The Verdicchios money can’t buy

Why is it always the same story with Italian white wines: they — with rare exceptions — are perceived as something not worth cellaring, sommeliers and wine drinkers grim when you mention the names of the grape varieties. “Come again?” — the snobs would say. These varieties, mind you, Italian noblemen were happy to drink, so why wouldn’t we drop the doubts and dive into the world of variety that deserve to carry the name of “Classico” on the label (and there are not so many in Italy!). Meet the winemakers rolling out ten-years-old wines (and more!). Frankly, in case of Verdicchios from the area of Jesi ten years could be just the bare minimum.

One might be tired of the same old story, but you know what: definitely not of the wines. The recent “Old but Gold” tasting of older Verdicchios of Marche, the region where mountains date the sea on a regular basis, proved once again: in “golden” hands every grape gets a chance. Add some historical terroirs like those around the town of Jesi to the mix and off you go chanting praises to the winemakers’ efforts.

I was lucky enough to have been invited to the memorable “Old, but Gold” tasting with Ian d’Agata, an apogee of 3-days-long Verdicchio tasting, where sommeliers, trade and a couple of MWs from all around the world gathered to discover the true potential of the white “king” of Marche — the Verdicchio variety.

Not a single of 15 still wines presented for the tasting failed to serve its minimum purpose — to be a pleasant and drinkable wine. As we proceeded from younger vintages (2014 having been the youngest) to the older ones (the tasting peaked at 1997), the idea of good Verdicchio was evolving as did the potential of Verdicchio terroirs.

4 years old. While most Verdicchios are consumed younger than that, we started with a four years old bottle from Tenuta dell’Ugolino. The 2014 presented the exotic side of the variety, bright, rich and cheerful, aged in stainless steel and showing intense attack on all the senses. Pineapple and yellow apple packed tightly.

A 5 years old Leopardo Felici’s “Vigna Il Cantico della Figura” 2013 is a rather crispy, but overall modest Verdicchio with playful astringency and a pleasant exotic finish. While very nice wines in their own right both 2014 and 2013 can lead to a false belief that Verdicchio is all like that: exotic and bright. The wines that came later demonstrated that one couldn’t be more wrong.

8 years old. Tenuta di Tavignano “Misco” 2010, Casalfarneto “Crisio” 2010 and Montecappone “Utopia” 2010  were the three Riserva wines chosen to impress the audience. Duly mentioned during the tasting, there are not so many white Italian wines that can withstand the 8 years of ageing. “Misco” 2010, beautiful and balanced, showed the increased pungency and the growing complexity of aged Verdicchio. Casalferneto’s Verdicchio “Crisio” was, on the other hand, deeper, lingering, rounded wine arguably injected with gunpowder — the taste we would discover in many fine older Verdicchios to come. The Montecappone “Utopia” 2010 Riserva showed a modest character affected by a cold vintage on clayish soils.

The real surprises were yet to come, though.

The 2009 “Rincrocca” by La Staffa pushed the limits of the Verdicchio image — who could have known that a 9 years old white from Marche could be like that: deep, salty, lush, peppery and mineral at the same time? Salivating over this one can leave one without any fluids. And, again, the gunpowder aromas showcase the character of the soils and grape combination that comes from clayish-calcium salty soils in the hills near the small village of Staffolo.

Moving on to 10 years old wines — “Selezione Gioachinno Garolfoli” from the Garofoli winery showed a good acidity with already familiar notes of gunpowder. On the other hand, the Marotti Campi “Salmariano” 2008 was fresh as new, pleasantly pungent, beautifully saline and very attractive overall. It didn’t lack complexity too, making some of us to think about the enormous gastronomical possibilities.

Meanwhile we were moving along to 11-years-old wines of 2007: both Santa Barbara’s “Stefano Antonucci” and Umani Ronchi’s “Plenio” showed really well just what was there to be expected of excellent aged Verdicchios. With Umani Ronchi being more on the “classic” side (in fact by this I mean a rounder style), beefier and juicer, the Santa Barbara was a stream of mind-blowing acidity mixed with stellar minerality and a familiar gunpowder take.

A 14 years old Pievalta was definitely one of the favourites of the tasting: the Riserva “San Paolo” 2004 is amazingly deep and bright, lingering on the palate and revealing tons of pungency, the wine of definite gastronomic power and, dare I say, scientific interest.

How much better and how much older Verdicchios can really be? That was the question as we moved on to tasting 17-18 years old wines. By that time the grape variety already proved it’s capable of much more than is normally expected, but proving even more could be revealing. Fazi Battaglia’s “San Sisto” Riserva 2001 was in surprisingly good shape, despite having probably lost some of its initial freshness, the wine retained the body with clear vanilla hint. Another 17-year-old wine — Coroncino’s “Gaiospino” 2000 — is a striking example of how wrong one can get about Italian whites, the wine of staggering depth, nutty character that, nevertheless, retained all of its beauty, complexity and brisk acidity, moreover, it gained body weight and powerful richness. Frankly, the old Verdicchio is as modern as any hipster would like it to be!

Was it enough to put Verdicchio into a different league? Yes, but two other wines were still sitting in front of us willing to crush the last nail into the coffin of our imagination. A 20 years old “Vigna Novali” 1998 from the cooperative winery of Terre Cortesi Moncaro was the Verdicchio that reminded me of visiting a pharmacy. The wine was balanced in the mouth and whilst not showing the amazing structure of the previous one, it still delivered great emotions.

Overwhelmed by the ridiculous beauty of all the Verdicchios we tasted we were waiting for the last one: Fratelli Bucci, “Villa Bucci” 1997. Considering its age this Riserva could be in any shape from beautiful to horrible. And it was a stellar wine: lingering in the mouth, buttery like some Burgundies and showcasing deep, juicy salinity. Twenty one year old, a legal drinking age in some countries, this wine could be a great start of anyone’s drinking career. A cherry on top of the tasting cake, this one could be a testimony to the Marche’s (and Jesi’s) potential, a proof for each and every somm in the world, an attraction for a collector’s wallet.

If only he could put the hands on it!

Text: Anton Moiseenko, 2018. This article first appeared in (UK)

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