Marche in eastern Italy, known globally for its fine white wines, also produces some noteworthy reds. For publication in the week of 11 January 2016.
Organically grown grapes reflect the passion of the viticulturalist to provide excellent raw materials for the winemaker. Perhaps 40 per cent of the vineyards in the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast have embraced organic or biodynamic forms of viticulture over the past two decades, and the quality is starting to show. Marche reds are mostly made from the classic varieties Sangiovese and Montepulciano.
The reds of Alessandro Moroder convey the harmony of the beautiful place in which they are made. The family has 32 hectares under vine in a narrow strip of land overlooking the sea in the Mount Conero nature reserve, established to preserve the area’s unique Mediterranean flora and fauna. No pesticides or chemicals are used because the vineyards are in the nature reserve. The estate became fully organic in 2008. The family crest contains a lion, and Alessandro’s son Marco has placed a wine glass in the lion’s hand on bottle labels, a reflection of his sense of humour.
The regional capital of Marche is Ancona. Its name comes from the Greek word for elbow because of the shape of the coast in the region. Moroder’s flagship red is the Dorico, named after the Dorics, the Greek tribe who founded Ancona. A mere 8,000 bottles are made each year from old Montepulciano vines that provide only 2kg of grapes per vine. The current vintage is the 2010. This wine spends 30 months in new oak barriques then 18 months in bottle, yet the wine is soft and appealing with loads of black fruits, plus dried fruits and herbs supported by a chalky, mineral structure that suggests good ageing potential.
This was confirmed when Marco served the 2000 vintage from a decanter. After time in the cellar the 2000 Dorico offered savoury and sweet Bovril and balsamic notes plus an ethereal quality – the vinous equivalent of baroque harmony from a string quartet. It is as well proportioned and elegant as one of Bordeaux’s First Growths of a similar vintage. A second taste from the decanter about two hours later suggested the same sense of powerful elegance but fewer aromas, which sometimes happens with older wines in decanters. It’s often best to keep old wines in the bottle because when decanted they can sometimes give less than their best.
The 2011 Moroder Reserva is soft and full of energy. Think of power with restraint, like a flinty fist in a velvet glove. About 70 per cent of the wine spends 24 months in large 2,000-litre old barrels with the rest in new barriques, yet one cannot detect the wood because of the wine’s balance. This Montepulciano sings a noble solo.
Fattoria Le Terrazze, also in Conero, produces a sparkling wine from Montepulciano grapes using the traditional metodo classico. Owner Antonio Terni said he started making Donna Giulia 30 years ago because did not have chardonnay grapes, and he liked the results. It is a delicate pale pink from soft pressing and no skin contact, and feels clean and elegant. The winemaker is Federico Curtaz. His best red is the 2011 Sassi Neri reserva, named after a nearby beach with its huge stones covered in black mussels, hence the name “black stone”. This profound wine sings of black fruits and chalky minerals. It will be harmony in a glass for years to come.
The Offida Collective inland from the coast represents a group of winemakers dedicated to organic or biodynamic principles. They only grow local varieties; in the case of red wines that means Montepulciano and Sangiovese. For many years the area produced bulk wines for sale to the Veneto region but in the past two decades Offida has put a major focus on organic grape growing.
This column reflects only a handful of the fine wines made by the collective. The 2011 Vigneti Vallorani Polisia is made from equal portions of Sangiovese and Montepulciano. It is intended as a wine to drink and enjoy now. Polisia was the daughter of a Roman governor in the region in the 12th century who became a Christian against her father’s wishes and hid in the nearby mountains. She is now regarded as the protector of the region’s people. The 2010 Vignetti Vallorani Sorlivio is 100 per cent Sangiovese from 50-year-old vines and is only produced in the best years. It is named in honour of winemaker Rocco Vallorani’s grandfather, Sorlivio.
The 2011 Pantaleone Sipario is 100 per cent Montepulciano. Half is aged in old barrels and the rest in new barriques which give it a distinctive savoury-sweet nose like marzipan Marmite. The 2011 Paolini Stanford Baccofino is also made only from Montepulciano. It has a perfumed nose of red and dried fruits balanced by ripe tannins. Both these wines would sing with the right food – game perhaps or other strong meats.
The CiuCiu winery in the hills of Piceno in Offida also focuses on organic farming. Export manager Paolo Agostinelli insisted on tasting his wines with food because “that’s the way we believe our wines are best appreciated”. Natalino and Anna Bartolomei founded the vineyard in 1970 and their son Massimiliano is the winemaker. His 2011 Oppidum is from Montepulciano grapes and named after the fortified city walls from medieval times.
About a third of the company’s wines are exported to Asia and this is their best-selling red there. The 2009 Esperanto is made from Montepulciano (70 per cent) with the balance Cabernet Sauvignon, and was named after the international language “to use wine to bring people together,” Paolo said.
Another collective known as the Consorzio Terroir Marche has also focused on organic grapegrowing. Again, we can only comment on a handful of wines. The Pievalta winery has been certified biodynamic since 2008. The 2014 Pievalta, made from Montepulciano, has lively acidity balanced against ripe fruit.
The 2013 Nocenzio, a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, has an appealing nose of black and red fruit with a touch of pencil shavings. It is very drinkable though it needs food such as charcuterie to balance the tannins.
Footnote on organic wine: In his latest report on Chilean wines for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, published at the end of 2015, Luis Gutiérrez gave the 2013 Seña 96 points, putting it at the top of his ranking. The winemaker for Seña is Francisco Baettig. The 2012 Seña received 98 points in 2014. Seña is believed to be the only biodynamic vineyard in Chile.