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Umbria: Slow Wine (and Food) at a Fast Pace

Why does this Orvieto little resemble the bland stuff I’m used to back home? Why does the wine have a floral-and-honey perfume, which follows on the palate with good hint of flint? I aim to find out. For now, though, I’m just happy sipping.


It’s a late January afternoon. The sun is already going to bed. I wish I were because I’m tired, but this zesty Custodi Belloro Orvieto perks me (and my taste buds) right up and braces me for whatever the evening brings.

I’m with a group on a whirlwind tour of Umbria, Italy, as part of the International Wine Tourism Conference ( where I am one of the speakers. (My topic is “Pacific Northwest Wine Tripping” —but that is another story.)

Orvieto: Local Wine, Ancient Architecture

We are in Orvieto. (The region’s white wine shares the name with the town). The breathtaking (yes, it really takes your breath away) cathedral (duomo) holds court in the town square. One majolica ceramic shop after the other line the spider web of alley-width cobblestone streets leading off the square. Caves and tunnels deep into the volcanic rock run beneath the town –a labyrinth of Etruscan history – which I suspect lends that minerality to their namesake white wine.

Modern architecture captures ancient history in Orvieto’s Enoteca Regionale dell’ Umbria, ( Since wine is our credo, we are placed into the hands of three local wine experts. They taste us on three wines—the perfumed Custodi Belloro Orvieto (mentioned at the outset); Le Velette Calanco IGT, whose blend of cabernet and sangiovese fruit is like silk to the tongue; and Cardeto Orviéto Classico Superioré Vendemmia Tardiva L’Armida, which in layman’s terms, is sweet late harvest wine, lush with ripe apricot and almond flavours, yet not a bit cloying.

Our Orvieto guides helped us appreciate the local wines even more.

These wines are vastly different from Chianti or Brunello and the white Vernaccia di San Gimigano that Tuscany, Umbria’s more famous neighbour, produces. But they are no less a pleasure to drink.

Orvieto’s enoteca (wine shop) also shares space with Il Palazzo del Gusto, an institution that promotes local gastronomy and products (Slow Food’s Cittaslow’s International head office is there). Our guide enlightens us on the artisan cured meats, wild boar, cheeses, grains, and pulses(fava beans in particular) for which the area is known. The region also produces cracker-jack olive oil. So far we love Umbria.

A Taste of the Region

Many of those products appear on our table at the intimate Trattoria Tipica La Pergola where the clientele is largely local — always a good sign. Fat noodles topped are topped with fava beans that are pureed, sauced, and dotted with guanciale (pig jowls). (See recipe below.) Wild boar shows up too, early in the evening as pate, later in a stew, and finally (or so we’re led to believe), as sausage for another noodle dish. Such welcome and comforting food soothes we weary travellers.

The town of Orvieto is named after the local Orvieto wine.

Our favorite wine is the Elicius Castello di Montegiove, a suave-and-sophisticated combination of indigenous Montepulciano/Sagrantino grapes. Falesco Marciliano, a chewy fruit-meets-oak Cabernet Sauv/Cab Franc blend, (and kosher!), slowly evolves throughout the meal.

Then come a couple of off-the-menu surprises–a rich casserole of the boar’s “fifth quarter” (aka the animal’s naughty bits), and a bright-tasting dish of tripe and tomato sauce go mano-a-mano with the Marciliano.

Orvieto has plenty of artisan meats and cheeses to tempt your palate.

We raise a toast and utter many “grazie mille” to the restaurant staff over a sip of Muffa Nobilis Palazzone, a unique sauternes-like sticky made from Sauvignon Blanc. It’s like saying bidding adieu with toast and marmalade.

Our lively IWINETC presenters have broken bread together. We’ve become firm buds, sharing food, and laughter and getting to know each other, as only the Italians can do it.

I waddle back to the Hotel Piccolomini, heeding the call of silky sheets.

The Umbrian town of Montelfalco lies ahead tomorrow and I look forward to it.

Now though, I barely feel my head touch the pillow. – Julie Pegg, Wine Expert and Wine Expert

Some of these wines I discussed are imported to the U.S. and Canada. Here are some winery websites:

If You Go

Orvieto lies about 60 miles north of Rome and is easily accessed by train.

You can rent a car in Rome but I suggest taking the train and picking up a car in Orvieto.

Where to stay:

Hotel Piccolomini




Recipe courtesy Trattoria Tipica La Pergola in Orvieto, Italy.

Author’s Note: Guanciale is unsmoked cured pig cheek. Pancetta is a fair substitute but really no match for the guanciale in this dish.

2 tablespoons olive oil1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

1-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups cooked, skinned fava beans

4 oz. of guanciale, diced coarsely and sauteed in 1-2 tbsp. olive oil1lb. pkg. fettucine, tagliatelle, or other wide noodles. Shaved Parmigiano or Romano cheese for garnish.


In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes or until it starts to brown. Sprinkle in the oregano. Add 1 cup of the stock. Bring to a boil.

Add 1-1/2 cups of the fava beans and salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat to low and simmer about 3 minutes or until beans are buttery tender. Scrape mixture into a blender and puree with the remaining 1/2 cup stock until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and add the remaining 1/2 cup favas. Simmer gently and taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add noodles, turn down heat slightly and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of noodle cooking water. Pour the pasta into a warm serving bowl and add the sauce. Add sauteed guanciale. Toss well and thin with the pasta water, if necessary until sauce, meat and noodles are well combined.

Divide among four pasta bowls and garnish generously with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese.

Suggested wine: Sagrantino, Umbrian Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Montepulciano


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Julie Pegg, Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada

Julie Pegg has been writing about food, wine, and spirits for 15 years. She was a product consultant for 14 of her 24 years working for the British Columbia Liquor Board in Vancouver. She still keeps her hand in (and elbow firmly bent) at Dundarave Wine Cellars in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Julie is also a keen amateur cook who loves culinary travel. Farmers’ markets and wine shops are always her first stop. Julie is RFT’s Senior Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada.

5 thoughts on “Umbria: Slow Wine (and Food) at a Fast Pace

  1. linda

    that sounds like a fabulous trip. Everything tastes better in Europe because they didn’t adopt industrial farming methods like the US did. It’s mostly organic, and artisanal, and sold close to where its grown or made – yeah they get it about locavore. Sooo good. Its the best reason to travel – to eat and drink good wine.

    1. Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT EditorBobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      As a wine expert representing, Julie Pegg traveled to the International Wine Tourism Conference and Workshop and enlightened those in Italy all about wine touring in the Pacific Northwest. You go Julie Girl. We’re proud of you!– Bobbie Hasselbring, Editor

    2. Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT EditorBobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      You are so right about Europe still doing organic, artisanal, and local foods. I agree that it’s a wonderful reason to travel. It’s also a good reason for us all to work hard to make that happen again in this country. — Bobbie, RFT Editor

  2. Marilyn

    It’s been years since I was in Orvieto, and this is pulling me back.. Yes, that cathedral is simply breathtaking. The wine, food, landscape, people — ah, Umbria! Next time I’ll get brave and try the dish with the boar’s naughty bits, Thanks for a great description of the whole experience.

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