Yesterday I attended a tasting that I had been keenly anticipating. It was a tutored tasting of prestigious Italian wines and I was absolutely certain that I would be bowled over.
I am sure that you can see where this is heading, can’t you? In the event I was rather underwhelmed by the whole experience – there were some good wines, but there were some that were quite ghastly too.
Strangely enough though, out of the 19 wines only 3 were NOT red and amongst the most interesting and characterful wines were the 2 white Verdicchios.
This made me realise how much I tend to enjoy Italian white wines and yet Italy is famous for her red wines – I find something very similar in Spain.
When I was starting out in wine, some 26 years ago, white wines from pretty much everywhere except Burgundy were written off, by those who taught me, as mundane.
Mediterranean food is often much more enjoyable to me with a white wine than a red, whether it is from Italy, Spain, Greece, Southern France, Turkey or even, stretching a point, Portugal. Yet no white wines from these places fit the old traditional definition of a fine white wine that has been barrel aged and will develop (positively) in bottle.
And why should they? That definition is a hangover from the Edwardian country house concept of wine that influenced the British people in the generations before we ever ate pasta and pesto. The world has changed and luckily wine has too – for the better.
Historically, of course, it was much easier to make red wines in the hot climates of the mediterranean world – certainly wines of quality. In addition many of the grape varieties they used oxidised very easily and I suspect that it was nigh on impossible to make a truly crisp wine before the introduction of cold fermentation. All of this may well explain why rosé is so prevalent in these areas – rosé was a surely safer bet for something lighter than red in the days of primitive winemaking.
I well remember my lack of excitement when tasting Italian white wines years ago, Frascati, Soave, Orvieto all seemed to me to smell of nothing and taste of nothing. How things have changed, the dull Trebbiano grape is in retreat and the proper grapes of these regions are now resurgent – I will return to all those wines another day.
Those wines were normally bland and dull in memory, but Verdicchio I remember as being deeply unpleasant – it always seemed to taste of gritty, earthy lemon juice and was bottled in a sort of fake glass amphora.
Incidentally it is not just my memory, my 1986 edition of Jancis Robinson’s Vines, Grapes and Wines states:
Verdicchio…’does not manifest any particularly exciting features. the wines it produces are clean and crisp enough, often virtually colourless thanks to modern Italian wine treatments…The very high total acidity of the grapes makes them good raw material for Italy’s burgeoning spumante industry.’
This tells me 2 things:
1 – Verdicchio has changed beyond recognition since 1986.
2 – I need a more up to date copy of Vines, Grapes and Wines.
There are 2 different Verdicchio wine regions, near to each other and both in the Marche, they both also have Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) status which is roughly equal to Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C./A.C.) in France.
Both are allowed to use other grape varieties in supporting roles, but Verdicchio is usually used on its own, as it is in all these examples. This is because Verdicchio, when grown properly with the emphasis on modern ripeness can have a lot of character – despite what we used to think – and the other more old fashioned additions can dilute that.
Well the 2 Verdicchios that I tasted yesterday could not have been more different from how I remembered or how Jancis described them in the ‘80s – not bland at all, not earthy, but really delicious and balanced wines that could grace any dinner table.
Plenio Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva 2006
D.O.C. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva
Great colour, bright and shimmering with a pale golden honey hue – quite viscous and rich.
The nose was honeyed with a little spice nuance, cooked and pithy lemon – citric, but not fresh – and dried citrus peel too.
In the mouth the weight of the wine was very attractive and rounded and creamy with a viscous and oily feel too.
There was enough acidity to stop the wine from cloying, but it was big mouthful with a wonderful texture.
In many ways this wine is all about the texture and the richness, there are poached pear and dessert apple flavours together with the merest touch of oak spice and some pastry-like flavours.
Very enjoyable stuff indeed – 89 points.
Around £19 from Everywine.co.uk.
Le Guincare Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva 2005
D.O.C. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva
A lovely fresh nose of zesty lemon and spices – this was really quite invigorating with citron and pithy grapefruit aromas.
In the mouth the first sensation was of a lovely clean and pure feel with a touch of minerality shining through, but this too has a rich texture that makes it delicious in a lightly oily kind of way.
Lovely rich mouth-feel balanced by a clean cut of acidity makes this wine beautifully balanced and poised with real finesse – 91 points.
Around £15 from Everywine.co.uk.
I have recently tasted 2 other Verdicchio wines worthy of note. The first was from the less famous Verdicchio area of Matelica, which is slightly inland and south of Jesi – home to the the more famous of the 2 Verdicchio D.O.C.s:
La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica 2007
D.O.C. Verdicchio di Matelica
This too is a richly textured wine with a good balancing dash of acidity.
Superb quality, very moreish and enjoyable – perfect with pesto – 90 points.
Around £12 from Uncorked.
However, you do not have to pay anything like that amount of money to get a good Verdicchio:
Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2008
D.O.C. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
This wine is nowhere near as complex or concentrated as the others, but it has some weight as well as good clean freshness and is a very enjoyable, if straightforward glass of wine, what is more it is in Waitrose at just £4.99 – 87 points.
So, Verdicchio has come along way in 26 years, these were all delicious to drink, all had a good depth of colour and in none was the acidity too high or even especially noticeable, just balanced. What is more they all go superbly with a wide range of food – if you cook in a sort of Mediterranean way, as I do, simply marinading everything – be it pork, chicken or fish in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and sea salt.
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