We discover further delights associated with aged Verdicchio and Pecorino in one of Italy’s most beautiful regions. For publication in week starting 4 June 2018.
The Marche is one of Italy’s most attractive regions, with its long and untamed coastline, majestic mountains and valleys, and scores of historic Renaissance villages. The region’s star white grape is Verdicchio, a perfect partner for local seafood when young which transforms with time into one of the country’s finest wines.
The Marche has two main DOCGs for Verdicchio: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. The former is named after the castles on the numerous hills and is better known and larger. But both produce fine wines.
Verdicchio translates as “small green” and refers to its colour in the glass. The grape can be made into a range of wine styles. Its naturally high acidity makes it a good base for sparkling wines. These are produced using traditional and tank (charmat) methods of fermentation. Ampelographers, the people who study grape history, believe Verdicchio is probably indigenous to the Marche, though there appears to be a genetic connection with Trebbiano and Greco.
Locals estimate that perhaps 40 per cent of vineyards in the region have embraced organic or biodynamic forms of viticulture, high by European standards.
The Pecorino grape is also said to be native to the Marche and some producers are making fine whites since it came back into popularity (these will be discussed more next week). The grape has no connection with the cheese of the same name, though historians suggest the grape’s name comes from pecora, the word for sheep, because wandering shepherds (and probably sheep) used to eat grapes.
Another lovely white from Marche is made from Passerina, a rare local variety. The grape ripens late and is named for the sparrows (passero) that eat ripe grapes. The wine’s zingy acidity makes it an ideal companion for salty and fatty foods like the salamis of the region, as well as the tangy olive oil.
Gabriele Tanfani, agronomist and winemaker at Villa Bucci in the village of Ostra Vetere, is proud of the fact the estate is entirely self-sufficient. Villa Bucci has 350 hectares of crops, flowers and vegetables, including 31 hectares of vines and 150,000 olive trees. It also has planted more than 20 clones of Verdicchio – all grown in its own nursery – and it generates power from solar panels. The estate has a small museum of winemaking, with tools dating back three centuries. “We don’t throw anything away,” Tanfani said.
Villa Bucci has been organic since 2000. A feature of their vines is the mingling of old and young plants in the same rows. This produces unique flavours in their wines. The estate produces 120,000 to 150,000 bottles a year, depending on the quality of the vintage. The Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico represents about half of the estate’s annual production. This wine is a blend of a range of tanks of the same vintage each year.
When young this Verdicchio is fresh with a slight saline touch. Tanfani said this might be because of the influence of the Adriatic Sea about 20km away. Breezes from the Adriatic are known as “bora”.
The Villa Bucci Riserva is only made in the best years. It spends 18 months in 7,000-litre Slavonian oak barrels, some of them more than 80 years old, then 8 months in bottle before being released. It has been named best Italian white wine three times since 2005. The current release, the 2015, is delicious.
A tasting of earlier vintages – 2014, 2010, 2005, 2004 and 1992 – showed how this wine evolves. The green-yellow colour remains consistent, a feature of Verdicchio. The 1992 was a glorious experience and shows how well Verdicchio ages. It was still fresh and zesty and could have been mistaken for a much younger wine based on the colour though the intense aromas and flavours showed the beauty that comes with age.
Local laws permit yields of 13 tonnes to the hectare, but Villa Bucci only picks about half that amount per hectare, which contributes to the quality of their wines.
Brunori is another family-run organic estate that focuses on quality Verdicchio. The estate is near the village of San Paolo near Jesi in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico region. It has 6.5 hectares of vines, and all grapes are picked by hand. Mario Brunori founded the property in 1956 and it is currently run by his grand-children Cristina and Carlo, guided by Mario’s son Giorgio.
Cristina is the winemaker and Carlo the agronomist. Both are sommeliers and Carlo also manages a wine shop in Jesi. Average production is about 40,000 bottles a year.
Their flagship wines are the San Nicolo Superiore and the San Nicolo Riserva – the wines named for a specific plot in the San Nicolo hamlet. The former has been produced since 1975 and the 2017, the current vintage, is elegant yet powerful. The riserva, only made in great years, was first produced in 2006 to mark the estate’s 50th anniversary. The 2016 has the classic bitter almond taste of great Verdicchio combined with zesty lime flavours plus profound length.
They make a nice red wine known as Aborada from the Lacrima di Morro d`Alba grape. The 2016 offers a sweet perfume of violets and roses, with sour cherry notes on the palate and a refreshing acid zing. Brunori also makes a local speciality, a liqueur known as Finocchi produced by macerating cherries in Sangiovese and Montepulciano. It tastes of sour cherries with some residual sweetness, and is delightful at the end of a meal.
The Colonnara co-operative is located near the town of Cupramontana, regarded by some as the world capital of Verdicchio. Colonnara is much larger than Brunori, making about 400,000 bottles a year compared with 40,000 at Brunori. The co-operative has 150 members and produced its first wines in 1963. They make a delightful champagne-method sparkling from Verdicchio that spends 60 months on the lees.
But it is their dry Verdicchio wines that sing sweetly. Grapes for the classy Cuapro come only from member estates that are organic. Its name is an amalgam of the first two letters of Cupramontana, Apiro and Rosara – the last two words referring to specific terroir in the area.
Colonnara provided Verdicchio from 2015, 2003 and 1988 to show how their wines evolve. Even with the 1988 the colour was almost unchanged from a young wine, but the flavours were remarkable. Think unfiltered honey on toast with a dribble of lemon juice. It is like tasting honey that contains beeswax, which gives a waxy chewiness to the wine. Old Verdicchio is such a delight. Drinking it truly reflects the rewards of patience. Wines were tasted in a new museum in Cupramontana, Museo dell Etichetta, which had a fascinating display of wine labels from several decades.
Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of Marchet, the marketing arm of the Ancona chamber of commerce, which provided meals and accommodation.