When you think of the world's great wine regions of the world, no one is going to jump up and shout "Umbria." It's neither No. 1 or for that matter No. 100. Yet it's a gem of an undiscovered place.
Umbria is central and southern Italy's only landlocked region, bordered entirely by Tuscany to the north and west, Marche to the north and east ,and Lazio, which includes Rome, to the south.
This geographic isolation has made Umbria the least populated area in all of Italy, and also kept it from becoming a significant center of economic development. Still, the Umbrians aren't starving. The land's natural green beauty, hilly terrain, and medieval towns (Perugia, Assisi, Orvieto) have made it a popular tourist destination.
Today, we're going to focus on two whites that benefit from different terroirs.
Lake Trasimeno, located entirely in west-central Umbria, is the largest lake in southern Italy. Vineyards ring its entire 49-square mile circumference of hills and valleys, which receive plenty of sunshine and a stable Mediterranean climate. This is the home of the Colli (hills) di Trasimeno DOC, a small, little known wine zone where about a dozen farmers grow grapes and olives.
At the 40-acre, no-frills Montemelino Estate, Magret and Guido Cantarelli till the soil, crush the grapes, and age the wine in barrels stored under the stone farmhouse (there is no big production plant) and in a nearby stone chapel on the property. Winemaker Magret, 61, is a stickler for detail. No pesticides are allowed to be used on the vines or in the soil. The same goes for the olive trees.
The Cantarellis produce a limited number of pure expression wines in the sandstone, marl and clay hills of Lake Trasimeno. Their rare Montemelino bianco blend is a 50-percent mix of Trebbiano Toscano and Grechetto. It is stunning in its green, flinty color and intense fragrance of yellow apple. Breathe deeply, and you can sense the cool lakeside air. The wine itself is all-Umbrian -- fresh and bright in yellow fruit with a steely, mineral backbone that leads to a dry and savory finish. For wine drinkers looking for something new and interesting for holiday parties and appetizers (it goes best with fish, chicken and salads), this is worth a try. This delightful wine from a quiet, untrampled corner of the world can be found at the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover for $15.99.
My second Umbrian is not so unique, although few people I know drink Orvieto Classico -- the prestigious white wine preferred by popes, cardinals and aristocracy during the Middle Ages.
Orvieto is a town in southwest Umbria. The wine-growing area is saturated by morning fog and sunny, breezy afternoons, an alternating mild climate created by two nearby lakes, Corbara and Bolsena. This influence makes Orvieto one of Italy's few places conducive to noble rot, which aids in the production of sweet dessert wines. Today, though, Orvieto Classico is mostly crafted as a dry wine. Interestingly, the two key grapes are familiar -- Grechetto and Procanico (the local version of Trebbiano Toscano) -- along with smaller amounts of Malvasia di Lunga and Verdello. The vines grow in loamy volcanic soils which lend the grapes a stone fruit flavor profile. Overall, these whites are intensely fragrant and carry rich golden apple and citrus flavors.
A good, inexpensive bottling is La Carraia Orvieto Classico. It costs $8.99. What makes this such a great value is that Riccardo Cotarello, one of Italy's top wine consultants, founded La Carraia winery and oversees it with his family.
I suggest you purchase both the Montemelino and La Carraia Orvieto Classico and compare them. You'd be amazed at the depth of the wines and how uniquely different they taste even though the grapes are mainly the same. It's Umbria's fascinating terroir.