and do some people watching while enjoying a spectacular view of the Cathedral. Orvieto Classico is a light wine with an alcohol content of around 12 percent. The wine is very crisp and acidic, making it a great wine with light foods.
For our final week we drop off our car and travel by rail and bus to Sorrento. We are not able to visit any wineries in Sorrento, but there are plenty of Enotecas in the town where you can taste some of the local wines. Our favorite enoteca is the Vino In, located at Via S.Cesareo 89. Here, we discover a delightful white wine called Falanghina. It is deliciously refreshing and fruity with just enough acid to be enjoyed with clams, mussels, shrimp and other light foods characteristic of this region. In the U.S. you can usually find a Falanghina wine at most fine wine shops for $12 to $15. Falanghina is a nice change of pace from the California whites.