Thursday, October 13, 2016

Orvieto (Umbria, Italy): A quest for wine excellence

Orvieto, located in the southwestern portion of Umbria, has had a long and storied wine history beginning in the Etruscan age, through the Roman period, and into the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The Papal Curia was especially fond of the wine of the region and is credited with introducing non-indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano into the zone. The historic wine of the region has always been a sweet wine but the wine of today is better known for its dry character.

The Duomo at Orvieto

Favorable factors for winemaking in Orvieto
Donata Castagnoli (The wine-producing territory of Orvieto, Journal of Wine Research) has identified a number of factors which favor wine production in Orvieto:

  • The presence of hill slopes with good exposure (south-facing)
    • Flat areas limited to the Paglia and Tevere river valleys
  • A suitable altitude
  • The presence of volcanic clay soils (the soils of the region have been covered in a recent post)
  • Tuffaceous detrital Rupe as key enabler of the vinification process
    • The soft soil (up to 45-m deep on the hill) allows multi-level caves to be dug out allowing gravity-fed, cool-temperature vinification and cool, light-free aging
  • Proximity to the large, sophisticated markets of Rome and Florence.

Quest for ever-increasing quality
In the modern era, winemaking in Orvieto has been characterized by efforts focused on increasing the quality of the wine. The first such initiative was the Miniterial Decree of 23 October 1931 which restricted the production of "typical wine" to the territories of Orvieto, Basche, Ficulle, Monterubraglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Atlerona. Since that initial effort, a series of Ministerial Decrees, DOC Production Regulations, and mods to those regulations have been instituted  (Table 1) in order to advance the quality goals.

                                                   Table 1. Orvieto Regulatory History
Ministerial Decree       
Production Regulations
23 Oct., 1931

Production of “typical wine” established in territories of Orvieto, Baschi, Ficulle, Monterubiaglio, Porano, Castel Giorgio, and Allerona

DOC; Orvieto and Orvieto Classico

DOC regulations revised to improve ampelographic composition

  • Yield reduction to 8 tons/ha for Orvieto superior
  • New vineyards no less than 3000 vines/ha

Establishment of Rosso Orvietano DOC
  • Includes the entirety of communes partly delimited by Orvieto DOC
  • Identifies main (70% of wine) and secondary varieties
  • Max of 10 tons/ha yield
Establishment of Lago di Corbara DOC
  • Entire commune of Baschi and part of Orvieto
  • Red wines

  • Grechetto as the primary variety (40 - 80% of finished wine)
  • Late harvest type included; yields cannot exceed  tons/ha
3 August, 2010

8 different wine types for Orvieto and Orvieto Classico
  • Simple name
  • secco (dry)
  • abboccato, amabile, dolce (all sweet)
  • superiore (superior)
  • vendemmia tardiva (late harvest)
  • muffa nobile (noble rot); max yield of 5 tons/ha
8 March 2011

Grants DOC Lago di Corbara right to include white and single-variety wines in production

Source: Derived from Castagnoli.

In parallel with the changes in regulatory law -- and sometimes driven by it -- changes have occurred in the Orvieto viticultural environment. In the 1960s, grape-growing was one part of a mixed farming environment. Specialized cultivation increased steadily during the 1960s, gradually replacing mixed farming. The DOC Production Regulations of 1971 changed things dramatically in that it stipulated a monoculture and prohibited the planting of dissimilar clones in close proximity to each other. This focus on grape-growing has resulted in an increase in wine production from 2.5 million bottles in the 1970s to 20 million bottles in 2010.

The Wines
Orvieto is essentially a white wine region with two included small red wine DOCs (Lago di Corbara and Rosso Orvietano). Th regulations stipulate that the Orvieto wine must be made form Procanico and Grechetto (minimum 60%) and 40% maximum of other suitable white grapes. The wine can be labeled Classico if the grapes were grown in one of the communes mentioned in the 1931 Ministerial Decree and can be labeled Superiore or Classico Superiore if: (i) the yield is kept to 8 tons/ha; (ii) alcohol is at least 12%; and (iii) the wine is aged a minimum of three months.

Orvieto continues the production of its historic sweet wines under a variety of labels. The most interesting of these are the late harvest and "noble rot" sweet wines. Orvieto was the first region in Italy to be recognized for noble rot sweet wines, a situation arising from a "fortuitous combination of autumn morning mists alternated with correct sunshine hours and levels and a good daytime ventilation" (Castagnoli).

Both of the red wine DOCs are blends and provide vehicles for showcasing international and better-known Italian varieties.

The production values of the various Orvieto wines are provided in the tables below.

Table 2. Vineyard Surface Area by Wine
DOC Vineyard Surface (ha) Percent
Orvieto VT
Orvieto Classico
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Source: Derived partially from Castagnoli

Table 3. 2009 Wine Production by Type
Wine Certified Wine (L)
Orvieto Classico
Orvieto Classico Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Anabile
Orvieto Classico Superiore
Rosso Orvietano
Lago di Corbara
Orvieto Anabile
Orvieto Abboccato
Orvieto Classico Superiore Dolce
Source: Castagnoli

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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