Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Umbria is known as Tuscany’s ‘gentler sister’. Like so many parts of Italy it has a fascinating history. It was originally populated by a peaceful farming tribe called the Umbrians who were later colonised by the Etruscans and later again by the Romans. Umbria’s atmospheric hilltop towns were independent city-states until coming under the umbrella of the Papal States and eventually part of a united Italy in 1860. The province has many of the attractions that Tuscany offers without the crowds. We met some old friends from the States in Rome a few years back and after seeing the sights of the Eternal City, we took the train to the beautiful Umbrian city of Spoleto, one of Italy’s many hidden gems. Spoleto boasts a beautiful medieval centre, a spectacular 14th century aqueduct, an amphitheatre with a grim past, (some 10,000 Christian martyrs are said to have met their end here) and a massive Papal fortress overseeing the town. It hosts one of Italy’s most important arts festivals. Aside from Spoleto, famous hilltop Umbrian towns include Assisi with its stunning Basilica di Francesco, restored to its former glory after the damage suffered during the earthquake of 1997, Orvieto, set high up on a volcanic outcrop, and smaller towns like Spello, Trevi and Todi. Umbria is the only Italian province without an international border or a coastline.
Another reason for visiting Umbria is its wonderful produce including justifiably famous olive oil and wine that has improved dramatically since the 1990s when the ‘Indicazione Geografica Tipica’ classification was introduced to the region, one of Italy’s smallest production areas.
A relatively small number (13) of Umbrian wines carry the higher DOC label and only a couple the highest DOCG rating. ‘Sangiovese’, the predominate chianti grape is most used in Umbrian wine making, but there are other indigenous grapes most notably the red Sagrantino from
Montefalco, considered a rising star of the Umbrian style. The most famous identifiable white is ‘Orvieto’ made with Trebbiano and the little- known Grechetto grape. Orvieto accounts for 70 per cent of DOC production.
While in Spoleto, we stayed at the atmospheric ‘San Luca’, located in a beautifully restored villa at the foot of the hill leading up to the historical centre of the town.
Writing this article is making me want to make a return visit!
Recommendations: Tudernum Rosso – from an excellent Cantina outside the beautiful hilltop town of Todi. €13 from Urru Culinary Store, Bandon.