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CENTRAL ITALY
Page 2

MAROTTI CAMPI
The Marotti Campi "family" cultivates about 120 hectares of vineyards in the Marches region.  Drive well inland (west, or you'll get wet) from Ancona and you're in the land of Verdicchio.  


The patriarch of the family worked in Europe for Seagram's and retired some years ago.  His sons run the business of the vineyard and cellar.  The 1999 vintage was the first commercial harvest for the Marotti family.
 


But Marotti Campi, though they do make Verdicchio, routinely catches our attention with a red wine of unique character.  It's made of a grape called "Lacrima di Morro d'Alba."  Morro d'Alba is a small village north of Jesi, the famous center of Verdicchio production.  Some people are easily confused (me being a prime example) and might expect a wine that has the "d'Alba" on the label to come from Northern Italy's Piemonte region.  That's not the case.
 
 
The Lacrima di Morro d'Alba grape was dying out.  In the 1980s there were but 5 hectares.  The government granted the wine its own "DOC" and by 1999 there were some 50 hectares planted.  Today there are about 200 hectares.
 
 


The variety is viewed a bit like Beaujolais, particularly amongst Italian wine geeks.  They tend to have the idea that this wine is not capable of cellaring well.   Most will advise you to drink the wine within a year or two of the vintage.  We have had a different experience and learned that Marotti Campi's wood-aged wine is specifically to demonstrate this can be aged in wood and cellared for some years.
 
 
 

What makes this wine so wild is that it's wonderfully aromatic.  The color is fairly dark ruby.  The nose is amazing, being more reminiscent of a good Gewürztraminer than of any normal red wine you've ever encountered.    The fragrance is of rose petals and grapefruit.  It's a dry, medium-bodied red wine.  Oak is not present in this wine.  We like serving it lightly chilled to cellar temp.  It's a great picnic red and pairs with all sorts of well-seasoned foods.  The current 2010 vintage is dark in color and teeming with fragrances.

 
 


The "Blue Label" is matured in wood, though they claim they use seasoned cooperage which is more neutral.  We find a "woodsy" component to the way, however.  It's an interesting recipe, a some of the juice is fermented along the lines of Beaujolais and some undergoes a more classical red wine fermentation.  The two lots are blended and then matured for some months in oak.  We find the "Orgiolo" bottling to be fuller and deeper.  It's delicious and a great bottle to share with wine geek friends who think they know everything about everything.  This wine is so far off the beaten path, only a few have trodden that walkway.

Marotti says many of his competitors are now making Lacrima di Morro d'Alba which they mature for a year or two in wood.  Having seen the success of the Marotti Campi wines, it's no wonder!

I have to take another look at the Verdicchio wines here.  I have not paid much attention to these, but I tasted two bottlings of their 1999 vintage.  At six and a half years of age, these were good.  The one which had been bottled after the summer of 2000 was extraordinary, reminding me of good French white Burgundy that's not been exposed to much new oak.

Marotti explained the aging "graph" for Verdicchio is curious.  "It starts out improving and, then after a couple of years it seems as though it's finished.  But it's merely 'down.'  We are surprised to open some after a few more years only to find the wines are really good.

They have a new item...a sparkling, sweet wine made of Lacrima di Moro d'Alba!  

It's called XYRIS.
What a name!

To explain, though: Xyris is a botanical name for a family of little plants in the yellow-eyed grass family.  That explains the various little flowers depicted on the bottle.

I had made a sorbet from Marotti Campi's Lacrima di M oro d'Alba and when Bob tasted the sparkling wine he commented that it reminded him of my palate-cleansing ice.

The wine is dark in color and very fruity...more so on the palate than the fragrance.  I found it a bit less aromatic than their red wine.  



 
Currently in stock:  MAROTTI CAMPI 2014 Lacrima di Moro d'Alba SALE $15.99
MAROTTI CAMPI 2002 "Orgiolo" (Blue Label) Lacrima di Moro d'Alba $14.99
MAROTTI CAMPI "Xyris" (Sweet, Bubbly Lacrima di Moro d'Alba)  $17.99

LUNCH OUT ON THE COAST AT SAVINI
A few photos of lunch with Signor Marotti in Senigallia at a lovely restaurant.

 

COLLE STEFANO

There is Verdicchio and there is Verdicchio.

Actually, there are two somewhat different Verdicchio wines produced in the Marche region of Central Italy.

The more famous of the two is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi which comes from an area close to Ancona and influenced by the Adriatic sea.  The most famous, for many years, was that of the "factory" called Fazi-Battaglia, whose wine came in an amphora-shaped bottle.
The less famous appellation is Verdicchio di Matelica, a region of higher altitude and somewhat cooler climate.  It's a short drive if you're in Umbria and there are no huge estates cranking out millions of bottles of this, so it's a wine that's a bit unknown except to serious fans of Italian wines.

Colle Stefano is a small estate.  Fabio and Silvia Marchionni have maybe 4 hectares of vineyards and produce a small amount of wine.  Fabio had spent some time in Germany, learning about organic farming and precision in winemaking.  He returned home in 1998 and embarked on working the family estate.  Today his wine is one of the most respected in the Marche and we're delighted to have some bottles in the shop here in Burlingame.
 
I had received a letter (years ago) from Silvia who asked about our interest in their wine.  I forwarded it to a local importer who's a fuss-budget (like us) and he liked the wine well enough to bring some over.  Today it's one of the cornerstones of his importing enterprise and he buys a significant percentage of the Colle Stefano production.   Now the Marchionni family's wine is featured in all sorts of 'hot' dining spots in the Bay Area, as well as in our little wine emporium.
 
The 2013 is delicious!  This is a crisp, light wine which is not subjected to oak aging, so you won't be picking splinters out of your tongue.  This is a lovely aperitif and it pairs handsomely with seafood and light starters.  Oysters?  Grilled prawns??  You get the idea...
 

Currently in stock:  2013 COLLE STEFANO Verdicchio di Matelica $17.99


Fabio and Silvia



 

CIŁ CIŁ

 

CIŁ CIŁ 

The Marche region of Italy is the home of a number of good wines with the most prominent being made of the Verdicchio grape.  Yet the region produces some other worthy wines, including Pinot Noir, Rosso Piceno, Rosso Conero, Lacrima di Moro d'Alba and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona (a red Vernaccia).

As most wine drinkers explore the world of Italian wine, center stage is typically taken by Piemontese and Tuscan wines.  You might, then, discover the wines of the Alto Adige, the Veneto, Friuli and Sicily.  Way down on the list are the wines of the Marche.

You'd be driving for about 4+ hours from Florence to arrive in the town of Offida in the southern part of the Marche, so this is well off the beaten path for most tourists.

And there you'd find the vineyards and winery called Cił Cił, named thusly because a grandpa (or two) ago worked for the railroad.
 
The Bartolomei brothers run this place, farming their 130 hectares of vineyards organically.  

We're especially fond of their white wines, one made from Passerina and the other being vinified with Pecorino.

The 2014 Pecorino carries the Offida DOCG and the vineyards are near the cellar in the Ascoli Piceno province.  We are surprised to learn this is vinified in wood, because oak doesn't seem to be part of the wine's make-up.  It's a variety that was dying out and there were less than 100 hectares of it in Italy around 2001.  Today we understand there are more three times that.  If more wines taste like 

If more wines tasted like this one, they ought to extend the vineyard land devoted to Pecorino.

The grape, by the way, has nothing to do with the famous cheese of the same name.  Both get their name, though, as a reference to sheep (Pecora in Italian).

The fragrances of the Pecorino display some peachy aromas with a faintly lime-like tone.  It's dry on the palate and fairly crisp, but not shrill.  We enjoy this as a cocktail white and it pairs handsome with seafood...steamed clams, fresh crab, grilled prawns, etc.  It also shines brightly with seafood salads.

We sometimes have their other white wine, Passerina, in stock.

Currently in stock: CIŁ CIŁ 2014 PECORINO  $14.99

QUACQUARINI

 

QUACQUARINI

Serrapetrona is well below the radar of most serious Italian wine geeks.

As them about Vernaccia and they'll likely start telling you about a white wine from Tuscany and the pretty little town called San Gimignano.  If their knowledge of Italian wines is deeper, they may know about Vernaccia di Oristano from Sardinia.  Those two are not related.  

And then there's the Vernaccia from Serrapetrona in Italy's Marche region.  And this Vernaccia is a red grape and, of course, not at all related to the other two white Vernaccia varieties.

We've seen Spanish wine called Vernatxa, yet this is a Garnacha or Grenache wine.  Some books claim Vernaccia Nera is, in fact, related to Grenache.  Well, not so fast.  It seems the name Vernaccia may come from the Latin word "vernaculum" which was used to refer to some local or indigenous grape variety.  So every grape particular to an area could be called "Vernaccia."  

The vineyards and winery of Alberto Quacquarini as located in Italy's Marche region and they're in the shadows of Verdicchio, Lacrima di Moro d'Alba and the various red blends such as Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno.  But one of the top wines of the region is made by the Quacquarini family and made of Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.

The company was found by Alberto and his wife, Francesca.  Their kids, Monica, Luca and Mauro now run the family businesses, one of which is the winery and the other being a candy or confectionery company.

They have 35 hectares of Vernaccia Nera and the Quacquarini name is synonymous with this grape and its wine.  They're the benchmark is what we're trying to say.


 



The regulations for Vernaccia di Serrapetrona require the wine have some juice from grapes that have been dried for a minimum of three months.  Here you can see a snapshot of a room full of fruit being dried.  This sort of process was normal in Italy ages ago, though today we think solely of the wines of the Veneto's Amarone della Valpolicella as having been made with grapes that have been dehydrated.  

Before the advent of temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, adding some juice of dried grapes was quite common in Tuscany where the process was called the "governo" method.  If you had a fermentation that was very slow or even stuck, adding a fresh infusion of sweet juice often kick-started the yeasts.  Along with the fermentation being energized, this also adds some body and weight to the wine.

The Marche is not so far from Tuscany and this process remains a part of the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona regimen.  The wine, then, needs to have 40% of its volume from grapes that have been dried.  And yet in Quacquarini's wine we don't detect the raisiny, dehydrated fruit character!

In fact, the wine is mildly berryish with a lightly peppery, spicy note.  It's medium-bodied and dry on the palate, so you won't mistake this for an Amarone wine!  Pair it with a grilled steak that's got a light grind of fresh black pepper on it.  Or match it with spicy sausages...it's got a lot of food-pairing affinities.

 

Currently in stock:  2012 QUACQUARINI VERNACCIA DI SERRAPETRONA   $23.99

 
 

 




 



RAINA

The Mariani family used to own a prominent estate in the Montefalco region, but with sluggish sales and little demand for the fruit in the early 1990s, they sold the place.

In the interim, Francesco Mariani had grown up and worked in several restaurants in Italy, but he still had "wine in his blood" and a desire to combine both wine and food.

The family purchased a small property in the Turri area, just south east of beautiful downtown Montefalco.  The 12 hectare estate is planted with 10 hectares of vineyards, 4 for "Rosso" and 6 for Sagrantino.

At some point, Francesco wants to have, I gather, a sort of small restaurant or trattoria near the winery to combine his passion for each.

The estate is called Raina, as that was the nickname of an old fellow who had owned the property and farmed it.  In his honor, they use the name Raina for the wines.

As it's a new winery, the first vintage of Sagrantino was matured entirely in brand new oak.  As a result, if you like the first vintage, you may be surprised by the radical change in style of the second...it was matured using merely 20% new barrels.

The Montefalco Rosso, a Sangiovese blended with a bit of Sagrantino and Merlot, is very nice and a good alternative to Chianti wines. 

The 2007 Sagrantino is an impressive and showy red wine.  It's from a warm vintage, so the alcohol level is a bit elevated.  We find the wine to be worthy of comparison with Caprai's "25 Anni" Sagrantino, though Raina's is half the price.
It's dark in color and shows lots of black fruit aromas.  Woodsy, cedary and lavishly oaked, this is moderately tannic, so pairing it with red meat or a selection of cheeses is ideal.

Currently in stock:  2007 RAINA Sagrantino di Montefalco  $49.99


I drove into Montefalco to a favorite shop, picked up some bottles of Sagrantino from neighboring estates to taste with Francesco & Chiara, along with some local prosciutto and salame.


Francesco prepared a little pasta...a nice combination with his red wines!

We liked his wines along with the Milziade Antano Sagrantino...





TORRE DEI BEATI

This winery may be run by a couple of saints, but I don't know them well enough to say, for certain.

Faustus Albanesi and his wife Adriana Galassi.  Her father had planted some vineyards in the early 1970s and when she and her hubby were working as sommeliers, dad gifted the couple with 10 hectares of grapes. 

"That'll keep them out of trouble." said Pop.

Having an idea of what good wine should taste like, the couple seems to be hell-bent of making stellar wines.  They cultivate their vineyards employing organic farming practices and we understand they're fanatics about picking the fruit at just the right moment during harvest season.

Today the estate comprises some 21 hectares of vineyards and they have a new winemaking facility.  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is their focus, but we've found a rather enchanting white wine made of the Pecorino grape.

The vineyards have a clay and limestone soil.  Yields are relatively small and they strive to pick the grapes at the optimum level of ripeness.  Most of the juice is fermented in stainless steel, with a small portion seeing oak.

We like the pear notes along with some white flower fragrances and flavors.  The wine is, of course, dry.  You'll get a sense of wood in the background, but it's not the focal point of this wine.  
 

Currently in stock:  2010 TORRE DEI BEATI PECORINO  Sold Out




 

 

ANTONELLI

Antonelli is one of your best friends in the world of Sagrantino.  File that name away, won't you, please?

The reason we mention this is Antonelli makes really good, classic Sagrantino and he sells his wine for an honest and sensible price, unlike some of his "Napa Valley" neighbors.

The estate, known as San Marco de Corticellis, was owned by the church from the 13th century until fairly recently...well, 1881 when Francesco Antonelli bought the property.  He was a lawyer in nearby Spoleto and thought, like a lot of lawyers, "Wouldn't it be great to be in the wine business?"

It took them a while, though, to have the idea of actually bottling and selling wine.  This notion hit them in 1979, so nearly a hundred years before someone had a brainstorm!

The Antonelli's have, for the most part, been lawyers.  The current owner is Filippo Antonelli and his mom must have said a few choice words and "dio mio!" when Filippo decided to focus on the wine business and leave the lawyering for others.

They have 40 hectares on the property, grapevines being planted on the higher elevations and on the slopes, leaving the flatlands for cultivating grain.  The vineyards are mature, ranging in age from 15 to 30 years.  In addition to Sagrantino and Sangiovese, there's a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Montepulciano in reds and Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino for whites.  The vineyards, by the way, are organically farmed.

Total production tallies to 300,000 bottles annually.


Filippo Antonelli

I know he's proud of his wines, but maybe even a bit prouder of these two Antonellis...

Filippo and his father...

The cellars have a variety of cooperage...


...and more traditional large tanks.

 

Antonelli produces something like 9 different wines.  We carry, presently, just the normal bottling of Sagrantino.

The current vintage is their 2008.  The juice spends about two to three weeks in contact with the skins.  Sagrantino can have a fair bit of tannin, so if you're a fan of sweet Rieslings, Moscato or Beaujolais, you'll definitely be in for a surprise when you open a bottle of this!  

The young wine goes first into small oak (puncheons) for half a year before being racked into those large, fairly neutral wood tanks for another 12 months.  After that, they rack the wine into cement vats for a few months before bottling.  

You can certainly enjoy the 2008 now, if you like.  With its fair bit of astringency, though, pairing the wine with lamb, duck, a well-marbled steak or something fairly substantial is ideal.  That helps cut the tannin and the wine simply tastes better.  But these can age handsomely and holding a bottle or two of Antonelli's wine for another five or ten years ain't a bad idea.

As noted above, some of the rock stars of Montefalco affix large price tags to their wines.  I know Filippo is a bit envious of their apparent success.  But as I explained to him there's a difference in the wines:  "Yours actually sell and we replace the sold bottles with more stock.  Theirs collect dust and we routinely have to polish the bottles."

Currently in stock:  2008 ANTONELLI Sagrantino di Montefalco  $37.99

 


 

 

 

 

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