The Vibrancy of Verdicchio and the Wines of the Marches

Gosh, my last post was the end of July, it feels like a year ago. I am well into the job at the new wine store and hence little time to work on posts, and plenty of information overload, as I now can sell wines from all over the world, though, I still focus on Italian and French, which in itself is plenty. I just finished retesting for WSET D5 Fortified Wines and hopefully after much work, I will pass this time. So my head has been buried in wine glasses, notebooks and computer screens and wine aisles.

Today is Election Day, COVID is still rampant and the US wine world (for the better) is completely being shaken up by this article in the NYT exposing the sexual harassment problem within the non-profit Guildsomm and the Court of Master Sommeliers.

New COVID restrictions are in effect for the city of Chicago, including no indoor dining and did I mention winter temperatures have come early and it has been unusually cold? However, there was a spark of light that came through Chicago and that was the Simply Italian Great Wines event at the Langham Hotel presented by IEEM USA, last Wednesday October 28th. It was a day slated for joy and celebration of Italian wine including talks on: 1) “Marches: The Autochthonous Wines per Excellence”, 2) “Franciacorta Heritage”,  3) “Delle Venezie DOC: A Journey into the World of the Pinot Grigio Stile Italiano”  and 4) “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: The Energy of Sangiovese in Tuscany ”.

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There was some trepidation expressed on social media that this event was even being held given the COVID situation.  I can attest that from the start, the event was handled with the highest of COVID protocols in mind. The COVID situation has not been exacerbated by people acting professionally and with common sense, it has been mismanaged and spread by flagrant ignorance of the protocols by people who knowingly or carelessly ignore them. Life needs to go on in the time of COVID including wine events.

When I walked into the hotel, my temperature was checked by a body-camera temperature sensor and I then proceeded to the upstairs where the event was held with masks on. Since I was working that day at the store I was only able to attend the seminar on the “Marches: The Autochthonous Wines per Excellence” given by Chicago’s own Italian Expert Tom Hyland, author of The Wines and Foods of Piemonte. Tom has recently started to compile a quarterly newsletter, The Italian Wine Report that can be subscribed to by email. More information on the cost and samples of the issue are here. His first issue is 70 pages and includes coverage of the 2016 Barolo vintage. 

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It was so much fun to see some of my favorite Chicago wine people, like journalist Cindy Rynning of Grape Experiences, global wine entrepreneur Regine Trousseau of Shall We Wine (who was giving the Pinot Grigio talk) and sommelier about town and expert pie baker, Dexter West. Everyone was seated at their own desk and servers poured with masks on and gloves. To understand a wine region and its wines, nothing beats an expert guiding you through and providing the context to the wines you are sipping and Tom did a fantastic job.

The Marches (as Tom pointed out, the only Italian region referred to in plural) is home to one of my favorite Italian, indigenous, white grapes, Verdicchio (the little green one).  

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The photo above is from the site, Italythisway.com and is a picture of one of the iconic landmarks of the Marches, the Ducal Palace in the Medieval town of Urbino

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The picture above is of the vineyards of Moncaro Winery in Montecarotto, Marches. The region is bordered by Emilia-Romagna and the republic of San Marino to the north, Tuscany to the west, Umbria to the southwest, and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south and the Adriatic Sea to the east. The region as you can see by the picture is very hilly and mountainous which are good geological features for grape growing (better drainage, sun exposure, better and more even ripening). The Apennine mountains are in the distance looking west.

Tom explained that the wine consortia, Istituto Marchigiano Di Tutela Vini aka Marches Wine made the decision to highlight and focus on their indigenous varietals like Verdicchio which thrives in the hills of the Marches. The region has 4 DOCGS, Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG (aged Verdicchio, 18 months, grown in the medieval hill top communes – Castelli di Jesi – along the coast and inland regions of the province of Ancona and Macerata), Conero Riserva DOCG, made with Montepulciano and aged 2 years, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOCG (Verdicchio grown in the enclosed valley of Matelica) and Vernaccia Serrapetrona DOCG ( Vernaccia Nero, identical to Cannonau aka Grenache, Garnacha, sparkling wine based on partially dried grapes). The wines we tasted are outlined below which included the Montepulciano and Lacrima di Morra d’Alba grapes. But it is Verdicchio that truly thrives and rises to greatness in the Marches and a wine to look for on wine shelves. Tom called it “one of the finest white varieties in Italy”.

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 Verdicchio is a noble grape and its origins can be traced back to medieval times. It is identical to Trebbiano di Soave but a close relative to Trebbiano di Lugana (now called Turbiana). The little green one is called green for a reason, all the Verdicchio wines we tasted were lemon/gold with a green tinge. It has a distinctly higher acid profile than other Italian white grapes which makes it a great candidate for spumante wines. The grapes grown in the 2 DOCG areas have distinctly different personalities. The  Castelli di Jesi area includes 22 communes most in the province of Ancona and a few in the province of Macerata. Most of the vineyards are on the hills along the coast and at the most 20 to 40 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, the sea breezes keep fungal diseases to a minimum and temperatures cool. The wines we tasted had floral and herbal notes, sometimes pineapple and ripe apple, sometimes a honeyed character. We tasted a spumante from Matelica, but I would have loved to try the still wines as well. The Matelica area is a north/south fully enclosed valley to the far west in the Marches and is known for producing the longest ageing wines. The grapes get ripe through solar radiation as the vineyards are at higher altitudes. But one more identifiable characteristic is the crisp acidity inherent in the grape. The acidity makes for a very tasty wine that you want another sip of and makes it a great food wine. Tom pointed out that Verdicchio wines can age better than most other Italian whites. 

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Casa Vinicola Garofoli, vineyards, Castelfidardo, Marches, from their facebook photos. 

Wines Tasted

Cuvèe Nadir, Verdicchio di Matelica D.O.C. Spumante – Belisario  Belisario is located in Matelica, the picture heading this article is from their vineyards. Grape – Verdicchio,  Charmat Method, a super fresh wine, the only one we tasted from the Matelica D.O.C., with a very dry finish.cuvee-1-1024x976

Verde Ca’Ruptae, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi D.O.C. Classico Superiore 2019- Moncaro  Located in Montecarotto, in the Castelli di Jesi  Classico zone where the most historic vineyards reside. Sur lie in steel tanks for 4 months including batonnage. Light yellow with the classic varietal green/gold reflections. Aromas of wild herbs, yeast and acacia, yellow apple. Nice acidity and a creamy mouthfeel. 13.5% ABV

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Coste Del Molino, Verdicchio di Jesi  D.O.C. Classico 2019 – Pieralisi Monte Schiavo  The winery is Tenuta  Pieralisi owned by Monte Schiavo. The vineyards are located in the town of Poggio San Marcello in the province of Ancona and the wine is 100% verdicchio. Straw yellow with green highlights this was fragrant with riper fruit of pineapple and citrus with very floral, wild flowers and herbs. Aged in stainless steel for 5 months. 13% ABV

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Podium, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi D.O.C. Classico Superiore 2017 – Garofoli  Podium refers to a high hill. The vineyards are located in Montecarotto. Golden yellow with the characteristic green reflections.  Aromas of ripe citrus, yellow apple and wild herbs with a note of honey and coriander. 14% ABV 15 months in stainless steel, bottle for 4 months.

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The other wines of the region we tasted:

Guerriero Nero, Marche I.G.T. Rosso 2018 – Guerrieri   40% Montepulciano, 40% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon Long maceration, 10 months in french oak barrels and 6-8 months in bottles There was a bit of oak on the nose and on the palate lots of vanilla, It is an IGT because of their use of french oak. Tom commented on the beautiful acidity.

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Guarding, Lacrima di Morra d’Alba D.O.C. Superiore 2018 – Lucchetti      100% Lacrima di Morra d’Alba which is a grape unto itself, its aromas give it away as it reminds me of a potpourri of violets and roses. I really like the sparkling wine that Lucchetti makes with this grape.

Piancarda, Rosso Conero D.O.C. 2017 – Garofoli    The DOC requirements for Conero wine is at least 85% Montepulciano and up to 15% Sangiovese. The communes are located in Ancona province. This wine is 100% Montepulciano, the vineyards are located on the hills behind Monte Conero and the wine flavors are full of ripe red fruit, plums and cherries.

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Cùmaro, Conero Riserva D.O.C.G. 2015 – Umani Ronchi     Conero Riserva D.O.C.G. is one of the 4 DOCGs of the Marches. The difference between the DOC and the DOCG, is that for the DOCG 100% Montepulciano is required, the wine must have a minimal alcohol content of 12.5% aqnd be aged for longer than 2 years. This wine has won numerous Tre Bicchieri awards. The wine is aged in 225 liter oak barriques for a period of 12-14 months, then it is aged further in temperature controlled environment for another 6-8 months. The oak was handled well, the grapes come from a single vineyard, Licorice, black cherry and spice with a long finish.

Tasting, may I say delicious wines, learning about a region, being surrounded with great people is a joy to be a part of and this was a terrific experience, masks and all. I thank the Consortia, IEEM and the producers for making this happen because I am sure it was not easy in the time of COVID. But one thing is for sure, try a Verdicchio, find a Verdicchio and think about this beautiful area while you are sipping it.

Saluti!

References:

The usual – Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes, Ian D’Agata Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, Italian Wine Central website

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