Le Marche, Central Italy Great Sparkling Wines, Chiselled from the Heart. Part 2 of 3
31st July 2018
The sparkling wines of Le Marche can certainly be classified as some of the best made in Italy. The boundaries of winemaking in this area are being pushed ever wider, and quality and great attention to detail is at an all time high. This quality is being reflected in the many awards these wines are picking up on the international stage, and, slowly but surely, their producers are finding their name on some of the best wine lists in the world.
The wine journey through Le Marche starts from its most northern production area, Pesaro. Varieties planted here include Bianchello and Incrocio Bruni 54 for white, and, for red, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. However, the grape to watch out for is a dark skinned variety called Aleatico. This variety can be traced back to its French cousin muscat blanc a petits grains, a grape from the muscat family believed to be the oldest vitis vinifera in the world!
Aleatico was introduced to the region in the 13th century by the Gubbio family. The entire production area of this variety (27ha in total) is limited to an area covering the villages of Pergola, Fratte Rossa, Frontone, San Lorenzo and Serra Sant’Abbondio.
Within this boundary, sparkling wine is made with great success by one particular winery called Fattoria Villa Ligi, the man at the helm being Stefano Tonelli. The winery was started in 1912, is family-owned and in its third generation. Stefano produces two styles of sparkling wine from Aleatico – metodo charmat and metodo classico – both in small quantities and both very much in demand! Our focus for now is on his ‘Emma Rossi’ – a Pergola rosé, spumante brut, metodo classico.
Tasting notes: Pale pink in colour with a rich and persistent mousse. Notes of wild flowers are present, mixed with walnut and warm, toasted bread. Beautifully balanced with great freshness, lively acidity and finish, enhanced by 36 months on the lees and a further 6 months in bottle before release.
Food pairing: Ideal with lightly cured meats, mushroom-based risotto with truffle, and light fish dishes such as penne with salmon and cream sauce.
For more information on the wines of Fattoria Villa Ligi visit: www.villaligi.it
Further south and inland, overlooking the coastal town of Senigallia and the port city of Ancona, the area of Jesi is the heart of verdicchio production. Much has been written over many years about verdicchio, its worldwwide recognition, and the great producers this region has to offer. However, tucked away in a lovely little corner of the valley, quietly going about his business of making superb metodo classico, is the skilled and talented winemaker Federico Mencaroni. Due to the amount of work involved, most wineries these days produce one metodo classico, some are very fortunate to produce two. Federico Mencaroni is blessed and produces three, all metodo classico and all top quality wines. This is a very family-orientated business with everybody involved in the daily processes. Now in its fourth generation, traditional values are continuously reflected in the philosophy of the company – “Having total respect for nature and all it gives” – combined with a pure passion for making top quality wine.
First up is ‘Apollonia’ – verdicchio di Jesi, natural spumante brut, metodo classico. The grapes are harvested at the end of August and then pressed for a few hours after harvesting. Only the first 40% of the must is used for the production of the sparkling base. The following year, in the months of March or April, the wine is fermented for about two months, then the wine matures anywhere from 40-60 months on the lees. Then follows the disgorgement, during which neither sulphites nor additional wine is added. Another six months of refinement in bottle is needed before release is considered.
Tasting notes: A bright golden yellow colour with prominent floral notes, buttered bread and almond. The palate offers a rich, austere and dominating sensation of fruit and minerality, followed by fine and stimulating bubbles. The wine is savoury with a lovely freshness and a long persistent finish.
Food pairing: This wine is excellent with fish and seafood pasta dishes.
The second wine in the trilogy is ‘Contatto’ – verdicchio di Jesi, spumante brut, metodo classico.
Tasting notes: Straw yellow in colour, opening with slight notes of dried flowers followed by bread crust, tropical notes such as mango, and finishing with papaya. The wine is balanced and lively with a very satisfying palate, excellent and elegant bubbles and a persistent palate.
Food pairing: This wine pairs perfectly with grilled pork and prawns with a mandarin or orange-based sauce.
The final wine is ‘Marcello Federico’ – rosé extra brut, metodo classico.
Tasting notes: Medium pink in colour, opening up with scents of violet, rose flowers and biscuit notes. This is followed by intense and satisfying fruit flavours, finely balanced acidity, and a long pleasant and persistent finish.
Food pairing: Perfect with grilled seafood, fish based pasta dishes or salmon tartare.
For more information on Federico and his wines visit: www.mencaroni.eu
No visit to Le Marche would be complete without mentioning another fine artisan producer, Piergiovanni Giusti. High up in the hills of Moro D’alba, he is possibly the most famous producer of spumante rosato in the area. Moro D’alba is the only territory in the world growing the indigenous Lacrima di Moro D’alba grape. This grape is traditionally used to make wonderful aromatic red wines. However, the shift towards the production of sparkling rosé began approximately 15 years ago and the area has not looked back since. Today, there are still only a handful of committed sparkling wine producers in Moro D’alba but those who have taken the plunge can certainly feel very proud of their results to date.
Just think back to that famous meeting between Barrack Obama, Vladimir Putin and heads of state at Ban Ki-Moons peace table in New York in 2015, when the success of the occasion was toasted with non other than a fine bottle of rosé from Piergiovanni Giusti: ‘Bolla Rosa’ – lacrima, spumante brut, metodo martinotti!
Tasting notes: Delicate pink colour with a very intriguing perlage. Geranium and rose petal lead the way followed by citrus, red fruits and grapefruit. The wine is quite soft and balanced, finishing again with lovely citrus notes.
Food pairing: ‘Bolla Rosa’ pairs well with savoury beignet with a salmon mousse and red pepper. For the lunch with presidents Obama and Putin, the wine was paired with smoked trout and a cucumber timbale.
For more information on the wines of Luigi Giusti visit: www.lacrimagiusti.it
Heading back towards the coast, in particular the area of Numana, the winery of Conte Leopardi Dittajuti is located a stone’s throw from a stretch of the Adriatic coastline many consider the riviera of the east. The owner, Pier Vittorio, is firmly focused on making great Rosso Conero DOCG, and is one of the leading producers of Sauvignon Blanc in Le Marche. His vineyards are located on the foot of Monte Conero, the only mountain in Italy that reaches the coast, making the perfect growing conditions for his wines. Pier Vittorio, under the guidance of the most famous and respected wine expert Riccardo Cottarella, produces two styles of sparkling wine, both using 100% estate-grown varieties.
First up is a verdicchio di Jesi, spumante brut, metodo martinotti.
Tasting notes: Straw yellow in colour, opening with a rich and fine perlage. On the nose, scents of jasmine and linden lead to an intense and very well balanced palate followed by bergamot and loquat in the soft finish.
Food pairing: The wine pairs well with grilled scampi with Himalayan red salt and most other light or grilled seafood.
Then comes a moscato, spumante dolce, metodo martinotti.
Tasting notes: With a golden hue and a fine and persistent perlage. The nose is aromatic with fragrant notes of pear, bergamot and orange blossom. On the palate, the wine is fresh, creamy and intense with a long and fruit-filled finish.
Food pairing: Pairs very well with seafood pasta in a cream sauce or lightly spiced grilled fish and antipasto.
For information on the wines of Conte Leopardi, visit: www.conteleopardi.com
Finally, as we approach the halfway stage of this journey through Le Marche, we head south to Macerata, where the splendid region of Serrapetrona can be found. High in the mountains, Serrapetrona is not only the smallest DOCG zone in Italy, it is also the only region in Italy to produce sparkling red DOCG wine – two great accomplishments for such a small area. The town, history and wine of Serrapetrona is impossible to describe in words but extraordinary to experience in person. Two particular wineries that represent everything that is great about the wines of this town are Serboni and Quacquarini, both of which produce Vernaccia Nera sparkling red wine in dry and sweet versions. Massimo Serboni is a real artisan winemaker, very rarely straying from the vineyard or the cellar, while Mauro Quacquarini is the largest winemaker in the town and also produces a wide selection of gourmet biscuits, cakes and chocolates, all infused with the dried vernaccia grape, a real delicacy. Their wines are delightful all year round, but especially in summer time when the wines are savoured throughout the region, especially along the coast where many parties and celebrations take place.
To begin with is Quacquarini’s Vernaccia Nera di Serrapetrona DOCG, sparkling red wine, secco.
Tasting notes: Bright ruby red in colour, with wafts of red fruit, carnation flower, raspberry candies, followed by light notes of caramelised dates. The palate offers brilliant freshness with just enough spritz and acidity to keep the full flavour of the wine in perfect balance. These wines are usually kept on the lees for approx 12 months.
Food pairing: This wine work well with seafood, especially sushi, as the slight spice and floral notes in the wine is similar to that found in jasmine tea, another great pairing with sushi.
Finally, comes Serboni’s Vernaccia Nera di Serrapetrona DOCG, sparkling red wine, dolce.
Tasting notes: Ruby red with purple tints in colour, with immediate scents of blueberry, wild cherry and flowers. White pepper and cloves follow, offering a nice and very enjoyable spiciness. The palate is soft, creamy, rich and elegant with well-integrated and fine bubbles. Its continued freshness throughout also offers lovely soft tannic notes. A fine example of great vernaccia nera.
Food pairing: The perfect pairing for this wine is chocolate mousse or orange chocolate cake served with a rich berry sauce. In Le Marche, it is also served with Pecorino cheese and acacia honey.
So this brings us to the halfway stage of the wine journey through Le Marche, but in the final part of this article, the story will continue south to the areas of Fermo and Ascoli Piceno.
Many thanks to the above-mentioned wineries for their support and open door policy. Thanks also to the Le Marche association of Italian sommeliers for their assistance with tasting notes and food pairing.
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