I Love Italian Food and Wine - The Umbria Region

By: Levi Reiss

Umbria lies smack dab in the middle of Italy. The countryside is unspoiled and dotted with medieval churches. Its fairly gentle terrain is composed of hills, valleys, and small mountains. Umbria is the only region of Italy with neither a seacoast nor a foreign border. But it has lakes, rivers, and even a waterfall. It is known as the green valley of Italy. In spite of this name, until a few decades ago Umbria kept losing population to the more highly industrial north. Its total population is about 830 thousand.

Umbria was settled by the Umbri, perhaps the first inhabitants of Italy. They were forced into the mountains by the Etruscans, who were conquered by the Romans and then the Lombards. The poet Dante considered it the most violent part of Italy.

Umbria is particularly known for pork, dried pasta, and both black and white truffles. It also produces specialty breads and a wide variety of vegetables and meats. Fish and eels from the Tiber River and Lake Trasimeno abound. Cheeses include Pecorino Toscano, reviewed below.

Umbria’s capital is Perugia, a beautiful medieval city with a population of 150 thousand. Among other things Perugia is known for chocolates and Italian as a second language classes. Another famous Umbrian city is Assisi, the home of St. Francis of Assisi.

Umbria devotes about 41 thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 15th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 19.5 million gallons, giving it a 16th place. About 58% of the wine production is white, leaving 42% for red. The region produces 11 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine, and 2 DOCG red wines, Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. About 30% of Umbrian wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. Umbria is home to about thirty major and secondary grape varieties, about two thirds white.

Widely grown international white grape varieties include Chardonnay and Trebbiano. The best known strictly Italian white variety is Grechetto, used in the its flagship Orvieto DOC wines.

Widely grown international red grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, and Merlot. The best known Italian red variety is Sangiovese, now grown elsewhere such as in California.

Before we review the Umbrian wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Zuppa di Lenticchie di Castelluccio, Castelluccio Lentil Soup, which with local bread can be a meal in itself. Later try Porchetta alla Perugina, Roasted Suckling Pig with Wild Fennel, Rosemary, and Garlic. For dessert indulge yourself with Serpentone delle Monache di Perugia, Nut and Fruit “Snake” of the Capucin Nuns.

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed
Lungaraotti Pinot Grigio 2004 12% about $12

I haven’t always been happy with Italian Pinot Grigio, or for that matter with non-Italian Pinot Gris. These wines often are weak. However, I thought that this particular Pinot Grigio was a fine wine for its price when it accompanied the right food. The sales literature suggested that this light-bodied, vivid, and balanced wine would be a great match for antipasti. My mistake was pairing it with non-imported antipasti, really more of a mediocre relish, which overpowered the wine. I later tried this wine with cold barbecued chicken in a moderately spicy Thai sauce and was quite pleased. Its citrus flavors really shone. I could taste this wine’s subtle complexity.

Pecorino Toscano is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been made in Tuscany and neighboring Umbria for thousands of years. Soft Pecorino Toscano is white with a tinge of yellow, while semi-hard Pecorino Toscano is pale yellow. It is moderately strong smelling and has a complex nutty flavor. I thought that it blended very nicely into the wine.

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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com . You can reach him at [email protected]

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