On our last exciting episode of Central Italy Diploma Theory and Tasting, we walked along the west coast. (See DipWSET Theory and Tasting—Central Italy (Part 1)) Today, we take a look at the east coast. A fun little factoid I recently realized: If you take a look at the map of Central Italy, you see the Apennine mountains run down the center of the country “like a spine,” some say. Well, if it was a spine, it would have scoliosis—the mountain range curves, bulbs out on the east side, which means there’s less distance between mountain foothills and coastal ranges. So, unlike the expansive wine regions of the west coast, where vineyards planted inland have more continental climates and receive cooling influences from altitude, on the east side, we have a warm Mediterranean climate cooled by the Adriatic air that can reach some of those inland locations. Just thought I’d point that out because I thought it was cool.
Today we’re going to do a little review of Marche and Abruzzo and listen to Metalica. For a more general overview of Central Italy, based on WSET Level 3, please see Wine Region Overview: Central Italy.
When I think of the Marche region, my mind immediately goes to Verdicchio. And, indeed, at one point, the region was dedicated to more white than red wine. Today, that’s not the case—and I need to make a point of remembering that.
Basic theory question: Describe the Verdicchio grape and the DOC(G)s most noted for its production. Account for wine style and quality.
Verdicchio—late-ripening white variety whose first four buds are sterile thus typically planted at low densities, as the canopy needs to be trained high. Requires a long growing season, but is able to maintain a high level of acidity. As a late-ripener it is exposed to the late autumn rains, which is an environmental hazard, as the grape itself is susceptible to rot and mildew.
Wines produced have a pale lemon color, medium (-) aromas of blossom, apple, lemon, fennel, almond; it has a bitter finish, high acid and medium body. Most entry-level Verdicchio does not go through ML in order to maintain crisp high acids. Wines are aged for 4 to 6 months in stainless and bottled for immediate release/consumption. Riserva wines may see portion ML and be aged on the lees in old oak. Riserva wines are age-able and will develop dried fruit and mushroom notes over time.
Two main denominations:
- Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio DOC—in the low hills to the west with clay and limestone soils producing floral and fruity wines.
- Classico— reserved for grapes from the historic part of the appellation
- Classico Superiore—wines made from lower yielding plots in the Classico region.
- Riserva DOCG—requires 18 months aging.
- Verdicchio de Matelica DOC—(Personal anecdote: Matelica reminds me of Metalica, so these wines are hard core. 🤘) This DOC is on a higher zone in the foothills of the Apennines, protected from ocean influence by mountains, thus continental climate with hot days and cold nights resulting in longer ripening and higher acids. Soils mixed sandstone with fossils and contains less clay, thus faster draining, concentrating fruit flavors. Permitted yields are lower, wines fuller bodied, higher in acid, and less overtly fruity. Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva is minimum 12.5% ABV and requires 19 months of aging before release.
Garafoli “Podium” Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2016
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—yellow and green apple, pear, lemon pith, pastry, bread dough, vanilla, fennel, bitter melon, blossom, apricot, nectarine, agave
Palate: medium (+) acid, medium body, high alcohol, medium (+) intensity (as above—the last four notes were those that came out more on the palate than on the aroma; also getting just a hint of tertiary, like some blanched almond or raw cashew and maybe a touch of ginger spice and honey tones)
Finish is long
Conclusion: This is an outstanding wine that shows a wide range of aroma and flavor characteristics ranging from fresh primary citrus, pomme, and stone fruits to secondary characteristics from what I assume is lees contact and time spent in barrel, through to hints of tertiary characteristics (honey, nuts, ginger spices)—all which indicate not just its complexity in winemaking, but the ability that this wine has to age and develop over time. Those secondary characteristics from lees and barrel are perfectly balanced, they do not overwhelm the fresh primary fruits but complement the flavors and they further add to the structural integrity that will lend this wine to age-ability. There’s just a slight phenolic grip that adds a textural intrigue to the peripheral of the palate. The finish is long, lingering with a perfect collaboration of primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics. Because I cannot fault this wine, I cannot rate this wine any lower than outstanding.
Suitability for Aging: I do believe that this wine is suitable for aging. Structurally all the components are there—acid, alcohol, intensity of fresh fruit flavors. Additionally, there are hints of tertiary already as noted in the tasting notes above, telling me that this wine is already starting to develop and hinting at the aromas and flavors of the future.
So, what about the red wines? The dominant grape here is—Montepulciano! And I guess I always space on that fact because just down the road is Abruzzo and we all know that Moltepulciano d’Abruzzo just rolls off the tongue.
Montepulciano—key black grape for both quantity and quality; often blended with Sangiovese, which provides increased acid (highest quality is said to include at least 70 to 85% Montepulciano). Variety requires long growing season to fully develop BUT ripens unevenly within individual bunches. Therefore, for higher quality, careful selection required (increasing labor/production cost and final bottle price).
In the winery, Montepulciano is susceptible to reduction thus requires frequent cap management. Maceration depends on style—short 4 to 5 days for simpler wines; longer, 20 days +, for higher quality.
DOCs to know:
Rosso Piceno DOC—35 to 85% Montepulciano; covers a large area of the middle Marche.
Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC—is higher quality and can only be made from fruit grown in 13 townships of the Ascoli Piceno province; denomination requires higher alcohol and one year of aging.
Offida Rosso DOCG—located within Rosso Piceno, wines must be 85 to 100% Montepluciano and aged for 24 months total; 12 in oak.
Rosso Conero DOC and Conero Riserva DOCG—dedicated to Montepulciano wines (minimum 85% of blend); Conero Riserva allows only Sangiovese as the blending grape and must have at least two years aging total, one in wood, before release.
So, I have the opposite problem in Abruzzo—all I can think about is Montepulciano when, in actuality, white wines are produced here as well. Though the red wine grape Montepulciano dominates plantings, the region produces three main wines:
- Trebbiano d’Abruzzo—crisp white wine (made with either or both Trebbiano Abruzzese and Trebbiano Toscano) has high acid, typically unoaked
- Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo—made from the Montepulciano grape (at least 85%), producing medium to medium (+) body rosé
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo—red wine made from the Montepulciano grape; three levels of Montepulciano red wines:
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC—grown on hilly sites at high yields, producing wines with light to medium concentration.
- Five official sub-zones—restricted yields, minimum aging (including time in oak), producing wines with more concentration
- Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG—a former subzone that has the same yield restrictions as the subzones, but longer aging (including oak aging) requirements
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