There’s a white grape in the Marche region of Italy that some say produces one of Italy’s prized white wines.
This grape is intriguing, and as such, my Italian Food Wine Travel group chose it for April exploration. But I was really pushed over by Italian wine expert Ian D’Agata and what I read. In his book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, he declares it’s ‘Italy’s greatest native white grape variety’. That grape is Verdicchio and I found it’s perfect for spring.
Native to somewhere in Italy
Verdicchio (Ver-dic-yo) is what the variety is called in the Marche. Come to find it’s genetically identical to Trebbiano di Soave, found in the Veneto region, and very close to Trebbiano di Lugana from the Lugana DOP west of Verona. But Lugana prefers to call it by the historic name Turbiana, because, it is after all, just a smidgeon different.
The Marche and Verdicchio
Located between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennines Mountains (the north-south spine of Italy), you’ll find the Marche. Emilia-Romagna is north, Abruzzo to the south, and Umbria/Tuscany flank the western border. Most vineyards are located inland on low-lying hills sheltered by the mountains. Depending on where you are in the region, you have more of a continental climate (northern areas) or Mediterranean. An important climatic aspect is the winds- it comes from the sea to the valley, then up into the hills and mountains providing dryness and warmth. I’m sure I’d like this place having access to hiking and cycling in the hilly and more mountainous areas, yet easily accessing the coast the same day. Northern California friends know this sounds like Lake Tahoe to San Francisco!
The wines I tasted came from the Jesi area in turquoise blue. Map courtesy of Vineyards.com
Digging into Verdicchio I learned transition is well under way in the Marche, the region where this grape shines. In fact, Verdicchio is presently re-exploding. Quality, and the number of wine producers are both increasing in a good way. The minerality and crispiness of Verdicchio, when done in stainless steel tanks, is appreciated more and more.
In fact, this crispness is characteristic of the grape. It reliably holds its acid, a key to freshness and longevity. This is a beneficial given the grape is late ripening. It can hang on the vine late into October, depending on the particular year. The best part about Verdicchio from Marche is it makes not only dry but also sparkling (spumante) in the traditional method, semi-sparkling (frizzante) and sweet wines, the later from botrytized or passito grapes. It seems more and more people would revel in discovering Verdicchio and the bright, seafood and vegetable friendly wines it produces.
I set off to locate a few bottles because this kind of wine is virtually impossible to find in Bordeaux. Umani Ronchi was the Internet search that stuck. Their website is extensive providing detailed information. Most noteworthy was the message sent for additional information- it didn’t fall into a black hole. I received a quick and helpful response!
I didn’t choose Umani Ronchi because of these things. What compelled me is their appreciation of the land and interest in experimentation and research. Their focus is varietal characteristics of native and traditional grapes.
Azienda Vinicola Umani Ronchi
The wine estate, owned by the Bianchi-Bernetti family, is now a fairly large operation- three million bottles of about twenty different wines are produced annually. Their focus is Verdicchio and the red grape Montepulciano (referred to as Rosso Conero), and finding the best expression of each. The Pecorino and Lacrima grapes grace their portfolio to a lesser degree, and they research and experiment with international varieties.
Umani Ronchi practices organic agriculture and sustainable methods with their 45% white and 55% red wine production.
Sustainability flows at the winery operations. For a bottle of wine, glass is the single largest contributor to its carbon footprint. The amount of energy it takes to make glass and the energy required to ship a bottle is quite high. Umani Ronchi decided on using lighter glass wine bottles and synthetic sugar cane corks, both are 100% recyclable. Finally, Umani Ronchi’s energy source is photovoltaic.
Tasting and Pairing Verdicchio
I purchased two wines and Umani Ronchi graciously included a third. The wines tasted for this article are the two purchased. A huge thank you to Frederica and Giorgio for your help and for sending the third bottle (which I’ll write about in a separate article).
CaSal di Serra – Verdicchio Dei Castelli dei Jesi DOC – Classico Superiore 2016 |13% abv, 10€
Grapes for this wine come from a cooler area within the Castelli dei Jesi DOC.
Vinification: Grapes undergo cold-soak before fermentation; no ML, aged in stainless steel tanks on lees for five-months.
The color is clean, oat straw. Aromas of white flowers, peach, cantaloupe and light citrus were subdued at first. After five minutes they opened to a medium intensity. The palate dance was like this: medium plus acidity initially wakes things up, then pleasantly subsides as if saying “Just kidding, now relax and enjoy my more feminine side.” Softer lemon, tart blossom, and bitter almond rounded out the experience, took a bow and left Mark and I thinking about the wine.
The pairing was right on- Appetizer: Vegetable Samosas and Spring Rolls; Main Dish: Thai Vegetable and Lentil Curry Bowl with Almonds and Mint.
Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio dei Castelli dei Jesi DOC Classico Superiore 2015 | 13.5% abv, 17€
Vinification: Fermentation in stainless steel tanks for 10-15 days; no malolactic fermentation, aged in concrete on lees for ten-months.
In my glass, the wine’s floral aromas stood out. The first whiff was low intensity, not surprising given Verdicchio isn’t known for ‘knock you over’ aromas. Once swirled however, it opened like a flower feeling the suns first rays- sounds like spring yes?!? Peach- slightly creamy from the lees contact– and orange melon joined white floral notes. But things really happened on the palate: bright and refreshing lime and grapefruit, minerals, and a brush of mint. The medium+ acidity, medium body, and balanced structure were lasting.
The one thing I didn’t detect on this wine was the telltale bitter almond flavor common to Verdicchio, but that’s just me and my palate. The pairing with this wine was again, on spot: Roasted Salmon topped with Sundried Tomato Salsa, and Linguini lightly tossed in olive oil. I’d go on a date with these two wines again anytime!
Join the Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group
This Saturday, April 7th at 11am EDT / 5:00pm in Italy we’ll be on Twitter for a chat about Verdicchio. Use the hashtag #italianfwt to follow the discussion, and in your comments. And don’t be shy- we like to hear from others!
Here’s a line-up of the group’s articles this month:
Jeff at FoodWineClick! gives us a A Wine Pairing Lesson with Verdicchio.
Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla pours Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica with a Panzanella di Primavera.
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm serves up Scallop Crudo with Verdicchio.
Katarina at Grapevine Adventures offers a Multinational Spring Lunch with Verdicchio.
Jane at Always Ravenous shares Verdicchio Paired with the Flavors of Spring.
Nicole at Somm’s Table posts Cooking to the Wine: Azienda Santa Barbara Verdicchio and Tuna Melts.
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish pairs Verdicchio and Roasted Vegetables: A Match Made in Heaven.
Susannah of Avvinare listens as Verdicchio Sings of Spring.
And here at Savor the Harvest I have a Spring Date With Verdicchio dei Jesi.
- Native Grapes of Italy, Ian D’Agata
- I’ll Drink To That Podcast, Levi Dalton
- Italian Wine Central
- Umani Ronchi
I wasn’t aware that bitter almond was a trademark of this wine. I didn’t notice that in my bottle either.
I only got the bitter almond finish on one of the two wines. Goes to show tasting is a personal thing, and there are variations to general characteristics!
Your pairings look divine, Lynn! That Thai curry is gorgeous and probably tastes even better than it looks. Sounds like you tracked down a great source for the wines, too. I love the idea of corks made from recyclable sugar cane – never heard of that before – so cool.
I started out with something else in mind then changed directions- the Thai curry was a winner, thanks for your comment Lauren. I hadn’t heard of sugar cane corks either but apparently they work really well.
Each wine-food pairing in your group sounds fabulous. Using Asian flavors like samosas is a great idea. My “travel” through the various posts from this food & wine group is most enjoyable!
best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com
My wine didn’t spend any time on the lees. I’d be interested to try, but I actually really enjoyed mine without it.
I think I could get geeky when it comes to Verdicchio- perhaps a future #ItalianFWT- one each from Jesi and Matelica, one with time on lees and one not, within both areas. Wine for thought.
Everything here looks delicious! I think that beautiful lentil curry has particularly caught my eye.
And I didn’t get the almond note in my particular bottle this time either (have at other times)–in mine I think that perhaps came across in a more general roundness to the wine.
Good point regarding the notes of bitter almond in Verdicchio. I wonder how time on lees would effect whether they were apparent of not. At any rate, thanks for stopping by!
Didn’t get much bitter almond in either of the wines I tried, but I’ll keep looking! Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for hosting this month Cam!
Kudo’s for procuring an Italian wine in France! When I ask (in France) about whether the person likes Italian wines, I get a quizzical look “They make wine in Italy??”
Ha, ha! Definitely a necessity to order what you want. You might be a bit spoiled in the states!
Funny that we had the same Umani Ronchi Verdicchio, honestly I was hard pressed to find Verdicchio locally so I went to wine.com.
Your date with Verdicchio looks very successful! All your pairings sound and look delicious. I would love to make the Thai Vegetable Lentil Curry Bowl, do you have a recipe???
Hi Jane, I don’t have a recipe for the bowl, it is one I threw together. I’m happy to work up a recipe and send it to you. It was very tasty! Sit tight, it might take a week or so.
Your food photos always look delicious Lynn 🙂
Umani Ronchi is a well-known Verdicchio producer, one of the larger ones…lately the smaller more artisanal ones are coming through more trying to focus more on expressions of terroir. Umani Ronchi makes a very good Verdicchio. 🙂