10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2014
Known as the “Green Heart of Italy,” enchanting Umbria is Central Italy’s only landlocked region, bordered by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. Unlike many of Italy’s better-known tourist destinations, Umbria’s rolling hills and green valleys, carpeted with olive groves and vineyards, seem unchanged by time. Besides unspoiled natural beauty, Umbria boasts several well-preserved medieval towns. Orvieto sits on a volcanic bluff and is home to one of Italy’s most beautiful cathedrals. Assisi houses the Basilica of St. Francis, while Perugia, the region’s capital, offers a collection of museums and two universities that give it a vibrant cultural buzz. —Kerin O'Keefe
Where to Dine
Famous for its pork recipes, Umbria offers excellent cuisine for all tastes, relying on prime local ingredients like its rich olive oil, and black and white truffles. In Montefalco, dine at Il Coccorone for handmade pastas like pappardelle al sagrantino with mushrooms, while in Orvieto, Vinosus showcases seasonal dishes rooted in tradition paired with a fantastic wine list. For foodies, Italy’s top celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani’s cult restaurant in Todi-Baschi, Casa Vissani, is a must.
Where to Stay
Travelers can find accommodations for all budgets, from basic hotels to more sumptuous digs at refurbished estates and country manors, like Villa Pambuffetti in Montefalco, which offers chic country elegance. In Orvieto, there’s the simple but ideally located Hotel Duomo, or for grander accommodations, there’s La Badia, a converted abbey outside of town. In the stunning town of Gubbio, Relais Ducale, housed in a 14th-century building, exudes both charm and grandeur.
Umbria’s quiet side roads are a haven for cyclists, and guided bike tours are a great way to see the area. The region also puts on some of the best music festivals in the country, including Umbria Jazz, which runs in Perugia every July, and in Orvieto every December.
Spend a half-day at beautiful Lago Trasimeno, the largest lake in Central Italy. It has several beaches that are perfect for swimming and a lakeside walking/cycling track. Or take an excursion boat out to Isola Maggiore.
When to Go
June to August, to best enjoy Lago Trasimeno, or September and October, to catch the harvest.
Local in the Know
Riccardo Cotarella, a local resident and one of Italy’s most famous consulting enologists, says: “Besides Orvieto’s marvelous sites like the Duomo, the fascinating Pozzo di San Patrizio and a network of underground caves and tunnels, visitors should let themselves be enveloped by Orvieto’s rich history and art simply by walking around the high rock that Orvieto perches on. That way, they can take in the stunning panorama of Orvieto’s surrounding valleys, which are blanketed with splendid vineyards.”
Where to Taste
For wine lovers, no trip to Umbria would be complete without visiting Montefalco. For guided cellar tours and tastings, visit the Arnaldo Caprai estate, run by the family that brought Sagrantino di Montefalco to wine lovers around the world. Don’t miss another great Sagrantino estate, Tenuta Castelbuono, in nearby Bevagna. Owned by the Lunelli family of Ferrari sparkling wine fame, the tortoise-shaped winery was designed by legendary Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. In the center of Montefalco, stop in at the town’s best wine bar, L’Alchimista, which boasts over 400 selections. In Orvieto, the best place to taste is at the wineries, like at leading estate Decugnano dei Barbi. Decugnano offers tours and tastings, or book for an exclusive dinner served in the winery’s onsite chapel. Other top estates that offer tastings of the local nectar include Palazzone and Falesco at their cellars in nearby Montecchio. Always book ahead at the wineries.
Umbria’s most celebrated wine is Sagrantino di Montefalco, a powerfully structured—at times fiercely tannic—red made from the local Sagrantino grape. Better winemaking techniques now allow producers to craft Sagrantino with riper, albeit still bracing, tannins. Rosso di Montefalco is a savory and much more approachable blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino. The region also makes crisp, refreshing whites like Orvieto, a blend of Procanico (a clone of Trebbiano) and Grechetto. On its own, Grechetto produces fresh and fruity wines, while the recently revived Trebbiano Spoletino yields creamy flavors brightened with a vein of racy acidity. The region also makes a number of wines from international grapes.