Tuscany is so yesterday. Why Umbria is the new place for Italian wine tasting

The Umbrian countryside
The Umbrian countryside

So I promised some yummy tidbits from my recent trip to Umbria. So I'm starting with the wine tours. Despite having lived in Italy and traveling much of the country (repeatedly), Umbria is the one place I keep going back to. It's the opposite of Milan, which is industrial, and fast, and busy, and dirty, and people can be...well, I'll stop there. Umbria is warm, friendly, spread out, filled with beautiful rolling hills, and has the most awesome food.

Everyone equates Tuscany with Italian wine. But Umbria is certainly giving Tuscany a run for its money. They're simple, yet complex, but as I learned on this past trip, the passion and tradition that goes into Umbrian wines is what sets them apart.

Our first wine tasting was in the small town of Todi at Cantina Franco Todini. Winemaking is more of a hobby for this family as they run a very successful construction empire. The production facility was pretty standard, but we headed to Relais Todini for the tastings. It's the newest addition to my bucket list. This historic country home has some of the most amazing views, inside and out.

Relais Todini
Relais Todini
E5
Relais Todini at night

Those who know me, know I like big, bold red wines. I can drink a cold white on a hot day, but the driest of reds is my preference. I was first exposed to Grechetto wines in Umbria last year and as a foodie who prefers bold reds, I must say that these varietals have certainly expanded my palate. I find that Grechettos can vary greatly from one town to the next, which makes them even more interesting. Seriously, you can drive to another winery just 15 minutes away and the Grechetto wines will be completely different.

The Bianco del Cavaliere, a 100% Grechetto in which the skins are macerated to make it more full bodied, was probably one of the best whites I've ever tasted. Then we moved on to the Bianco Relais, a much lighter Grechetto Reisling blend (I call it wine-light). I was most excited to try the reds, and while the 2007 Rubro, a Sangiovese/Merlot blend, was worth the drink, there was no way I was leaving without a few bottles of the Nero della Cervara, a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet, aged for eight years with a very deep, complex flavor. And they made it home in my suitcase. The big question is, how long will they last in my house?

We got a full tour of the relais. The 12th Century manor feels historic, yet modern, with furniture and décor that is both ancient and luxurious. The relais features eight rooms and four suites with frescoed walls, fireplaces, tapestries, and antique furniture. Each room has its own distinct personality, all with picturesque views. I'm definitely going back for a visit, especially because they also offer a wine bath!

Sobrano fin
One of the guestrooms at Relais Todini

It was hard to leave the views of the relais, but our next stop was Decugnano dei Barbi. I don’t recommend the drive after a leisurely morning of wine tasting, as the route is ridiculously treacherous. The winery is built on a hillside over a large 13th century cave excavated in the lavarock where their sparkling wine is produced.

The underground cave at Decugnano dei Barbi
The underground cave at Decugnano dei Barbi

Nearby, an old chapel has been converted into a large, spacious wine tasting room. The Decugnano Brut Metodo Classico sparkling wine was definitely a welcome reward after we climbed down the steep hill to the cave, and then back up, in the stifling heat.

Another bucket list item from the trip: to land on the helicopter pad at the Goretti winery. They have a helicopter pad, which brings guests in from other cities, mainly Rome, for special events; our guide Sara explained that she had recently hosted a wedding vow renewal ceremony for a couple flown in from Lake Trasimeno.

Eight generations of the family have lived on this magnificent property (magnificent, save for the stench of the pig farm across the road) and we were fortunate to meet three of those generations.

Three generations of the Goretti family
Three generations of the Goretti family

The tower, Il Moggio, where our wine tasting took place, includes five spa treatment rooms, where Sara’s own branded creation of vinotherapy products are used.

Goretti
Sara, our guide at Goretti, setting up our tasting

The 2008 L’Arringatore was by far my favorite wine of the trip, a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, and 10% Ciliegiolo (a cherry grape).  My husband certainly enjoyed the 40% alcohol Grappa de L’Arringatore and the specialty il Brandy della Torre, a distillation of wine.

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