MARCH 2019 ITALIAN WINE CLUB
The Marche region is Kevin’s favorite Italian diamond in the rough- for travel, for the people, for the food and most certainly for the wine. He fell in love the very first time he stuck his nose in a glass of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. In fact, that moment is the inspiration for our Bergamot namesake due to its exotic fragrance. It is the Verdicchio grape which takes center stage in much of the region. However, Le Marche is slowly becoming recognized for creating white wines that have few rivals in quality and even ageability throughout Italy, a statement that would’ve had ‘em rolling in the aisles not too long ago when the only claim to fame was a snazzy fish shaped bottle. None of the wines from Marche garner half the attention they deserve, but the resilient and consistently delightful nature of every Marchegiani winemaker we’ve ever met keeps them humbly believing they are making something very special. We could not agree with them more.
PS: Our first official Bergamot Wine Co. trip to the Marche region is this fall and, yes, you should come along! Click HERE for more information.
WINE NO. 1
La Staffa ‘Rincrocca’ Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore
Staffolo, Marche 2015
As described by the current heavyweight champion of Italian grape knowledge Ian D’Agata, Verdicchio is ‘arguably Italy’s greatest native white grape variety.’ I am so on board with this sentiment, but I will also freely admit there may be very few people outside of the Marche region (and perhaps Ian) that have sharpened their Verdicchio palates as deftly as I have. Separating itself from the confounding world of Trebbiano clones, the high producing workhorse grape found throughout Italy was step one in Verdicchios rise to recognition. It took some work, but, finally, heads have been turned and disciples are free to drink and praise. Can I get an amen?
Riccardo Baldi has to be the rising star burning brightest in the vast Verdicchio skyline. He has been making wine since before he could legally drink (in California) and although he’s still in his twenties, the captivating and complex results of his labor certainly suggest an old soul. He learns a bit more each year about the potential of his land, as the steep vineyard sites in this area around Staffolo could be considered its own Cru in my humble opinion. Each vintage he unlocks another level of awesome from his grapes. With mentors like neighbors Lucio Canestrari of Coroncino (truly transcendent wines), the sky is anything but the limit for Riccardo.
Verdicchio like this has so many layers I can’t properly do it justice here. The aromatics alone will have you searching through your mental rolodex (and your cupboards) for comparisons. Oily tangerines, jasmine tea, tart mango and sweet almonds. Go ahead and take your time with those, I’ll wait. Each will present itself beautifully as it start to open up. Now in the mouth, every flavor just becomes exaggerated. That much weight and length with insane persistent acidity? Here is where I can see Verdicchio stand up to some of the finest Chenin Blancs I’ve ever had from the Loire. Riccardo rests this wine on its lees for a year in cement tanks to help create an amazingly textured experience.
Rincrocca is a single vineyard wine planted in 1972. When you visit wineries such as La Staffa your eyes are open to just how simple it can all be. The very small amount of incredible wine created here does not require any fancy bells and whistles, nothing here is for show. It is all set up for the production of seriously great wine. Not that Riccardo is very serious about anything, except Verdicchio.
Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
Montignano, Marche 2015
Lacrima is actually an Italian word you may recognize, meaning tear or tear drop. So named for the loose shape of the grapes that can resemble tears. Or because the fragile thin skins of the grape have a tendency to break and let go teardrops of juice. Or is it simply just so good it will bring tears to your eyes? As with many Italian wines and grapes, the explanation is best left to a good story. You pick. There is very little of this grape to be found in the world, and all of it in this small clay hilled region just a few kilometers from the Adriatic Sea. It is not at all easy to grow, but the reward is evident. Seeing the smiling locals filling their damigiana with Lacrima (for like €5) should be enough to get you on board my Marche Madness bandwagon.
Piergiovanni Giusti is simply the greatest. His infectious grin makes you instantly feel like he’s got something figured out. His self deprecating humility says otherwise, though it is equally charming. There is no greater champion for this difficult grape variety, via his personality and his magic touch. Piergiovanni has informed me that a number of people have tried growing it elsewhere and failed. Always keen for a challenge, let’s just leave it at ‘I tried.’
Say it with me: Bergamot and rose petals. When it comes to wildly aromatic red grape varieties, Lacrima clearly reigns supreme. For some, might take some getting used to as the perfume (Lacrima perfume? Be still my heart.) is strong in a way that is foreign to the average wine drinker. Thankfully, we consider you well above that. Earl Grey as a descriptor is not only accurate due to the bergamot scent, but there is also a slightly bitter and distinctly black tea like tannin to this wine, as well as in other well made Lacrimas. The blueberries and Morello cherries are ripe and ample here and may actually dupe you into thinking it might finish with some sweetness. It does not. If you want to try a sweet wine that causes instant euphoria, Giusti also makes a traditional ‘Visciola’ (Lacrima fermented with dried sour cherries) that will make your head spin. In a good way.
Classic and simple design makes this an easy bottle to want to try. Giusti’s slightly more serious wine ‘Rubbjano’ is the more famous label and the one and only example I’ve come across that proves that Lacrima is able to withstand some age as well. Worth seeking out for sure, but this more straight forward, younger wine is drinking far too well not to share.
Villa Ligi ‘Grifoglietto’ Aleatico Superiore
Pergola, Marche 2015
This variety is an interesting example of how mistaken identities and pseudonyms can be obstacles to success. Locally known as Vernaccia Rossa di Pergola, which is terribly confusing as there were countless ‘Vernaccia’ wines throughout Italy with zero actual relation. Many also mistook it for Moscato Nero (Black Muscat) pigeon holing it as a minor blending grape or for sweet wine. Francesco Tonelli, an agronomist and sommelier, decided to leave his job as a teacher to search for rare and old vines of the local Vernaccia Rossa. He reproduced, replanted, and helped to establish this tiny “Pergola” appellation – a whopping total of 45 hectares, made up of just two other producers.
Tucked into a hillside with the jagged peaks of the Central Apennine Mountains as the backdrop, this remote (and jaw droppingly stunning) location is home to grape varieties and wines that are a far cry from center stage. The Tonelli family makes certain their wines are proudly reflective of their tradition and territory, but they are not afraid to experiment either (e.g. Riesling, sold in magnums only, and a solid Method Champenoise Chard/Verdicchio.) Stefano Tonelli and his wife Lea now run much of the winery operations and are pretty much two of my favorite new people in Le Marche.
Intoxicating. One of the most exciting things about learning Italian wine grape by grape is this moment- when a wine this distinctly unique is put in front of you. Lavender and brewed cinnamon, wild strawberries and raspberries as well as some good old fashioned Welch’s grape juice. Clearly, I use that last descriptor cautiously as it can so easily be construed as negative. Not in this case, however. The Grifoglietto is a surprisingly serious wine, despite its playful nature, that has a rare ability to not only pair well with food, but often makes for some truly unforgettable combinations. Test away. Just be sure to add some wild mushrooms.
The label is a bit confusing and there is little to nothing written that is recognizable to one (read: most) who is unfamiliar. It is a bottle that could easily be passed by at a party (don’t bring this wine to that party) or overlooked at a specialty shop. A hidden treasure of sorts. Please share with those who care.
Fulvia Tombolini ‘d’Ororosso’ Rosso Conero
Staffolo, Marche 2015
In the Marche region it is said, by the locals of course, that this grape is a different type, if not a different grape entirely, from the one heavily grown in Abruzzo. This point of view does not scientifically pan out, but there is a noticeable difference. The results can be more likely attributed to the usual suspects: soil, farming approach and microclimates. Montepulciano is also one of those grapes I am amazed we don’t see more of here in the US. It has so many great qualities; high yields, disease resistant, loves warmer weather… it seems a no brainer for California. (For more on that rant, gripe and hope for the future, please be on the lookout for our upcoming Seven % Solution event.)
Fulvia Tombolini was unfamiliar to me before now (gasp) but when I learned that this is her own project inspired by her parents label, Castelfiori (old school Verdicchio), I quickly grasped the pedigree. The majority of her production is Verdicchio and the family vineyards are in the area of Staffolo which, like La Staffa, seems to grow some next level fruit. She sources the Montepulciano for this wine from inside the small boundaries of Conero along the coast, as opposed to the more common and widespread Rosso Piceno wines. Conero is a protected regional park with unique calcareous soils and strong emphasis on biodynamic practices and environmentally conscious farming. Bonus.
Montepulciano is so often a crowd pleaser, sapid and rich but it can have a lighter disposition too. All the tell-tale ripe blackberries, plums and blackcurrant jam you’d expect, but lifted with some fresh herb garden scents. Conero Montepulciano like this one tends towards more precise and focused fruit rather than the thicker tarry examples further South. It also exhibits a graceful texture with almost delicate tannins as opposed to its firmer structured peers. Perhaps the result of a red wine made by a house steeped in white wine tradition? Regardless, finding this rare bright Montepulciano that goes down this easy is like finding a magical Uniconero.
Fulvia’s white wines share this ‘color palette’ logo, but with different colors representing different sights of Le Marche. This range of reds illustrates the colors of sunset into the Adriatic Sea. This wine, if you haven’t gathered by now, is more a drink straight away wine. Commonly, bigger Montepulciano’s can sit open for a full day and just get better. This one should be enjoyed with little to no hesitation.