Discover the lesser-known wines of Umbria

Umbria is next door to the much better-known region of Tuscany, whose wines are revered worldwide. Anyone visiting Italy will almost certainly have drunk a bottle or two of Chianti and if lucky, some of the expensive and excellent Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone della Valpolicella.
Andrea Funghi in his Restaurant Re Tartu in Montefalco  ©Richard Esling WineWyseAndrea Funghi in his Restaurant Re Tartu in Montefalco  ©Richard Esling WineWyse
Andrea Funghi in his Restaurant Re Tartu in Montefalco ©Richard Esling WineWyse

But the wines from the gently rolling hills of Umbria are far less known, and less expensive, even though they are quite stunning in terms of quality.

One of my favourite wine regions of Italy, land-locked Umbria is right in the centre, about halfway down the 'boot'. Italy is one of those wonderful countries that manages to keep hold of old traditions, but at the same time leading the world in terms of design and, to an extent, technology.

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One small winery is called 'Perticaia'. The white is outstanding, yet inexpensive and a few years ago it was voted Italy's best white wine in terms of the quality/price ratio. This is one of my favourite Umbrian whites, and the 2022 vintage was fresh, crisp and dry, with medium body, citrus, pear and peach on the palate. It is made from Trebbiano Spolentino, grown only in this area. Trebbiano is found almost all over Italy, but this particular variation has been found through DNA testing, to be identical to Riesling found in parts of Austria. The wine certainly showed characteristics of Riesling, but with a definite Italian twist.

Most of this local grape variety is grown in the vineyards around Spoleto and near the other hilltop towns of Trevi and Spello. Close to these fabulous walled medieval towns is Montefalco, which can justifiably be named as a wine village. Surrounded by vineyards, interspersed by olive groves and other crops, the Montefalco DOC covers both white and red wines. The best red wines are made 100% from the local Sagrantino grape variety, producing one of Italy’s most remarkable and highly underrated reds.

Deep coloured, with firm velvety tannins and concentrated power, these wines can mature beautifully for 20 years. One of the best – in fact the best in my opinion – restaurants in Montefalco is Re Tartu , set back from the main street in the heart of the town, with a shady terrace and fabulous inside dining areas, with walls lined with bottles of wine. The name translates as ‘King of the Truffles’ and many of the dishes on the menu pay homage to both the black and white varieties.

How fabulous then, that the owner’s name is Andrea Funghi – a man who is passionate about mushrooms and truffles of all types, only perhaps outshone by his passion for wine. Andrea’s wife is the obviously talented chef in charge of the kitchen, creating exquisite flavours delicately combined with truffle to produce paradise on a plate! Whilst contemplating the inventive menu, the Wine List, named The Bible by the friendly restaurant staff, appears on the table.

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So named since the number of different wines – many local, many Italian and a few well-chosen wines from other countries, particularly France – runs to somewhere between 500 and 600! Now that’s what I call a wine list! With one particular dish, Andrea offered a 2005 Sagrantino which was pure velvet with immense complexity of flavour.

So if you are planning a trip to Italy, go to gentle, peaceful Umbria and make sure you visit Montefalco with its wonderful wines and truffle restaurant.

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