This is the third and final column from the Marche region of Italy, home of some of Italy’s finest aged white wines. For publication in week starting 11 June 2018.
Guido Cocci Grifoni founded Tenuta Cocci Grifoni and planted grapes from the early 1980s. The estate is in the most southern part of the Marche, with 50 hectares of vines on a property of 95 hectares.
This is the only DOCG Pecorino area in Italy. Guido Cocci Grifoni is credited with rediscovering the Pecorino grape in the 1980s after it was believed to be extinct. The estate has been producing Pecorino since 1989 from the original Vigneto Madre, or “mother vineyard”.
This vineyard produces grapes with thick skins suitable for making long-lasting and structured wines. They are made in steel tanks, aged in the bottle, and offer strong floral aromas, high acidity and a noticeable minerality. Tenuta Cocci Grifoni wines typically can be aged for at least a decade.
The vineyards are surrounded by canyons and ravines, some at least 100 metres deep, which the locals call “the Badlands”. Vines are planted horizontal to the slopes instead of the more common way of running vines vertically down the slopes. General manager Marilena Cocci Grifoni, daughter of Guido, said that horizontal planting meant fewer vines and lower yields, but offered excellent ways to prevent erosion.
Rainfall can be intense in the area and water moves quickly down the slopes. The estate also plants shrubs to prevent erosion, a technique known as “girapoggio”. Vines are hand-picked because the slopes are too steep for mechanisation. Yields tend to be about 5.5 to 6 tonnes per hectare, half of what local laws permit. The Adriatic is about 5km away and sea breezes cool the vines in summer.
The estate is farmed organically and exudes health, though the expense and paper work involved in certification is offered as a reason why it has not happened. Butterflies flitter seemingly everywhere across the property and wildflowers bloom between rows, set against the snow-capped Apennine mountains in the distance.
The 2013 Guido Cocci Grifoni DOCG Pecorino is an homage to the estate’s founder (2013 was the first vintage), as well as pioneers and visionaries around the world, Marilena said. It spent 18 months on lees in stainless steel tanks and was bottled in July 2016. This superb wine could be cellared for another 15-20 years.
The labels on all Cocci Grifoni wines celebrate local wildlife and flowers. The bufo bufo toad adorns the 2016 Pecorino DOCG (this toad eats insects in the vineyards). The wine is aromatic and zingy with an almost chewy texture. Marilena opened a 2010 vintage to show how this wine ages. It had a slightly brighter gold colour and an intense mouthfeel, with glorious length. “With time the 2016 will become like the 2010,” Marilena said.
Tenuta Cocci Grifoni have partnered with Birdlife Italia in a project called Wine for Life that aims to protect wild birds and their habitats. Claudio Celada, director of the project, said the aim was to understand the “close relations between sustainable agricultural practices and the survival of the specials that live and nest in these environments”.
Castrum Morisci is another estate that has embraced organic practices – for the past eight years – but has not sought certification. They are also exploring biodynamic options. The estate has 7.5 hectares of vines in the southern part of the Marche, near the beautiful town of Fermo and a few kilometres from the sea.
Vines are up to 40 years old, and the estate makes about 25,000 bottles a year. They have the distinction of being the only estate in Marche with braille labelling. Labels are bright and different.
As well as using stainless steel and barriques, the estate is aiming to revive a tradition of using terracotta amphoras instead of barrels for fermentation. They have 15 in three sizes; the largest half dozen are 500 litres. Amphoras are expensive – about 3,500 Euros each, or more than three times the cost of a new barrique – but the results are impressive. The amphoras were purchased from Tuscany.
Wines have pronounced fruit characters. Skin contact is encouraged via stirring up to four times a day with special metal paddles the agronomist, known only as Luca on his business card, invented.
One of the company’s most interesting wines is called Padreterno, which translates as holy father. The 2017 is a non-filtered blend of Moscato, Malvasia and Vermentino, each grape vinified separately in amphora before blending. It is fresh, textural and the combination offers aromas that display the best characteristics of each varietal.
Another fascinating wine involved invoking a tradition in a new way. The 2013 Vino Cotto is produced by cooking a range of grapes in an oven or copper kettle, effectively baking the must. The name translates as “cooked wine”. The must reduces to about a third of its initial volume. Originally it was a way of getting something from unripe grapes rather than discarding them.
Vino Cotto can be aged for years. It appears to be unique to the Marche and was mostly made by families for their own use. Traditionally barrels were topped up with each harvest. It tastes like bitter-sweet black chocolate mixed with toffee pudding, and is traditionally served with biscuits.
Terra Fageto overlooks the Adriatic near the town of Pedaso and the capital Ancona, and must have one of the best sea views of any vineyard in Italy. Four generations have worked the land. Most of the wines are certified bio-dynamic. Michele Di Ruscio is from the youngest generation and said the Passerina grape was resurrected on the estate 20 years ago. He noted the grape usually produces high yields but if yields are controlled the wines can be high quality. The 2017 is a delicate and pale wine in a distinctive expensive bottle that will age gracefully.
The estate’s 2017 Fenesia Pecorino DOCG was picked early, from August 10-15, to allow the natural acidity to shine. “The 2017 shows great promise, and confirms how well suited the area around Pedaso is for growing this grape,” Michele said.
La Calcinara was planted by the grandfather of the brother and sister who currently run the estate. Paulo Berluti is the agronomist and also a pianist. His sister Eleonora is the winemaker and also an artist. It is a beautiful estate made more beautiful by the artistic temperaments of the people who work there. Music by the great jazz pianist Stefano Bollani was playing during our visit.
The estate will be certified organic in 2019 and the wines are excellent, each with a unique label designed by Eleonora. The 2017 Clochard is 90 per cent Verdicchio with the rest Chardonnay. Clochard means homeless. Another exciting wine is the 2017 Mun (translates as moon), a delicate rose made from Montepulciano grapes that are picked early. It looks like the first light at dawn and has a delicate tang like fresh red fruits sprinkled with salt.
Paulo Berluti said all their wines were dedicated to “freedom, the moon, dreamers, the land and crazy people”. One fascinating wine is the 2013 Folle (the fool) also made from Montepulciano grapes but macerated for 45 days and then aged in old barrels for three years. It gets its name from the attitude of locals who said winemakers should never macerate Montepulciano for more than 15 days, Eleonora said. All of the wines on this estate have profound energy.
Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a guest of Marchet, the marketing arm of the Ancona chamber of commerce, which provided meals and accommodation.