The Wine Trail, Tuscany
Umbria, the lush region known as “Italy’s green heart,” is pumping with a quiet, authentic passion. Throughout the years, Italy’s central area has become famous for its leafy vineyards bursting with plump bluish-purple Sagrantino grapes and charming small towns scattered across the picturesque countryside.
Often overshadowed by the glamour of neighboring Tuscany, Umbria has remained a tranquil, laid-back area, with the walled medieval hamlet of Montefalco appealing to tourists seeking an idyllic Italian vacation among sleepy villages, gently sloping hills and acres of romantic vineyards. Located approximately 30 miles southeast of Perugia, Montefalco — often referred to as the “Balcony of Umbria” — is situated at 1,550 feet above sea level. A quaint town, it is adorned with narrow, sloping, cobblestone streets and Romanesque churches.
Filippo Antonelli is the owner of the award-winning Antonelli San Marco winery, which offers personalized tours, private cooking classes and an “agriturismo” experience.
Antonelli points out that Umbria, and especially Montefalco, offers a genuine experience to visitors. “Although our atmosphere is similar to Tuscany, Umbria is less crowded, less expensive, less spread out — and truly authentic,” he says. “Most importantly, we enjoy sharing our unique winemaking approach with guests and demonstrating the essential role that Sagrantino wine plays in the region’s culture and history.”
Although several wines are produced in this region, including Sangiovese and the white Grechetto, Montefalco is best known for its Sagrantino grape, whose name is derived from the Latin word for “sacrament.” An indigenous varietal that dates back thousands of years, it was originally cultivated by monks who created a raisin wine for religious ceremonies. In the 1960s, however, the grape nearly disappeared and was eventually revitalized due to the work of a few dedicated winemakers. (The D.O.C.G. label was obtained in 1992).
Since 1981, area wine producers have joined together in the Montefalco Consortium enforcing the production standards while promoting their wines around the globe. As a distinctive and complex wine, Sagrantino has grown in popularity. Today, the total wine production of Sagrantino is one million bottles per year.
In Montefalco, wine lovers can visit the 74 wineries and vineyards along the Sagrantino wine trail. Although a few of the major wineries have large tasting rooms with a full-time staff, most of the smaller wineries require reservations – for good reason. Winemakers and owners adore visitors and want to ensure they are greeted warmly and treated to a special experience. Tourists who make reservations will be rewarded with an exclusive wine tasting (usually with fresh, local cheeses and meats), a leisurely tour of the winery and vineyards, and plenty of quality time with the winemaker.
These are just a few of the many delightful and distinctive stops along the trail.