- Visit Assisi & the Basilica of St. Francesco
- See the Gothic cathedral of Orvieto
- View Benozzo Gozzoli's splendid fresco cycle of St. Francesco in Montefalco
- Pick up some ceramics at a pottery factory in Deruta, famous for its majolica
- Roam the medieval streets of Cortona
- Private sit-down tastings at Antinori's Castello della Sala, Marco Caprai, Lugarotti, Colle del Saraceno, Tenute de Alessandro & more.
Day 1: Cortona & Italy’s Syrah.
We meet in Cortona (see Trip Notes). Before Under the Tuscan Sun made it internationally famous, Cortona was an insider’s secret, a picturesque hilltop town with twin Renaissance churches overlooking fields of sunflowers on the plain. Our first mission is to explore something you probably don’t know: Tuscan syrah.
We head to the master: Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro. In the 1980s, the owner of this 300-year-old farm spearheaded groundbreaking research (with professor Attilio Scienza) on syrah in the dry Cortona environment, which kicked off a surge of winery investments in the area. You’ll see why folks are enthusiastic when you taste their three syrahs (and two viogniers), made in consultation with a Rhone and Barolo winemaker: Christine Verney of Domaine Georges Vernay and Luca Corrado of Vietti.
Next, it’s on to Castello di Magione, an impressive castle on Lake Trasimeno that once belonged to the Knights Templar. In its restored cellar, wine is again being made, ranging from fresh white grechetto to powerful cabernet to nectar-like vin santo. The day concludes in Bevagna, our base for the next few days. Located on the Appian Way, a Roman thoroughfare, the town holds many traces of its Roman past, including a mosaic floor decorated with delightful sea creatures.
Dinner in town introduces the earthy cuisine of Umbria, which includes a whole alphabet of beans (think fagiolini from Lake Trasimeno served warm with red onions and vinaigrette), sausages, and red-wine-loving meats like duck ragu and roast pork. D - Hotel Palazzo Brunamonti in Bevagna
Day 2: Assisi & Spello.
Assisi was the birthplace of St. Francis (from whom the current Pope takes his name), friend to all creatures great and small. We’ll spend the morning in this magnificent city, full of beautiful churches, scenic overlooks, and the Basilica of St. Francis, which holds artwork by Giotto and other masters. After lunch in Assisi, we’ll take a quick stroll through Spello, the most charming of Umbria’s hilltop towns.
The afternoon spotlights wine from Spello and Montefalco. First we pay a visit to the boutique winery Sportoletti, which Gambero Rosso calls “one of the best in Umbria.” Here we’ll find grechetto and international varieties finely crafted by the Sportoletti brothers and consultant Riccardo Cotarella.
Then we visit Montefalco, an area that produces Sagrantino Montefalco, now considered Umbria’s signature red. We’ll pay homage to one of its oldest wineries, Antonelli. Once belonging to the Bishop of Spoleto, this estate dates back to the 1881. It carries the banner forward with elegant, drinkable renditions of Montefalco Sagrantino, a notoriously tannic wine (but high in health-boosting resveratrol!). B, D - Hotel Palazzo Brunamonti in Bevagna
Day 3: Montefalco Sagrantino, Umbria’s Jewel in the Crown.
Today is dedicated to Montefalco, both the town and the wine that takes its name. We’ll first visit the town, a walled city overlooking the Appian Way. The highlight here is the Church of San Francesco and its three-story fresco cycle depicting the life of the saint—the most famous work by Renaissance artist Benozzo Gozzoli. (We’ll be sure to point out Gozzoli’s little homage to Sagrantino, and his insertion of Montefalco and its views into the background of St. Francis Talks to the Birds.)
Our first winery is Colle del Saraceno, owned by Maila Orazi and winemaker Francesco Botti, whose family has sagrantino in its blood, having farmed it for generations. This small farmhouse winery makes a big impression with its gracious hospitality and memorable wines, ranging from a skin-fermented Grechetto to an easy-drinking sagrantino/sangiovese blend to a classic Montefalco Sagrantino, full of blackberry and spice. Here we’ll also meet another local treasure: Sagrantino passito, a sweet wine that finishes dry, thanks to those tannins. Perfect with biscotti!
Next, we visit the winery that took Sagrantino off the endangered-species list and pushed it into the modern age: Marco Caprai. We’ll see some of the experimental vineyards that enabled an understanding of the grape and created a bank of genetic material. We’ll learn about Caprai’s latest research in green winery practices. And we’ll taste some sensational wines! Dinner is on your own in Bevagna. B - Hotel Palazzo Brunamonti in Bevagna.
Day 4: Orvieto & Deruta Pottery.
The father of Umbria wine is said to be Giorgio Lungarotti, who first put it on the map in the 1960s. His estate is now run by his two daughters, and it’s a major presence in the town of Torgiano, with a winery (the largest in Umbria), a luxury hotel and restaurant, and two museums dedicated to olive oil and to the cultural history of wine. We’ll begin with a visit to the wine museum, beautifully curated by Lungarotti’s art historian wife Giorgia Maria Grazie, where we’ll see objects ranging from Greek amphorae to Picasso prints. Then we’ll have a sit-down tasting of their wines, which range from a rare vermentino blend to their famous Rubesco, a sangiovese/canaiolo blend that earned the region its DOC status.
For a change in pace, we visit Deruta, a town known for its ceramics, particularly its majolica, a style dating from the Renaissance. Here we’ll visit a pottery factory, where you’ll be able to admire the many fabulous creations and maybe take home a keepsake.
We end the day in Orvieto, our base for the second part of this tour. We’ll arrive in time for a stroll in town with your guides, who will take you to the Orvieto Cathedral, founded by a Pope in 1290 to celebrate the new miracle of Corpus Christi. We’ll spotlight its most famous fresco, The Last Judgement by Angelo Signorelli. If there’s time, we’ll also visit the subterranean Etruscan tombs. Dinner is in town. B, D - Hotel Maitani in Orvieto.
Day 5: Antinori in Umbria.
Since the 1940s, the Antinori family has owned Castello della Sala, a medieval castle with huge vineyard holdings. Under the magic touch of Tuscany’s preeminent winemaking dynasty, this estate has been producing a glorious wine that has been awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri (3 Glasses) by Gambero Rosso for nearly 20 years straight: Cervaro della Sala, an oak-aged chardonnay/grechetto blend. If you’re an ABC cardholder (Anything But Chardonnay), you’ll immediately tear up your card upon tasting this magic potion! You’ll also want to try Antinori’s Orvieto Classico—normally a forgettable quaffer, but here a well-made, pleasing wine.
More outstanding Orvieto Classico is awaiting us at Decugnano dei Barbi, one of Orvieto’s most important estates. Afterwards, there will be free time in Orvieto before we wrap up with our farewell dinner. B, D - Hotel Maitani in Orvieto.
Day 6: Buon Viaggio!
Morning shuttle to the Orvieto train station, where there are many trains to Rome and Florence. B.
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