Many purists consider Le Marche, on the eastern side of Italy, along the Adriatic Sea, as the authentic Italy. Totally unspoilt by mass tourism, here you’ll find archeological sites dating back to Roman times, ancient monuments and a pace of life that’s remained practically unchanged in a hundred years.
In the quaint little towns, art galleries and museums coexist with national parks and forests, ski slopes and beaches. For the food lover, there’s fresh seafood, olive oil, pasta, vegetables and more.
Marche is also a wine region, though not as well known as her neighbour, Tuscany. At my recent tasting in Vinitaly, hosted by the Instituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini, a consortium representing 1200 winegrowers of the region, I became a fan of Le Marche wines.
In the company of international tasters, many new to Marche's wines, I first encountered a wine made from the indigeneous Pecorino grape. The Poderi Capecci San Savino ‘Ciprea’ Offica DOC Pecorino 2009 was a total surprise. It seemed to combine the tastes of a Chardonnay with Sauvignon Blanc. With ripe pear aromas on the nose, the wine finished with flavours of lime peel and grapefruit.
Next came a duo of Verdicchios. This variety is the region’s most famous wine and many Italians consider it to be Italy’s ideal wine paired with fish. A Vallerosa Bonci “San Michele” Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2008 (from the Castelli Jesi region near the sea), was delicate on the nose yet had mouth-filling flavours of pear, peach, hazelnuts and stone fruit. The texture was creamy and the finish was lengthy. “It’s all thanks to a south facing aspect combined with hot days and cool nights enjoyed by the vineyard at 400m altitude,” said the producer.
Another Verdicchio – from a higher inland zone (Matelica) with chalky soil, the organic Borgo Paglianetto “Vertis” Verdicchio di Matelica DOC 2008, showed floral, almond and acacia notes. More forward and intense, yet with a precise balance, it also had hints of a style difference in the Matelica sub-region.
The region is not all about white wines either. We tasted three red wines: a Monte Schiavo, “Pieralisi for Friends” Esino DOC Rosso 2007, made from Sangiovese and Merlot, tasted of plums, cassis, vanilla and tobacco. Another wine, made from Montepulciano, a Tenute Lanari “Fibbio” Conero DOCG Riserva 2007, proved to be minty with some jammy overtones and with dry tannins and lastly Ciu' Ciu' “Esperanto” Offida DOC Rosso 2005, a blend of Montepulciano with about 30% Cabernet Sauvignon that was lush and instantly enjoyable with red fruit candy notes, liquorice and graphite nuances.
Savouring the lot I nodded my head in approval of the quality of wines and noticed my fellow tasting nodding in agreement around me. Intrigued, I decided to explore more Le Marche wines.
At the Garofoli stand I was greeted by an old acquaintance. It was Giovanni, whom I had met years ago in Singapore over some sushi and Italian sparkling wines. “Here, try some wines that are gaining popularity all over Asia,” Giovanni beckoned.
And with that, Giovanni started the private lesson on Verdicchio!
The Garofoli wine history, according to Giovanni, traces the evolution of modern Verdicchio. Garofoli, established 1871, is the oldest cellar in Le Marche, and is also responsible for the wines’ evolution.
In Italy's past, Verdicchio was considered a quaffing wine, and as such was stored in an amphorae. Then Garofoli began utilizing modern winemaking techniques on the Verrdicchio. In time, they were bottling the wine and promoting it as a premium wine with much success.
In it’s trials, Garafoli discovered that various clones of the grape contribute to different aromas and flavours in the wine. Best of all, much to the delight of collectors, well made Verdicchio improves with time in the cellar.
We first tasted the Garofoli Serra de' Conti Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi. It was well balanced with floral and green flavours and eminently sippable. “Exactly,” said Giovanni – “This wine harks back to the classic Verdicchio that literally means ‘the green grape’.
Next came a Garafoli “Macrina” Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi DOC Classico Superiore 2010 which proved to be citrussy, refreshing and long finished. Then came Garafoli’s most famous wine – Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Doc Classico Superiore 2008 – made from Verdicchio harvested from low yielding vines, grown on clay. The wine is the result of low temperature ferment in stainless steel with lees contact. It was brimming with florals, white fruits, and quite complex with nuances of cookie crumbs and butter and with a smooth texture.
To compare, Giovanni poured a Serra Fiorese Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Doc Classico Riserva 2006. “Imagine a wine like Podium, but aged in wood,” he suggested. Indeed the fruit is sourced from Montecarotto commune just like those for the Podium. However, this wine was layered and hinted of butternut pumpkin and orange peel. Needless to say, it was velvety with a long finish.
“Two more wines, my friend” insisted Giovanni who then proceeded to pour me a Podium 1999 and a Sierra Fiorese 2001. The former was aromatic with biscuits and honey; it was rich, intense and round. The latter had nuances of pollen, brine, cotton candy, shiitake mushroom and nuts.
Amazingly, both wines were still youthful, silky, well-balanced and showing promise to develop even more complexity. All at once, it occurred to me, Verdicchio is a noble grape! Like Chardonnay, the wine has many expressions; it can be made into a simple quaffing wine, or something a little more full bodied. Low yields might also inspire a producer to make a serious wine – oaked or unoaked. And these wines have an amazing capacity to age and develop in the bottle much like Garofoli had predicted.
But another surprise was at hand. Giovanni poured me a Le Brume passito –a late-harvest Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi – with very attractive crystalised sugar overtones and a hint of spice.
“And finally, let’s toast to meeting again,” whereupon Giovanni whipped out a pair of flutes already filled with the Garofoli Brut Riserva - a Verdicchio ‘metodo classico’ sparkling wine. This wine had good mineral notes and underlying acidity – it’s as good as any from northern Italy.
As I parted, my thoughts were directed at how I would make room in my cellar for some Verdicchios!
Before exiting the Marches pavilion at Vinitaly, a wine caught my eye. It was a Marche 100% Cabernet Sauvignon by Boccadigabbia called Akronte. Certainly, for any wine lover, unfamiliar to a regions’ wines, the best introduction is always a familiar varietal.
The Boccadigabbia Akronte, 2004, had all the elements of an excellent Cab. It had also developed some earth-mushroom nuances and allied with soft, silky tannins made for a delicious Cabernet. Proof that in Le Marche, not only are the indigeneous varietals thriving, but producers can also excelling in international varieties.
Looks like Le Marche’s wine gems won’t be hidden much longer!
Written by Ed Soon