You’re visiting Umbria – where’s that? I’ve been there a few times and it’s the question I get asked most often. Either that, or I’m met with blank stares, so I then go on to explain it sits just below Tuscany, above Rome...
From that we can deduce that Umbria is arguably not as famous as its popular sister Tuscany, the trendy area of Milan or the romantic city of Venice. It is however a very well-guarded secret, with its beautiful rolling hills, amazing unspoiled villages and incredibly rich history.
In June, I was lucky enough to visit the Bigi vineyard and winery in Orvieto, whilst on a visit to Umbria. Upon arrival we were greeted by the wonderful Massimo Panattoni (head winemaker) and Fabiola Brizi. We were swiftly whisked away for an off-roading tour of the vineyards. Whilst driving past the vines we learnt that Bigi’s first headquarters was in the former Franciscan monastery of La Trinità in Orvieto, but this was confiscated by the Italian state in 1870! Today they are based in their modern cellars at Ponte Giulio at the foot of the lofty walls of the old and ancient town. The winery with its avant-garde vinification equipment and collection of casks and barrels marries perfectly the modern technical production requirement with age-old tradition.
I soon realised that they grew a multitude of grapes at this winery. Some well-known grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese, as well as some lesser known grapes, more specific to the region; Grechetto, Trebbiano and Sangrantino.
Their wine-maker Massimo, as a young boy, witnessed the birth of a few renowned cult wines through his father’s involvement in the wine business, so, it came as no surprise to see how passionate he was about the wines produced at his winery. We were taken through the wine-making process, shown around their laboratory and inside their aging cellars. We had hundreds of questions, and he answered every single one with pride.
Whilst at the winery, we tried around 8 different wines, all very different, reflective of the size, age and diversity of the winery. The Vipra range was a popular choice, with some curiosity about the snake on the bottle. Turns out it was inspired by one of Orvieto’s historical noble families.
Later we lunched up in the old town of Orvieto which was stunning and unexpected. The town itself sits magnificently high above the valley, upon a large volcanic stone, overlooking the Umbrian countryside. The restaurant, which came recommended by Bigi was called ‘La Pergola’ and boasted some truly stand out, locally made dishes. We tried Baccalà (baked whole fish in a salt crust), accompanied by antipasti meats, local Umbrian cheeses, Gnocci and truffle pasta.
The big wow-factor was the huge cathedral that you’re simply not expecting to stumble upon. A large gothic-looking, medieval masterpiece! Orvieto also boasts a rich underground world, as the town sits atop a vast underground network of Etruscan-era caves, wells, and tunnels, a faded memory of how the ancient Italians once lived.
I’ve been going to Italy for about 6-7 years now and this was one of the most beautiful towns I have visited and one of the best wine tours I’d experienced. Highly recommended for anyone visiting Umbria.
If you want to find out about the wines we stock from the BIGI winery, please take a look here.