the word is rich, warm and full as it rolls off of your tongue. It’s almost meditative, like an Italian Ohm.
This month the writers with #ItalianFWT are exploring the Orvieto DOC in Umbria (well… a little of it is in Lazio). We are led by the founder of the group, Jennifer of Vino Travels. You can read her Preview post here.
The Consorzio Vino Orvieto provided many of us with sample wines from the region, as well as some beautiful background material on the region.
*We received some of these wines as media samples. No other compensation was received. All opinions remain our own.
You will find links at the bottom of this post to the articles my colleagues wrote on this region and its wines.
This region landlocked in North Central Italy, is the Green Heart of Italy. Pliny the Elder spoke of the Umbri as the most ancient people of Italy, and it is believed that they settled this area somewhere around the 6th Century BC.
When the Greeks arrived the Umbri were already making wine here. They built civilized towns on the East side of the river Tevere, like Spoleto and Assisi, yes that Assisi, of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Raised in California as a Catholic, Saint Francis of Assisi was always a Saint I could get behind. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment, and Umbria continues to honor his legacy with their culture.
Umbria is known for its forests and foraged foods.
This rural region is more known for its game than for farm-raised animals, although you can find those, raised on small local farms.
Foraged produce like wild mushrooms and asparagus and the region’s famed black truffles.
Within this region, on South West side you find the city of Orvieto and the Orvieto DOC with the Paglia River running through.
Not all of the DOC is in Umbria, it does spill over into Lazio to the southwest.
The city of Orvieto is perched on a rock cliff of Tufo, one of the great volcanic rocks of the world.
This porous volcanic rock allow the residents to dig into the soil, they created an underground network of caves and tunnels. Here they raised pigeons (think squab), which you still find on many local menus.
The town was a hilltop fortress and in the 16th century a place of refuge for the Pope.
St. Patrick’s well was built to supply the town with water and is an impressive piece of engineering even today. Located in the center of the town this circular shaft dives 200 feet deep with a double-helix design staircase to transport water, one side down, the other side up to expedite the mule-drawn carts filling water bags.
But wait, we were going to talk about the wine!
In the Middle Ages, wine here was a sweet golden wine, made with noble rot (botrytis cinerea) similar in style to the sweet wines of Sauternes in France.
Today wines come in a variety of sweetness levels from dry to sweet, but to be considered Orvieto they must be 60% Procanico and Grechetto grapes. The remaining 40% can be other non-aromatic white grapes.
It is rare to see the use of oak in Orvieto wines.
The grapes of Orvieto
Let’s talk about these grapes. The Grechetto comes in two forms, Grechetto di Orvieto and Grechetto di Todi.
Grechetto di Orvieto is native to Umbria and has crisp acid and delicate floral notes. Its thick skins add texture to the wine.
Grechetto di Todi, is related to Grechetto di Orvieto, but it is an ancient variety that is genetically the same as the Pignoletto of Emilia Romagna. This grape has tighter bunches and is more prone to botrytis, that noble rot that produces sweet wines.
The other grape we discuss here is Procanico. Procanico is the local name for Trebbiano.
But don’t get this wrong, this is not the Trebbiano of the boring Ugni Blanc used for Cognac. This high acid grape is site-sensitive and often has notes of citrus, floral, pear, stone fruit, and almond with notes of salinity.
The secondary grapes used include Verdello, Drupeggio, and Malvasia Bianca.
The soils of Orvieto and how they affect the wine
In addition to the differences in sweetness levels, the varying soils of the region affect the wine.
We had an opportunity to watch a session on these differences presented by Tanya Morning Star Darling, Global Education Ambassador for Orvieto Wines. Here are a few of the take-aways that I want to share with you.
Grapes grown in the alluvial soils along the Paglia River lend themselves to notes of grass, citrus, and white flowers with notes of lime and lime flower. It might remind you a bit of Chablis.
In clay soils, which have fewer nutrients and less drainage, you find richer notes of overripe peach and these wines are more intense. These vineyards are located in the central and northern parts of Orvieto.
Sandy clay soils are more subtle with notes of pineapple, pear, and apple with a stoniness. These soils are found in the North-East part of the region.
In volcanic soils, you can find stone fruit, honey, and beeswax. They have less acidity due to the soil but have a salinity that balances the wine.
While we waited for some samples that were coming from Consorzio Vino Orvieto, we looked to see what we could find closer to home from this region. Producers of Orvieto wine come in a few types. There are Estates, where you can find the highest quality wines, Cooperatives that produce wine, and Bottlers who purchase wine from growers.
A pre-pairing with Roio Orvieto
Locally in Las Vegas, I was able to find the 3rd style, wines bottled by Ruffino, Marchesini, and Roio.
We picked up the Roio. Why? The other two were $9.99 and the Roio was $16.99 and yes that thing about price, led me to hope that it meant slightly better quality.
The truth of the matter is that most of the wines of Orvieto you will be able to find for between $8 and $20. These are wines that in my opinion, over-deliver for the price.
My nose picked up minerality and salt first, then citrus and stone fruit. In my mouth, there was more citrus with apple, pear, peach, and some tropical notes. It had a comforting weight in my mouth and the alcohol level sat at 12.5%.
We paired this with Mahi Mahi patties with sweet and spicy corn salsa and sweet potato gnocchi. Not a gourmet feast, but delicious non the less.
The regions within Orvieto
The overall Orvieto DOC region is 28.5 miles long and 10 miles wide. The central part of the region is the Classico region, which is closest to the city of Orvieto.
The overall DOC, including the Classico region can be divided into two slopes, the Eastern slopes and the Western slopes.
From North to South the region is divided into 3 sections the Northern Sector, the Classico Sector and the Southern Sector.
Wines of the Orvieto
We recieved wines to sample from 4 wineries within the region, from the Consorzio Vino Orvieto, each from a different type of soil.
Argillae in the Northern Sector in the region of Pomarro-Ritorto
Founded in 1993 and owned by the Bonollo Family, who are well known in Italy for their spirits company, these vineyards are in the Northern part of the region where the volcanic soils become clay (argilla is clay in Italian).
They refer to the soil here as “Calanchi”, a mix of clay and sand, in splits of soil created 2 million years ago by atmospheric erosion.
The property which sits northwest of the city of Orvieto between the hills of Allerona and Ficulle, spans 260 hectares with 70 currently under vine.
Argillae Famiglia Bonollo Orvieto DOC Superiore 2021
The Orvieto from Argillae is made from Grechetto, Procanico, Malvasia, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine spends the winter on its fine lees before bottling in spring.
Bigi in the Classico Region on the Western Slopes in the region of Le Prese – Pianlungo.
Bigi was founded in 1880 by Luigi Bigi. Originally it was in the former monastery of La Trinita on the hill opposite the cliff of Orvieto. Since 1972 it has changed hands a couple of times and now is part of Gruppo Italiano Vini.
Bigi Vigneto Torricella Orvieto Classico DOC 2021
This wine is their most famous wine and is considered one of the “Grand Crus” of the area. The vineyards are in the hills overlooking Lake Corbara, the man-made lake created by the Corbara Dam on the Tiber River.
The blend is 40% Trebbiano, 20% Verdello, 20% Grechetto and the remaining is Drupeggio and Malvasia Toscana.
Custodi in the Classico Region on the Western slopes in the Cornale region.
Cantini Custodi is near the regional border. Gianfranco Custodi purchased this plot in 1965. In 2003, his daughters Laura and Chiara began making wine. Today they have 40 hectares of vineyards that sit in volcanic and clay soils.
Custodi Belloro Orvieto Classico 2021
This wine is a blend of Procanico, Grechetto, Drupeggio, Verdello, and Chardonnay. Soils here are loose volcanic and the vineyards sit at just under 1000 feet in elevation.
The grapes are lightly crushed and quickly separated from the skins. The must ferments for about 15 days and ages in stainless steel for 4 months and in bottle for 2 before release.
Decugnano dei Barbi in the Classico Region on the Eastern Slopes in the Corbana region.
The records of grapes and wine on this land extend back to 1212 by the monk that cultivated vines here. In 1861 the church sold the estate to private investors. In 1973 it came to the Barbi family who had been wine merchants since the 1920s. Today Enzo Barbi
On the 63 hectares of property, 33 hectares are under vine with 13 different varieties that sit at around 1000 feet in elevation.
The soil here is marine sediment from the Pliocene period, light calcium-rich soil with scattered seashells run through the vineyard, much like the soils of Chablis. There is also clay which holds water for the dry season. Breezes keep the vines healthy and diurnal shifts (daytime to nighttime temperatures) retain aroma and acid in the wine.
Decugnano Dei Barbi Mare Antico 2019 Orvieto Classico Superiore.
This wine is a blend of the best from their estate sourced from 25-year-old vines in soil that are rich with fossilized shells and oysters.
The grapes are harvested by hand, destemmed, cooled, and pressed.
The grape varieties are fermented separately in steel tanks for 15-20 days and then are carefully blended. 5% are fermented in new French Oak without malolactic fermentation. This wine spends 12 months in bottle prior to release.
The blend is 55% Grechetto, 20% Vermentino, 20% Chardonnay and 5% Procanico
The back of this bottle says
There is an ancient sea in the heart of this wine, as deep as time and as luminous as the reflection of a mirade of shells. You can hear it if you listen carefully.
We did a quick tasting of these wines with a Coravin, and we look forward to popping them open and doing some pairings which you will find on our social media channels!
I did whip up a quick dinner to enjoy while we did our side by side, and it turned out to be a great pairing. This is lemon ricotta ravioli, in olive oil and butter, topped with panko and parmesan crumbs toasted in butter. We did a bit of spinach on the side with olive oil and sea salt.
The wines all shared similar characteristics, all were “clean”, not in that healthy weird sense that that word is used for these days, I mean they felt clean and fresh on my palate, they were refreshing.
The Argillae, grown in clay came across my nose with citrus blossom, lemon, lime, then a bit of stonefruit. It had a sense of richness to it. In my mouth, it was crisp with green apple and Meyer lemon (again that richness, just a bit more than regular lemon).
The Custodi from the loose volcanic soils first hit my nose with lemon, lemon zest, and mineral notes. This wine was lighter than the others, it was almost clear with a slight green tint. In my mouth, it was clean with mineral notes, lemon, and green apple.
The Bigi was richer with apple, pear, and stone fruit on the nose and green apple, and unripe pear on the palate. This I noted as tart, which I had not with the others.
The Decugnano Dei Barbi from marine sediment soils hit my nose with chalk and mineral and was muted in the beginning, it opened to more lemon notes. In my mouth, the first thing I tasted was a sense of mineral water, followed by lemon and lemon zest.
Michael, who typically leans toward more fruit-forward and sweeter wines, liked the Decugnano best. He felt it was the driest, but he really enjoyed this wine, surprising even himself.
Ovieto with #ItalianFWT
Here are the links to my colleagues’ posts on Orvieto! They will be sharing different wines and different perspectives!
And don’t forget to join us Saturday May 7th on Twitter, where we will gather at 8 am Pacific time to discuss the wines of the region. You can join the conversation by following and using the hashtag #ItalianFWT!
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm will be sharing
“Umbrian Red Wine Spaghetti and a Book Review.“
- Liz at What‘s In That Bottle is wondering “Why Aren’t we all Drinking more Orvieto?”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest will be focusing on “Appreciating an Ancient Italian Wine Made For Today’s Palate.”
- Camilla at The Culinary Adventures of Camilla is “Celebrating Spring with Vignole + 2020 Barberani Castagnolo Orvieto Classico Superiore.”
- Lisa at The Wine Chef is pairing “Umbria’s Famous White Wine, Paired With Spiced Pork Tenderloin.”
- Nicole at The Somm’s Table will be featuring “Easy Springtime Dinners with Orvieto.“
- Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings is uncovering “Orvieto White Wines – Hidden Treasures From Umbria.”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass is writing about “White wines from the heart of Central Italy.”
- Susannah at Avvinare will be “Getting reacquainted with an old friend: Orvieto Wines.”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen is sharing “The Soulful and Unique Wines of Orvieto.“
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator…Gwendolyn Alley is aiming to “Discover the Green Heart of Italy: Orvieto DOC in Umbria.“
- Terri at Our Good Life is pairing “Slow Cooker Short Ribs and Elicius Orvietano Rosso: A Match Made in the Heavenly Stars.“
- Jen at Vino Travels will be highlighting “Orvieto, Italy’s Classic White Wine.”
More on Italian Wines by Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Nosiola – a disappearing Northern Italian variety #WinePW
- Lazio – Exploring low intervention wines inspired by tradition and nature #Italian FWT
- Climate Change, Finding Sustainable Italian Wines and Why you should Care #ItalianFWT
- Barbaresco and Thanksgiving flavors #ItalianFWT
- Le Marche Italy – Verdicchio and beyond #ItalianFWT
- Banish me to Mantua, with a glass of Lambrusco Mantovano #ItalianFWT
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
For some reason, Italy is the wine country we seem to drink the least and have yet to really dig into on the travel side (though our two trips prior to our blog were spectacular). Cannot wait to explore more and thanks to this article Umbria is very quickly moving to the top of regions to visit!
Trying to decide where to go in Italy is a challenge! I find one region I want to explore and then another. I think it will take multiple trips to explore all that I want to see and be able to soak it in. Umbria sounds stunning with its forests and beautiful scenery, not to mention delicious wine!
Your photos of the town of Orvieto are stunning! Isn’t it amazing that these wines can be so reasonably priced? When I was looking up several wines and saw some are single digit in the EU, I had to double-check. When people ask me where to go in Italy, I’m going to tell them Umbria… Orvieto ;-D
Thanks, Lynn! I look forward to getting there to take some of my own photos! I am completely blown away at how affordable these wines are, and they are so delicious!
Great overview of the various soils and their impact on the wines. I enjoyed reading your notes and comparing them to mine. How about Orvieto’s location on a cliff? Awesome!
Oh, Linda, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the soils of the region. I really want to dig into the details of the map from Orvieto. I do agree, that stunning location of this city on a cliff…I mean how can you not want to visit!
What a beautiful piece on this area and the wines! Lot of prep last minute so thank you!
Thanks so much for setting up the opportunity to explore these wines!