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Orvieto DOC: The Umbrian Denomination Entirely Devoted To White Wines

Orvieto DOC: The Umbrian Denomination Entirely Devoted To White Wines

Introduction

Being Italians, we always love digging a bit into our wine heritage and bringing it to you. Things get even more exciting when we get to discuss wines made in our birthplace: Umbria.

Even though the central Italian region only boasts 2 DOCGs, it does have some surprises for every wine lover here. There are local indigenous varieties such as the red Sagrantino and the white Grechetto that can conquer your heart once you try them.

And this is exactly the reason why we are writing this article. We would like to bring to your attention a DOC we are particularly in love with: Orvieto DOC.

Dry, medium-dry, and sweet white wines come from near the medieval hill city of Orvieto. This is one of the most renowned and historical Italian white wines. It is also the most important DOC in Umbria.

We hope we got your attention now. As we are about to start this journey to Umbria and the amazing Orvieto DOC. Let’s get on with it!

Figure 1; A sunny day among Orvieto’s vineyards after the morning mist faded away (vineblisstrip.com, 2020)

Orvieto DOC: The Terroir, Area Of Production, Its Grapes And Styles

Orvieto DOC is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most famous DOC in Umbria and Central Italy. Just to give you an idea of its importance, Orvieto accounts for 80% of the area planted in the region.

The Terroir: Why Is Orvieto So Special?

The vineyards that produce Orvieto DOC are present on both sides of the Paglia river that flows through the city of Orvieto towards the Tiber. Around Orvieto, the soil is a mix of marl, vulcanic soil, and a kind of soil which locals named “tufo“. This terroir allows white grapes such as Chardonnay and the local Grechetto to ripen and retain high levels of acidity.

The climate in Umbria is moderate continental, as it’s inland and not influenced by the Tirannean and Adriatic seas. Winters are cold and summers are hot but dry and windy. The rainfalls are usually well spread throughout the years.

There are though some environmental factors playing a pivotal role around Orvieto, and allowing winemakers to make even botrytized wines (more in a second). We already mentioned the Paglia river, but we didn’t mention the other important bodies of water responsible for mitigating the climate around Orvieto.

Due to the proximity of Corbara and Bolsena lakes, Orvieto is one of the very few places in Italy where we can find exceptional botrytized wines. The lakes set all the perfect conditions for the botrytis cinerea to form, just like it happens in the Tokaj where the first botrytized wines in the world appeared. Combine the misty early-mornings, the adequate amount of wind, the right aspect and altitude, and sunny autumns together and you will only need the right grape varieties to turn the grey mold into the noble rot.

Figure 2: Corbara lake and some vineyards right in front of it (wikipedia.org, 2020)

The Area Of Production: Shared Between Umbria And Lazio

First and foremost, we would like to make clear that Umbria and Lazio share Orvieto DOC. This doesn’t happen very often in the Italian wine heritage, so you might want to keep this in mind and share it with your friends and/ or guests.

In fact, the geographical area dedicated to the production of Orvieto DOC extends along the hilly strip southwest of Umbria up to upper Lazio. This area is adequately ventilated, sunny and favorable to the full ripeness of the grapes. Furthermore, the windy conditions preserve grapes from problematic fungal diseases.

The Production area of ​​the Orvieto DOC is located in:

  • province of Viterbo and includes the territory of the municipalities of Castiglione in Teverina, Civitella D’Agliano, Graffignano, Lubriano and Bagnoregio;
  • province of Terni and includes the territory of the municipalities of Orvieto, Allerona, Alviano, Baschi, Castel Giorgio, Castel Viscardo, Ficulle, Guardea, Montecchio, Fabro, Montegabbione, Monteleone d’Orvieto and Porano;

Orvieto DOC even has a “Classico” zone. The Orvieto Classico sub-area, created in 1971, includes the historic area around the Rupe, restricted to the Valle del Paglia, near the city of Orvieto.

Figure 3: A well-chilled Orvieto Classico DOC ready to be enjoyed (eu.argusleader.com, 2020)

Grapes And Styles

Orvieto DOC appeared in 1971. As the headline of the article reveals, it exclusively makes white wines. Only whites, but of course in several interesting styles. You could literally enjoy a whole meal, from the appetizers to the dessert, drinking these wines.

The table below shows the Orvieto DOC, with a specific focus on its grape varieties, law requirements, and styles.

DOCGGrapesLaw Requirements
Orvieto DOCmin 60% Procanico (aka Trebbiano Toscano) and Grechetto

max 40% of white grape varieties suitable for cultivation in the province of Viterbo and in the Umbria region (mainly Verdello, Malvasia Bianca, and Drupeggio)
yields of max 11 tonnes/ ha
Table 1: The Orvieto DOC in a snapshot (The Wine Jokers, 2021)

Even though the yields of up to 11 tonnes/ ha are allowed by law, the actual average yield hovers around a much more reasonable 60 hl/ha, indicating a shift from quantity to quality wines.

As we said before this is a very “versatile” DOC as winemakers can make it in 5 different styles:

  • Secco (dry);
  • Abboccato (medium-dry);
  • Amabile (medium-sweet);
  • Vendemmia tardiva (late-harvest);
  • Muffa Nobile (botrytized);

You might want to know that Orvieto, Orvieto Classico, and Orvieto Vendemmia Tardiva are made even in the “Superiore” version, for wines with higher alcoholic strength (min 12% abv), since 1997.

Some producers elaborate excellent expressions from overripe grapes attacked by the noble rot,  which gives it unique characteristics of concentration and elegance. The musts obtained are therefore very sugary, rich in glycerin which gives the wine a particular “greasiness” with a concentration of all the aromatic components with some phenolic character in the long finish.

Look for producers such as Barberani (especially it’s “Luigi e Giovanna”), Altarocca winery, Cardeto winery, and Cantina Castello di Corbara for great products.

Figure 4: A line-up of Barberani’s “Luigi e Giovanna”, a must-try (catawiki.com, 2020)

Conclusions

If you weren’t already familiar with Orvieto DOC, we hope you learned something new from this article. And perhaps you might want to add the remarkable Orvieto DOC’s wines to your favorite white-wine list.

Before leaving you, we would like to share one last useful information with you.

Faced with declining sales and ever-lower prices for Orvieto at the beginning of this century, the local Consorzio created a red wine Orvietano Rosso DOC based on Aleatico, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo Rosso, Ciliegiolo, Merlot, Montepulciano, Pinot Nero, Sangiovese (alone or blended up to 70% of the blend). Barbera, Cesanese comune, Colorino, Dolcetto can be used up to 30%. However, this is a different denomination and, as a result, Orvieto DOC is still entirely devoted to white wines.

We believe that Orvieto DOC whites are so unique that producers didn’t want to introduce another wine type to their products (or perhaps the majority of them don’t even have a hectare of red varieties planted in their vineyards…?).


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