You might be saying, “Orvi-what?” And I’m saying, “Or-vee-etto.” It’s a delicious Italian white wine! As part of the Italian Food Wine Travel writers group (Italian FWT, for short), I was super excited to get some sample bottles and I’ll tell you why.
In 2016, I did “that trip” to Tuscany. You know the one: rent a villa for a week with a bunch of friends. I’d been in the wine industry for only two years at that point, so I was like an over-excited puppy, diving into every wine shop and restaurant wine list like a total spazz. One afternoon, some of us decided to take a drive over to Orvieto, on the western edge of Umbria (Tuscany’s neighbor). And oh my holy Trebbiano! It was the most magical town, set high atop a cliff, with views across the entire countryside. There was also a crazy-beautiful, intricately decorated duomo (cathedral) and, of course, I cannot find a single picture from that day.
I was obsessed. I wanted to quit my job and move there and just be a writer. But what I did instead was find a café and order a bottle of Orvieto to share with friends. This was my first taste of this crisp white wine and I loved it for it’s bright, sunshiny fruit (lots of lemon and lime zest), medium body, and refreshing acidity. It’s an easy sipper on its own or with food and it’s super affordalicious, with most bottles clocking in around $12 or less.
So What is Orvieto?
Well, of course, it’s a medieval town in Umbria (duh). And the wine is named after the town. The area was designated as a DOC (denominazione originale controllata) in 1971, which is what dictates the wine production and ensures consistent quality. Orvieto is almost all white wines (mostly still wines, but some sparkling, too). In 1998, the DOC started permitting red wines, which are mostly blends. I won’t go into a lot of detail on the reds, because, really, the whites are my jam and I’m the boss of my own blog!
The two primary grapes in Orvieto are Grechetto and Trebbiano (which goes under the name Procanico in Orvieto). Winemakers can add up to 40% of other white grapes, such as Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, Canaiolo Bianco (known as Drupeggio in Orvieto) or Chardonnay. Most of the still wines are dry, but they do make some mighty tasty dessert wines. Let’s taste! Fair warning: availability of these specific wines in the U.S. is questionable, but I’m sharing tasting notes anyway. Ruffino seems to be the most widely available brand of Orvieto in the U.S.
Il Dialogo 2019 Orvieto This delightful version is lithe, light and bright with with lemon and lime zest, sea salt crackers (I know that sounds weird, that’s what I got) and a subtle floral note. It’s got nice minerality and is a lighter-weight white wine that would sing with a big green salad, grilled fish or chicken or a vegetable frittata.
Noe dei Calanchi 2021 Orvieto This one is kind of Chenin Blanc-like, with a lot of lemon curd and lime zest on the nose. I was surprised by the weight and texture of this – it was all roly-poly on the palate, with a satiny texture. I picked up almonds, pastry crust and Lemon Heads candy, and wondered about oak use or lees-stirring.
Papabile 2020 Orvieto Classico Superiore A burst of vanilla wafts out of the glass, followed by stone fruits, like ripe peaches, and then some key lime pie. It was almost like a Chardonnay on an acid trip, and I liked it! It evoked a fruit stand with all the peaches, nectarines, mango, and pineapple kissed with the vanilla of new oak.
Note: the Classico Superiore designation means that the wine must be at least 12% ABV (alcohol by volume) and must be aged at least four months before selling, and it cannot be sold until at least March 1 of the year following harvest.
Cardèto Donna Armida 2020 Orvieto Classico Superiore, Vendemmia Tardiva (late-harvest) Judging from the bottle style and size (a 375 ml), I was going to be surprised if this wasn’t sweet, and once I saw vendemmia tardive – or late harvest – on the label, it was confirmed. I really liked this wine. It was dripping with honey, pineapple syrup and I started dreaming of it with a salty, creamy cheese (like Taleggio), or candied almonds or cheesecake. Yuh-mee!
Now for the “why aren’t we drinking more” part. I spoke with Chicago wine professional Todd Hess, who has worked in wine retail and distribution for decades. “Orvieto was one of the first big Italian wines that came into the U.S. back in the late 70s,” he says. “Much of what was coming here wasn’t that great back then, and as Americans became more sophisticated in their wine choices, they abandoned it, kind of like they did Soave. But today, there are some really excellent wines from Orvieto, and I think there’s hope that it could return, as people look to discover ‘new’ wines.”
Hess also agreed that because Orvieto’s production fairly modest in size, compared with, say, the output of Chianti or Campania, or other well-known wine regions, there’s just not a lot of it to export.
Jon McDaniel, Chicago wine professional and a Food & Wine magazine Sommelier of the Year, agreed that Orvieto wines that came to the U.S. in the 1970s were “the bottom shelf wines.” but he also thinks there are some intrinsic challenges that need to be overcome. “In the U.S., Orvieto suffers from the stigma of mediocrity,” McDaniel says. “The wines are fine – crushable, easy-drinking whites. But it takes more than ‘fine’ to succeed in today’s market. I’d like to see Orvieto producers find ways to differentiate their wines, and create more appeal next to exciting white wines that are coming from Friuli or Campania or Ischia.”
So while younger Americans might be familiar with Orvieto, I say: if you like white wine – particularly Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc – ask your wine shop about Orvieto. The wines are well-priced, food-friendly and delicious for everyday drinking.
Check out what the rest of the Italian Food Wine Travel writers have posted, below. We’ll be on Twitter dishing it up about Orvieto on Saturday, May 7 at 10 a.m. Central. Just use #italianfwt to find us. Cin cin!
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Umbrian Red Wine Spaghetti and a Book Review
- Liz at What‘s In That Bottle is wondering “Why Aren’t we all Drinking more Orvieto?”
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “The multifaceted white wine of Umbria”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Appreciating an Ancient Italian Wine Made For Today’s Palate”
- Camilla at The Culinary Adventures of Camilla is “Celebrating Spring with Vignole + 2020 Barberani Castagnolo Orvieto Classico Superiore”
- Lisa at The Wine Chef is pairing “Umbria’s Famous White Wine, Paired With Spiced Pork Tenderloin”
- Nicole at The Somms Table features “Easy Springtime Dinners with Orvieto”
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings is uncovering “Orvieto White Wines – Hidden Treasures From Umbria”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass writes about “White wines from the heart of Central Italy”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Getting reacquainted with an old friend: Orvieto Wines”
- Our host Jennifer at Vino Travels highlights “Orvieto, Italy’s Classic White Wine”