If you love wine, you’ve definitely had dreams of a wine-fueled trip to Italy. And there’s no denying that Tuscany is made of the stuff of dreams. The region’s rustic cuisine of delicious meats, cheeses,and pastas, paired with its delicious wine, makes it a go-to destination and, as a result, it’s correspondingly thronged. But what if you don’t want to compete with the tour buses and hordes of tourists making a day trip from Florence? Head to Umbria instead.
Umbria still feels like an undiscovered gem, despite its close proximity to Rome. Sure, there are tourists — they are all over Italy. But in Umbria, you’ll bump into far more Italians than foreigners. It’s a more authentic experience, plus Umbria’s cuisine and wine are amazing. If you’re a fan of rustic Italian food and big, bold reds, you need to get yourself to Umbria, STAT, and we have your guide.
From Rome, rent a car — it’s really the only way to get to Umbria and it beats the tour bus to Tuscany – and take the two hour drive to Montefalco, the heart of Umbria’s wine region. It’s also home to Sagrantino, one of the most intensely delicious wines you’ll ever encounter, which can only be found in this region of Italy.
Sagrantino has been used for centuries to make the sweet wine passito, which was often used for religious purposes. But in the 1970s, Arnaldo Caprai started vinifying the region’s indigenous grape in dry form, creating a highly tannic, bold red that was ideal for aging for 30 to 50 years. It’s only fitting that your first winery visit should be to Caprai to taste the Sagrantino that helped put the region on the map. While the winery is best known for its 25th Anniversary Sagrantino, its standard Sagrantino is also excellent as is the Montefalco Rosso, which is a blend of Sangiovese (the same grape grown in all of Tuscany), Sagrantino and Merlot. It’s delicious.
After your visit, we’d recommend heading up to the heart of Montefalco to check out your town and check into your hotel. Our choice is Villa Pambufetti, a drop-dead gorgeous hotel located just outside of the city walls. A stay here will make you feel extremely regal.
If you’re still up for more wine, after checking in pay a late afternoon visit to Tenuta Castelbuono, which is affectionately nicknamed The Turtle Winery, thanks to its incredibly modern architecture. Designed by world-renowned artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, the winery was built in the shape of a turtle in order to represent the slow and steady aging of Sagrantino. It’s a wonderful place to relax while trying a few of the winery’s offerings as the sun begins to set. The winery is owned by the Lunelli family, who also own the famed sparkling producer Ferrari; toast to the end of your first day with a nice glass of bubbly.
At the end of your time at Tenuta Castelbuono, head back to Montefalco for dinner at Locanda del Teatro, located inside Palazzo Bontadosi Hotel and Spa, another wonderful place to stay. We recommend doing the tasting menu with wine pairings. It’s a great way to sample regional dishes and try different wines you might not encounter on your own.
Montefalco is a bit of a sleepy town, so there isn’t much nightlife after dinner. Head back to your hotel and get some rest for another day of touring and tasting.
Wake up and have breakfast at your hotel. While you could gorge yourself on the incredible breakfast spread that most Italian hotels have become known for, if you want to be like a true Italian, just grab a Cappuccino and a sweet pastry. Don’t worry, you’ll wind up eating enough during the day.
Before heading to a few more wineries, take a stroll into town and check out the views of the Umbrian Valley that stretch out below. Montefalco is known as the “Balcony of Umbria” because you can see for miles in every direction from many vantage points inside the town. On clear days you can see all the way to Perugia, the capital of Umbria, as well as the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The Basilica is worth a day trip if you have the time, though be prepared for crowds of religious pilgrims.
Once you’ve taken in the views, hop in the car and head to Antonelli, a fantastic winery that also houses a top-notch cooking school. If you call before your trip, you can arrange to take a cooking class, which is the perfect way to spend the afternoon and can also conveniently provide your lunch. After learning to make classic Umbrian dishes that you can easily revisit at home, you’ll sit down to enjoy your meal alongside a selection of bottles from the winery.
Following this culinary adventure, make one more winery visit to Tabbarini. While you may be wine’d out by this point, trust us, it’s one visit that is not to be missed. In fact, we’re willing to say if you only have time for one winery in Umbria, make it Tabbarini.
This boutique winery doesn’t make very many bottles, only 70,000 to be exact, but they are prized by top restaurants around the world. Due to this limited quantity, these restaurants are some of the only places to find the wine outside of the winery, which is why a visit is definitely worth your time. The winery is run by one of Italy’s most talented and memorable winemakers, Giampaolo Tabarrini, and if he’s around and available during your visit, he’s an incredible person to meet. Warm and passionate about what he does, Geampaolo is the epitome of someone with zero pretension when it comes to wine, despite the fact that his wines are often viewed as the best in the region, an accolade we wholeheartedly agree with. Sample the range he has to offer and buy some bottles to take or have shipped home. While they may be pricier than other producers, they’re worth it.
For dinner pop in to OLEVM, a small family restaurant inside Montefalco’s city walls. Its known for its olive oil, so make sure to grab a bottle to take home before you leave.
After waking up and checking out of your hotel, if you’re still in the mood for more wine you could stop by Scacciadiavoli, another fantastic and well-known producer, or Perticaia, a boutique producer showing great potential led by one of the youngest winemakers in the region. But if you’re all wine’d out, maybe take a trip to Assisi, or simply hit the road with suitcases filled with incredible, age-worthy wines that you can open and enjoy for years to come.
As you pull away from Montefalco, congratulate yourself for having discovered this Italian gem, far away from the hordes of tourists.