Delving into the Marche: CWW Trip Report 2018

During the last week of May, several members of the Circle of Wine Writers were invited to spend a few days discovering the delights of this wine region in Central Italy. They share their thoughts and experiences from Le Marche.

Michele Shah, our very own Italy-based CWW member, introduces the Marche.

Our trip to the Marche – generously sponsored by Marchet, Ancona’s Chamber of Commerce took place 23rd-27th May, at an especially nice time of year that allowed us to see a generally sunny vision of the Marche hills clad in luscious green vineyards and colourful spring flowers. The trip was especially well-organised and comprehensive, incorporating the main areas of production from the north to the south of the region. It also involved sampling the local cuisine, which is deliciously traditional and something that brings a sense of pride to the region. Our visit included some cultural gems, such as the remarkable Caves of Frasassi, and the picturesque hilltop towns of Petritoli and Torre di Palme, as well as the seaside villages of Portonovo and Sirola.

Verdicchio put Marche on the wine map decades ago with its green, amphora-shaped bottle. But as the amphora gradually went out of style, Verdicchio grew well beyond its role as an astutely marketed, simple white wine to become one of Italy’s most multifaceted and dignified whites with amazing ageing potential.

Verdicchio still firmly dominates the Marche’s wine production. Neighbouring whites in this peaceful region between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea are for the most part light and insubstantial, the main exception being Bianchello del Metauro from its more northerly part and the increasingly ‘trendy’ white varieties Passerina and Pecorino from Offida in the Ascoli Piceno hills, which are growing in quality and popularity.

Verdicchio is an extremely versatile wine – it can be made as a still wine; a sparkling, both re-fermented in tank (Charmat) or in bottle (method classic); as well as being made into a delicious passito. Control of the harvesting time and the vinification method can produce a crisp, youthfully lively wine with a succulent heart or a deep, rich, buttery one that develops slowly and ages with aplomb – or various stages in-between. The quality rise in the larger appellation of Castelli di Jesi (2,762ha) and smaller appellation of Matelica (300ha) have generally outstripped the price rise, so that Verdicchio remains a well-priced wine and a healthy cut above the general level of Italy’s popular whites.

Three elements distinguish Verdicchio di Matelica from the wines produced in the Castelli di Jesi area. The first refers to the quantities of grapes produced. The area under vine in Matelica is roughly one-tenth of that of Castelli di Jesi. The second element refers to the climatic conditions. The area surrounding Matelica is the only area in the Marche region that runs parallel to the Adriatic coast, so there is no direct link to the sea. Consequently, the climate is continental. The third element which distinguishes this wine is that the enclave of Matelica over the years has produced a particular clone of the Verdicchio vine as a result of adaptation to the soil and weather conditions. Compared to the Jesi version, it usually has fuller body, slightly higher alcohol but the same acidity that makes it very suitable for ageing.

Reds in the Marche are very much in second place, in terms of quantity, but production is often quality led. Rosso Piceno is very old and its name dates back to the pre-Roman Piceno population. It is grown mainly in the southern part of Ascoli Piceno and is based on Montepulciano 35-85%, Sangiovese 15-50%, and is characterised by its purple hue and dense fruity quality with a firm tannic structure. 

Rosso Conero is based on Montepulciano (Montepulciano min. 85%, Sangiovese max. 15%), while most producers opt for 100% Montepulciano. It is a fairly small area of production (350ha), limited to the Conero Mountain, the only hill on the Adriatic coast between Trieste and Gargano. The unique climatic conditions with excellent sun exposure and sea breezes, not to mention the chalky clay soils, produce well-balanced reds with elegance, structure and ageing potential, as well as fruit- driven youthful wines.

More recently, producers tend to use less wood on the reds to show the fruity, young, consumer-friendly style enjoyed as everyday wines. Much as wine aficionados may search out the weird and wonderful Lacrima di Morro d’Alba or the curious sparkling red DOCG Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, again they remain primarily local. Red or white, though, in general the Marche’s wines retain the flavours of local varieties.

Conero mountain
DOC IN THE MARCHE 
  • Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi    
  • Verdicchio di Matelica
  • Colli Pesaresi
  • Colli Maceratesi
  • Esino
  • Bianchello del Metauro
  • Falerio
  • Terre di Offida
  • Rosso Conero
  • I Terreni di Sanseverino
  • Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
  • Pergola
  • San Ginesio
  • Rosso Piceno
  • Serrapetrona
DOCG IN THE MARCHE
  • Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva
  • Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva
  • Conero Riserva
  • Offida
  • Vernaccia di Serrapetrona

 

DAY 1

A sparkling start at Garafoli

Christine Austin gets the winery visits underway at the traditional but forward-looking Garofoli.

Photo by Christine Austin

Despite the historic premises, and five generations of family involvement, the Garofoli winery is constantly looking forward and innovating. “Look at the bottles we used to use for Verdicchio,” said Carlo Garofoli, pointing out the traditional, amphora-shaped bottles in the glass-fronted case. “They were very distinctive, but now we focus on wine quality, not on the packaging.”

Seventy-year-old Carlo is the fourth generation to run his family’s winery, and while we were there, the fifth generation, Luca Garofoli, greeted us, then dashed off on his way to Singapore. Several Marche producers have banded together to support an office in Singapore which acts as a vital hub for exports. Not only has Carlo Garofoli steered the family winery for several decades, he has also instigated fundamental research into the terroir and clones of the region. “We have worked with the University of Milan to select the Verdicchio clones that give more expression of minerality and planting densities have changed, from 1,600 vines/ha to 4,000 vines/ha,” he said.

With 50ha of their own vineyards and access to other vineyards on long-term contracts (some across three generations), Garofoli produces around 1.2 million bottles of wine including Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno and IGT wines. They also produce sparkling wines (40,000 Charmat and 25,000 metodo classico).

Photo by Christine Austin

Quality is high across the range, demonstrating the ability of Verdicchio to age. “If you want to age Verdicchio you need to leave it on the lees, and filter only before bottling,” said Carlo Garofoli. Comparing two vintages of Podium – a 100% Verdicchio, single vineyard (550- metre altitude) wine from Montecarotto, aged in stainless steel for 15 months then bottle-aged, the 2015 was lively with ripe yellow stone fruit, edges of spice and a distinct minerally finish, while the 2008 had developed a honeyed depth and complexity without losing its freshness. Other outstanding wines included Garofoli Metodo Classico Sparkling Wine, Brut Riserva 2010 and Rosso Conero 2015.

DAY 2

Villa Bucci and a vertical in Castelli di Jesi
Montefiori vineyard (Photo by Sue Tolson)

Sue Tolson kicks off a full Thursday of Verdicchio at Villa Bucci, including a wonderful vertical tasting of wines made from the grape, dating back to 1992.

One of the many highlights of the trip was our visit to Villa Bucci, one of the classic Marche wineries for Verdicchio, located in the Castelli di Jesi denomination. We spent a wonderful morning with Claudia Porta, niece of Ampelio Bucci, and agronomist Gabriele Tanfani, learning more about the various faces of Verdicchio, its ageing potential and seeing how much the family has done to put Verdicchio back on the quality wine map.

Gabriele in the vines (Photo by Sue Tolson)

The family have been farming the land here near Ostra Vetere since the 18th century. They not only produce wine, but, like many families in Le Marche, also grow crops such as sugar beet, corn, wheat and olives, on their 350ha. The 31ha of vineyards are mostly planted to Verdicchio, a variety that’s planted predominantly in Le Marche’s Castelli di Jesi and Matelica denominations, however, they also have Montepulciano and Sangiovese for their Rosso Piceno DOC. Five of their six vineyards are reserved for Verdicchio. The family boasts numerous old vines, with many between 45 and 55 years old, and they blend the wines obtained from each vineyard to add complexity. Their aim is to obtain an elegant, complex, fine wine. A mixture of the clay and limestone soils are important for this, with the clay contributing greater body and the limestone a more elegant structure.

We pay a brief visit to their small museum of winemaking equipment and agricultural tools, including a range of presses and a lovely painted cart, which Claudia points out was used for going to church on Sundays. Squelching across some of the sticky clay soil that helps maintain moisture in the calcareous limestone soils in the hot summers, we also take a quick peek at their nursery, where they have created about 20 of their own Verdicchio clones, meaning that they are able to mingle old and new vines in each row in their vineyards, maintaining the style of the vineyards, yet with different ages.

The winery has been organic since 2000, but Claudia points out that this is not on the label: they don’t consider it a marketing tool, rather a philosophy, the way they work. We are able to see this when we head off to visit one of their vineyards, the 55-year-old Montefiore, with a beautiful view of hill town Ostra Vetere in the distance. Cover crops and grass, which hide parasites that help control spiders, blow in the gentle breeze which aerates the hilltop vineyard. Gabriele also shows us a sexual confusion trap which they use to aid pest control and tells us about one of the ways they deal with rising temperatures – the vines’ leaves are sprayed with a clay and water mix as a form of sun cream.

Each vineyard is vinified separately and blended before bottling. Tasting four barrel samples from different vineyards down in their naturally cool cellar, we get an insight into the styles of wine produced by each. For example, the Villa Bucci vineyard sitting at 350m is caressed by ‘La Bora’, a Balkan wind blowing in from the Adriatic 20 kilometres away, and yields fresh, salty wines with lemony notes, whereas Montefiore, lower at 200m, gives wines that are less saline. They produce between eight and ten different Verdicchios each year, but try to ensure that Bucci, which is made every year, consistently represents the style of the family.

When they started taking Verdicchio seriously in the 80s, Verdicchio had no real style and was not easily recognisable, except perhaps by its kitsch amphora-shaped bottle; this is eschewed nowadays by quality producers due to the poor quality Verdicchio often bottled in these ‘amphora’ in the past and the stain that this has left on the wine’s reputation. Big, old Slavonic botte (50 and 75hl) are used along with stainless steel to ensure that the character of the variety and the local terroir can shine through – not a barrique in sight.

Old presses (Photo by Sue Tolson)

Our Bucci visit really achieved the ‘wow factor’ when we went upstairs to the tasting room and were treated to a mini Verdicchio vertical of their flagship Villa Bucci Riserva, tasting the 2015 (2 hours prior to its official release), 2014, 2010, 2005, 2004 and 1992 (magnum) vintages! The wines remained incredibly fresh and crisp thanks to their high acidity and saline notes, but picked up beautiful honey, dried fruit, savoury and waxy notes while gaining in intensity and complexity. This certainly showed us that Verdicchio has real ageing potential.

The tasting was rounded off with a couple of their reds – Tenuta Pongelli 2016 (a 50-50 blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese) and Villa Bucci Rosso 2016 (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese), both Rosso Piceno DOC. The two wines demonstrated lovely fresh acidity and bright fruit, with the Villa Bucci Rosso showing darker fruit and greater depth thanks to the higher percentage of Montepulciano, but none of the rustic tannins that I often associate with the variety.

 

Old vines at Brunori
By Neil Fairlamb

Neil Fairlamb is impressed by Verdicchio’s ability to keep giving with age at Brunori and learns how maturation in cement can seal in freshness.

This 6.5-hectare estate in San Paolo, near Jesi, is a three-generational family estate, bottling its wines since 1956. The two grandchildren, Cristina and Carlo, both sommeliers, run the property with their father Giorgio, while Carlo also manages a wine shop in Jesi. The south-southeast exposure of the vineyards to the sun in the shelter of Cupramontana is balanced by the aerating wind corridor of the River Esino, which reaches the sea just north of Ancona. All picking is by hand; steel fermentation with natural yeast is followed by maturing in lined cement tanks which keeps freshness. The clay-sand soil on a gentle slope gives both full-body and finesse. Some 40,000 bottles are produced in most years.

Even in a difficult year like 2017, with challenges of heat and rain, the 2017 Le Gemme (5.8) had the ideal combination of delicacy and fullness, a predominantly tangy note which projects the flavour but was balanced by a textured palate, coming from a 10hl/ha yield. The San Nicolò Superiore vineyard wine, produced since 1975, was silky and rounded on the palate, not in the least sweet, but full of ripe fruit with an ideal positivity of freshness on the finish. Yields for this wine are very low at 8hl/ha. This wine offers the best pris/qualité rapport at 8.

The DOCG 2015 from the same vineyard is aged 12 months in tank and six months in bottle, but with no oak, and the 2015 was vibrantly golden in colour and amply round in taste, dry but full-flavoured and a match for the richest seafood or white-meat sauces (12). These two last wines showed the whole point of Verdicchio to me; it is not a varietal with primary fruit aromas, indeed it starts neutral but it is a wine that builds body and texture on the palate after a year or so. It also keeps its freshness, and can take further ageing well. This all makes it an ideal food wine to take on complex-sauced fish and poultry dishes. 

The estate vinifies an organic wine, Fonteascosa (blending Verdicchio with Malvasia and Trebbiano), from half a hectare of grapes from 50-year-old vines from a neighbouring estate; this is a broader, softer wine. Among their red wines is a striking Alborada 2016, made from the Lacrima di Morro d`Alba; this is sweetly perfumed, with aromas of violets and roses, with cherryish fruit on the palate and a refreshing sharp finish. It is best drunk within two years. This wine went very well with duck, and rabbit with wild fennel. Bibendum used to import this estate`s Verdicchio before that company`s changes; it deserves a niche place as a truly family product made to the best traditions.

 

Colonnara: a sparkling cooperative

Michael Ritter gets to grips with one of the region’s smaller cooperatives, which is blessed by the prime position of its members’ vineyards.

With an annual production of about 1 million bottles, Colonnara is one of the smaller cooperatives in the region, since some others choose to unite (as is the case with Moncaro) to gain a better position on the national and international markets for Verdicchio. But even if Colonnara is smaller than other cooperatives, it benefits from having its vineyards in a very special part of the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, close to the higher mountains, which gives the sparkling wine its acidity.

A highlight of the cooperative, which was established in 1959 by 150 founding members, is sparkling wine mainly from Verdicchio grapes, produced in the huge underground cellars in both the Charmat and traditional methods. Their flagship is Brut Ubaldo Rosi with a bright straw-yellow colour and soft golden-greenish tints and a fine persistent perlage. It spends at least five years on the lees. The wine gets its name from one of the pioneers of the production of sparkling wine from Verdicchio grapes.

Circle members tasting at the winery

It’s not only the sparkling wines that are worth tasting. The warmer vineyards closer to the sea are the origin of the still wines, which are of constant and stable quality. The organic Cuapro, a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore, is a delicious and very well-structured wine with a fruity and floral taste and a bright straw yellow colour. It plays with the name of the village and the most important vineyards of the cooperative. This wine very skilfully shows the difference between quality-orientated Verdicchio and the (still) typical quantity-orientated wine you can buy in amphora bottles. Even Colonnara offers an everyday wine, called Anfora, in this typical amphora bottle, which has represented the main style of Verdicchio in international markets for 65 years. This is a young, fresh wine, suitable for everyday imbibing with the family.

We had the opportunity to take part in a vertical tasting of Verdicchio from vintages between 2015 and 1988 in the M.I.G, the Museum in Grotta, part of an old monastery with a nice Museo dell’ Etchetta – a label museum. This gave us a very good impression about the development of the wine over the years, as well as about its limits. Other than grapes like Riesling, the colour didn’t change dramatically over the years, but the evolvement of flavour during the first ten to 20 years is really remarkable. The name of the village is derived from Cupra, a fertility goddess of the Picene and Umbrians. Verdicchio dominates the village. The third Saturday in July Cupramontana celebrates La note del Verdicchio – The night of Verdicchio.

 

DAY 3

From Botero to botti at Tenuta Musone

Stephen Quinn sizes up a strapping stallion at Colognola – Tenuta Musone, before riding through a fine flight of wines, with a sparkling ending.

A bronze sculpture of a stallion twice the size of a regular horse dominates the entrance of the Colognola estate in the village of Cingoli, on the slopes of Mount San Vicino. The sculpture, said to have cost 1 million, is by the great Columbian sculptor Fernando Botero. Serena Darini, daughter of the owner Walter, is passionate about horses and divides her time between winemaking and horse breeding / show-jumping.

Colognola sits at about 400 metres above sea level and has 25ha of estate vines, the bulk (85%) devoted to Verdicchio. Vines were planted in 2002 and initially grapes were sold to other estates. The Darini family purchased the estate in 2010. It will be certified organic from this year’s harvest. Winemaker Gabriele Villani said Colognola has the advantage of a wide diurnal temperature range in summer because of the altitude, which contributes to the quality of grape flavours. “At midday in summer it’s 25C while overnight it goes to about 10C.”

The winery’s interior is organised, precise and clean, which is reflected in the wines. Their flagship is the Labieno Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva DOCG Classico, fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged on lees for 24 months in botti (large format old oak barrels). This wine is picked late, usually in mid-October. Villani presented a selection of the Labieno – 2015, 2013, 2012 and 2007 – and all were a delight. Vallani cheerfully admitted: “I love Verdicchio”. Most Marche winemakers avoid extended skin contact with Verdicchio because they believe maceration makes the wine taste too bitter. Yet Villani admits to using cryo-maceration’ early in the morning when the temperature is about 10C, but only for a couple of hours. This technique involves keeping skins with crushed grapes at a low temperature before fermentation to allow flavours to develop. He avoids malolactic fermentation to preserve the wine’s natural acidity.

The 2007 was different from the other Labieno, having spent 10 months in old French barriques (225 litres). Villani said the 2007 was a homage to a traditional method. After grapes were crushed and the juice put into stainless steel tanks to ferment, Villani added about 5% whole bunches of Verdicchio grapes. More recent vintages of the riserva spend 24 months in much larger barrels – old 2,600 litre French botti.

With the 2007 the result is wondrous. This wine was bright gold in the glass, glossy with soft acidity and a range of perfumes and flavours like beeswax, acacia and bitter almonds. It should be served only slightly chilled because it feels like a red in terms of structure and texture. The current vintage of the Labieno (2015) sells at the winery for 12. Villani explained that the price was low because the estate was still building its reputation.

Colognola has 75ha, a third of which are devoted to vines. The rest of the land is forest, olive trees and cereal crops. The estate averages 150,000 bottles a year and exports to the UK, Canada, Germany, Belgium and Russia. They are experimenting with using a screwcap for the Via Condotto Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore, believing that Italians are beginning to accept this form of closure.

The tasting ended with a 2012 Darini sparkling Verdicchio made in the metodo classico, each bottle signed by owner Walter Darini. It spent 48 months on lees and is zingy with a creamy mouthfeel. The number of bottles of the 2012 was not available.

 

Discovering the Frasassi Caves
Photo by Stephen Quinn

Taking a break from the wine, Italian member Nicoletta Curradi returns to a subterranean, fairy-tale world of funky natural formations at the Frasassi Caves.

By Nicoletta Curradi

Do you feel the desire for an unforgettable experience in an enchanted place that has existed for thousands of years? Then go to the Marche and discover the Frasassi Caves, which are subterranean karst caves situated in the Natural Regional Park of the Gola della Rossa and of Frasassi, near Genga, in the province of Ancona. Discovered in 1971 by speleologists of the CAI of Ancona, I visited these caves now for the second time, but I still found them really surprising due to the many incredible natural sculptures that have been formed over the course of 1,400,000 years, thanks to the action of water. The water, flowing on the limestone, melts small amounts of limestone and falls to the ground with a trickle that lasts for millennia, depositing and forming sculptures of considerable size and curious shapes. Time seems to stop but it is disturbing to see what nature is capable of doing.

 

Observing the stalactites and the stalagmites, you can unleash your imagination and imagine animals, almost real characters, and even musical instruments. The speleologists have baptised the ‘Giants’, the ‘Camel’ and the ‘Dromedary’, the ‘Bear’, the ‘Madonnina’, the ‘Sword of Damocles’, ‘Niagara Falls’, the ‘Slice of pancetta’ and the ‘Slice of lardo’, the ‘Obelisk’, the ‘Organ pipes’ and the ‘Castle of witches’. But everyone can imagine what he or she wants, stopping to admire this enchanting spectacle of nature, but always paying attention to where you put your feet to avoid accidents. The play of light and shadow alternates without stopping, in a succession of very suggestive scenes. If you go to Marche region, a visit to the Frasassi Caves is highly recommended – providing you do not suffer from claustrophobia or vertigo! 

 

In praise of Matelica’s little green one
By Paul Howard

Paul Howard gets stuck into continental climate wines at a Verdicchio di Matelica Produttori tasting.

Verdicchio is one of Italy’s finest native white grape varieties and the signature grape of the Marche region of Central Italy, and an oft-overlooked gem. Its name means ‘little green one’, after the distinctive green tinge of the grapes. Verdicchio has been proven by DNA testing to be the same grape as the Trebbiano di Soave of the Veneto and Lake Garda’s Lugano. It is thought to have arrived in the Marche in the Late Middle Ages with Venetian farmers, who settled in the Marche after it had been decimated by plagues.

Both Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica are DOCs, with a higher DOCG status for their Riserva wines since 2010. While Jesi is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its DOC status this year, Matelica was awarded its DOC a year earlier, in 1967. While the towns of Jesi and Matelica are only some 30 miles apart, their terroirs are distinct from each other. Jesi is near the Adriatic coast and the city of Ancona. There, cooling sea breezes blow along several east-west river valleys. In contrast, Matelica is further inland with a unique north-south orientation, where mountains block any seaborne ventilation. This creates a continental climate with warmer summers and larger diurnal variation. Neither area can be said to be better than the other. Instead, they are different.

Matelica is a tiny area, one-tenth the size of Jesi, with some 325 hectares of vineyards from an altitude of 400 metres, mostly on the limestone and clay slopes above the valley floor. From higher vantage points it is possible to see the entire DOC laid out before you. So what better way to explore the Verdicchio di Matelica wines than with a tasting featuring 12 leading producers? There were 22 different DOC and DOCG Riserva wines on show. These ranged in age, from the 2017 back to 2007.

By Paul Howard

The venue was the glamorous Teatro Piermarini in Matelica, the tasting was co-hosted by winemaker Roberto Potentini of Cantine Belasario and conductor and pianist Cinzia Pennesi. Built in 1805, the theatre was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, who also designed Milan’s La Scala.

This produttori tasting revealed just how age-worthy Verdicchio can be. The young wines are fresh and vivacious, often with delicate scents of Hawthorn flowers and almonds. There are leesy flavours and a pronounced saline minerality. However, after five to ten years, the aromas include camphor-like notes, with acacia, green fruits and a honeyed complexity on the palate. With a satin-sheets texture, that distinctive Verdicchio bite is ever-present. Verdicchio di Matelica is as elegant and sophisticated as its surroundings.

 

Wines worth the wait at La Monacesca

Michael Ritter finds Verdicchio di Matelica that really measures up at La Monacesca, one of the region’s pioneering producers.

La Monacesca is one of the pioneers in the production of Verdicchio di Matelica and produces about 160,000 bottles from 28ha of vineyards. Casimiro Cifola took over the virtually abandoned vineyards in the 1960s, together with a small church from monks of the Farfense order, and built up the winery. The family has produced wine for centuries. His son, Aldo, joined the picturesquely situated, well-carved-out farm in 1982 and has been running it with great passion and vigour as the winemaker since the death of his father six years ago.

Surrounded by meadows, cornfields and oak forests, La Monacesca’s plots are well protected from the sea by the nearby San Vicino massif. Father and son refined the winery, the cultivation methods and the vinification processes. The lion’s share of the grapes is taken up by Verdicchio, followed by Chardonnay far behind. It comes as no surprise that Roberto Potentini is responsible for the oenological orientation of the winery. I met him two years ago for the first time in one of his main professions (he also works as city councillor) as head of the Belisario cooperative, where he started 30 years ago as oenologist and later as director. Potentini graduated with an experimental study on Verdicchio di Matelica DOC.

The Cifola family shares Potentini’s ideas about Verdicchio – not the typical thin and young wine, but wine with a young, fruity character. The production is limited to a few labels of a consistent style. The minerality and character shows best after years of storage. These are excellent wines which meet the highest standards in structure, complexity and ageing potential. The flagship is the ‘Mirum’ Riserva DOCG. The 2015 vintage is a rich, sensual wine with ripe peaches, flowers, orange peel and a great minerality. A wine with very good potential for the years to come. You need patience – but it will be worth the wait.

 

DAY 4

Pecorino in the Badlands: a visit to Cocci Grifoni

Stephen Quinn stays south at Cocci Grifoni, in the area of Piceno.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni is located in the most southern area of the Marche, which is known as the Piceno. It has 50ha of vines on a property of 95ha. Founder Guido Cocci Grifoni planted the vines from the early 1980s. The vineyards are surrounded by canyons, forests and ravines which the family call ‘the Badlands’, and which are havens for wildlife. Some of the ravines are 100 metres deep.

The entire area is farmed organically, though the expense and paperwork involved is offered as a reason why certification has not happened. The area smells healthy and clean. Butterflies flutter seemingly everywhere across the property and wildflowers bloom between rows, set against the snow-capped Appenine mountains in the distance. Vines are planted horizontal to the slopes instead of the more common way of planting vines vertically down the slopes. General manager Marilena Cocci Grifoni, daughter of Guido, explained that horizontal planting meant fewer vines and lower yields, but stopped erosion. Yields tend to be about 5.5 to 6 tonnes per hectare, low for Verdicchio and Pecorino which can crop at more than double that amount.

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. The Adriatic Sea is about 5km away and breezes cool the vines in summer.

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 wine since 1989 from the original Vigneto Madre, or mother vineyard, for this grape. This is the only DOCG Pecorino area in Italy. The mother vineyard produces grapes with thick skins suitable for making long-lasting and structured wines. Wines are made in steel tanks and aged in the bottle. They offer strong floral aromas, high acidity and a noticeable minerality. Tenuta Cocci Grifoni wines typically can be aged for at least a decade. The 2013 Guido Cocci Grifoni DOCG Pecorino is a 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 is a wine that could easily be kept for another decade.

The labels on all Cocci Grifoni wines celebrate local wildlife and flowers. The Bufo bufo toad (or Common 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.

In 1969, Guido Cocci Grifoni made the first Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC in Italy. The delicious current-vintage 2013 Messieri Rosso Piceno is a blend of 70% Montepulciano with the balance made up by Sangiovese. About 60% of the wine from the latter grape is stored in stainless steel and the rest in old 5,000-litre Slavonian botti for 24 months before the finished product is assembled. The Messieri vineyard is surrounded by forests that are the home to hares, foxes, porcupines, deer and wild boar. Birds that live in the forests eat the insects that might attack the vines.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni have partnered with Birdlife Italia in a project called Wine for Life that aims to protect wild birds and their habitats in the estate’s eco-system. 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”.

 

A taste of Petritoli
Photo by Sue Tolson

Sue Tolson savours local cuisine and cultural attractions in the beautiful hill-top town of Petritoli.

Le Marche is full of beautiful hill-top towns, which mesmerise your eyes as you explore the vistas beyond the vineyards. One such town is Petritoli, a beautiful small medieval town located in the province of Fermo, yet not a word was to be found about it in my guide to Italy, which perhaps says something about the undiscovered nature of much of the region.

We had lunch at the Re Squarchio restaurant, located just inside the old walls of the town. As with every meal, we were overwhelmed with the quality and abundance of the local dishes we were served to sample. Our lunch today included olive ascolane (a local speciality of large, meaty green olives stuffed with minced meat), steak tartar with truffle shavings, maccheroncini with ragu sauce and smoked beef with rocket and Grano cheese.

With our bruschetta, we had the chance to try three locally produced prize-winning olive oils from Frantoio Agostini, a family-run business with their own olive groves and olive mill down in the valley. The family have been producing extra virgin olive oil since Alfredo Agostini started in 1945 with a small crusher. The business is now managed by his son Gaetano and grandsons Marco and Elia along with his brother Maurizio. They maintain the high standards set by the founder 70 years ago. They continue to harvest by hand and were nominated as one of the 200 best olive oil mills in the world by German magazine Der Feinschmecker. The three oils we tried were very different: Sublimis, made from the Frantoio and Carboncella varieties, was peppery with notes of grass and almond bitterness; Hurticum (90% from the Leccino variety) was less peppery, but elegant and fruity; Terra di Marco Organic Riserva was more subtle, soft and rounded.

Photo by Sue Tolson

After our lunch, we had a fascinating guided tour around the wonderfully-preserved medieval Petritoli. The town itself dates back to the 10th century when it started life as a fortress, founded by monks with the name of Castel Fondolfo. The town hall building dating back to 1620 was formerly a convent of the Sisters of St. Clare. It was separated from the church in the early 20th century and has always been a focal point of the town. Its exterior wall bears a large, white clock which had previously been attached to the wall of a building across the street but had to be moved when this building was converted into apartments and the residents complained that its ticking was keeping them awake.

Tucked away down the steps of an atmospheric small alley, called Vicolo del Forno because it used to house an oven where the townspeople would bring their bread to be baked, is the printing museum, Antica Stamperia Fabiani, which includes four rare printing presses. It also houses a collection of football scarves, which were sent to the curator by visitors from all around the world.

Petritoli, like many towns in Le Marche, even tiny ones, boasts its own theatre. Built in 1873, with a capacity of 200 people, the Teatro Comunale dell’Iride is one of the smallest of the 70 theatres scattered throughout the region. During its time, as well as hosting performances by local amateur dramatic societies, it has also been used as a cinema, but was closed for safety reasons in 1957. It remained unused until the 1980s when it was restored to its original decoration and reopened in 1982; it has since been the cultural centre of Petritoli with annual seasons of prose and music, many of which are in the local dialect. Families can rent a box for a year; however, they can’t choose which one, the boxes are allocated by drawing straws!

Our final stop on our town tour was its lovely stone tower, built in 1827. It consists of five different bases: square, rectangular, octagonal, circular and spherical. These five bases represent the human microcosm and man’s desire to reach God. The square represents man anchored to the earth, urging him to stop and reflect; the rectangle expresses the desire to establish a relationship between Earth and Heaven; the octagon is a symbol of resurrection, the mediation between Earth and Sky; the dome represents the celestial vault; and the sphere is perfection.

 

An innovative line up at Castrum Morisci
By Neil Fairlamb

Neil Fairlamb heads to the Castrum Morisci estate in the southern part of the Marche, where sea breezes serve to keep things fresh.

Castrum Morisci is a 7.5ha estate, now in its second generation of David, Luca and Agostino in the southern part of Marche, south of the delightful town of Fermo, and just above the river Aso and a few kilometres from the sea. Sea-breezes keep everything fresh here and aerate the vines effectively while moderating ripeness and, of course, imparting that salty tang to the vines and ripening grapes that makes the wines have such a piquant twist to the taste. 

They use only their own grapes, many from vines of up to 40-years-old, make about 25,000 bottles a year, and have been in the process of converting to organic since 2000 (not certified) and exploring biodynamic options, too. We visited on an open estate weekend with lots of young aficionados congregating for what is indeed a buzzing family estate full of innovative ideas. The most striking is the revival of the terracotta amphora tradition; they have installed at least 15, of different sizes, mostly 500 litres, and are convinced that making and evolving the wines in amphora will produce a better result with micro-oxygenation and no tertiary wood or other aromas, even ageing up to six months or longer. Skin contact is encouraged with stirring, and then the skins removed for further evolution of the wine in the amphoras. Amphoras are expensive, much more so than barriques, about 3,000 euros each, but the results are very impressive, emphasising fruit and the slow evolution of aromas and flavours with long maceration and thermal insulation.

Temperatures are still checked up to four times a day. Passerina, Pecorino, Vermentino, Malvasia, Moscato and Pinot Grigio are the white varietals, while Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the reds. Stainless steel and barrique are used as well, of course. Padreterno, an IGT Marche 2017, is an amphora wine and non-filtered blend of Moscato, Malvasia and Vermentino; these worked extremely well to combine aromas and appealing fruit with some body and a fresh finish – the best character of each varietal respectively (14.5% alcohol). It was bottled with a crown cork; with a low level of sulphite – an estate policy for best preservation. The amphora process, with separately fermented varietals which were then blended, seemed to bring on a softer integration.

Gallicano 2017 is a stainless steel-fermented Pecorino, now DOC Falerio, and was outstandingly full in body (also 14.5%) and yet refined in balance, fully ripe and concentrated with a salty tang from the sea breezes and saline deposits in the soil. It was an excellent example of this promising varietal that so excited us in the southern Marche. It has something different to say; less floral but with more nerve and tension in the flavour than the popular Passerina, a varietal often over-cropped but when well-made a pleasant summer wine. Pecorino wine would match ideally the firm, rich Pecorino sheep’s-milk cheese. All the grapes for this Pecorino wine were picked on the same day from the same vineyard.

I particularly admired the finesse of the two reds, Testamozza 2017 DOC Piceno with all the fresh cherryish appeal of the grape but without any coarseness or acid rasp – silky perfection for a young wine. The Collefrenato 2016 IGT Marche was half Montepulciano, and a quarter of each Merlot and Cabernet. An interesting blend here of six months in amphora and six months aged in barriques and clearly a wine that needs time to come together.

The estate has also re-interpreted an old tradition in making Il Cotto, a sweetish wine finished at about 10-11% of alcohol, made by cooking Passerina and other grapes, effectively baking the must. Then, with so much sugar concentrated in the reduction, the yeasts die with very high residual sugar remaining, which needs some years of ageing to mellow. Originally, it was a way of making something from unripe grapes, rather than discarding them; here it is turned into an alternative dessert wine for nuts and figgy pudding. A curiosity but well worth making. Incidentally, this is the only estate in Marche with braille labelling.

 

A view from Terra Fageto
By Paul Howard

Paul Howard gets some clifftop action at Terra Fageto.

The family-owned Terra Fageto estate is perched high on the clifftops overlooking the Adriatic at Pedaso, in the south of the Marche region. They have 35ha of organically farmed vines and olives here, where the Val d’Aso meets the sea. Their focus is on autochthonous grape varieties; Pecorino, Passerina and Trebbiano in white, Sangiovese and Montepulciano in red. There is also a little Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown. Some 150,000 bottles are made each year, with 20% exported, though sadly not yet to the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the wind is a constant presence here, which cools and cleanses the vines, a great aid to their organic and biodynamic viticulture. Rosso Piceno DOC is the most well- known wine made, but there is also white Offida Pecorino DOCG and Falerio DOC. There is also a range of Marche IGTs and Charmat method Spumante.

The tasting concentrated on the indigenous varieties. In particular, the Offida Pecorino DOCG Fenèsia 2017 stood out, being a delicious terroir-driven wine with captivating floral aromas. Rusus 2015, their top cuvée of Rosso Piceno DOC, is a selection from 50-year old Sangiovese and Montepulciano vines. This was an elegant interpretation of what can be a rustic blend in less skilled hands.

However, the revelation was their Biodynamic Pecorino 2016. This is their first 500-bottle experiment which I hope will be commercialised. It gets three months maceration on the skins before fermentation in barrique with indigenous yeasts. The result is special; all honey, nuts and apricots packaged in bright clean acidity. Terra Fageto offers a compelling combination of tradition and innovation, so a visit is highly recommended!

 

DAY 5

The final stop at La Calcinara
By Nicoletta Curradi

Nicoletta Curradi rounds off a wonderful CWW trip and discovers an interesting wine philosophy at La Calcinara.

La Calcinara was established in 1997 in Contrada Calcinara di Candia, near Ancona, by oenologist Mario Berluti, who found an excellent location for growing grapes in the hills of Candia. 

In 1999, the first 4ha of spur-trained Montepulciano vines were planted, on the 20ha property. The aim has been to bring the Montepulciano grape to its maximum expression, enhancing its merits and highlighting the interaction that this vine can express with the land of Candia. It is for this reason that in 2005 the new winery was built and only in 2007 the first Folle was released.

In the meantime, the vineyards have been expanded reaching a total of 9ha, while the first monovarietal oils have been produced from the 4ha of olive groves. The whole family takes part in the entire production cycle, from the pruning of the vines to the harvesting of the grapes in small crates, from ageing in oak barrels to the marketing of the wine. Mario’s two children – Paolo, who plays the piano, and Eleonora, who is also a dancer, work in the winery and express their enthusiasm through their products. The wines they produce are:

  • Clochard, Marche bianco IGT, symbol of freedom, open air life. 90% Verdicchio 10% Chardonnay
  • Mun Marche Rosato IGT, dedicated to the moon. 100% Montepulciano
  • Il cacciatore di sogni The hunter of  dreams, Rosso Conero DOC. 95% Montepulciano, 5% Merlot.
  • Terra Calcinara,  Conero DOCG, celebrating the land of origin 100% Montepulciano.
  • Folle The madman, Conero DOCG 100% Montepulciano, expressing Insanity or strangeness

Every bottle is the expression of an unrepeatable experience. Both the white and red wines of this winery are fresh and pleasant on the palate. The intention of the owners is to enhance their territory with the local varieties of the area, above all the particular pedology of the Conero and the special limestone from which the Calcinara district takes its name, while respecting the vineyard and the winery. The philosophy is to raise the Rosso Conero to its peak, creating passionate, complex and warm wines that accompany the celebratory moments of people as well as difficult moments. Paolo and Eleonora personally take care of the vineyard and the winery under organic conditions, with professionalism and continuous research, so that their wines are an expression of excellence and elegance.

                                                                                 

Compiled and edited by Robert Smyth

Thanks are due to Marchet for kindly sponsoring the trip and to Michele Shah for her organisation of the trip.