This month, Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla leads the Italian Food Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) on a delightful tour of La Primavera e Verdicchio, the story of springtime and a white grape native to Italy. It’s a topic well-worth exploring, given the wine’s freshness and affinity for a host of delicious dishes. You can read more about our April topic in her invitation post here.
As we do the first Saturday of each month, we’ll meet via Twitter at 11 am ET to share what we’ve learned, what we’ve cooked, and what we might do differently next time. Please join us for the chat and add your two cents’ worth to the conversation. Just remember to append #ItalianFWT to each of your tweets so we can welcome you. Scroll down to the end of this post for a preview of who’s talking about what this month.
Verdicchio – The Greatest Italian White Variety?
According to Ian D’Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy (the go-to reference on Italian grape varieties) there is a case to be made for Verdicchio as Italy’s finest white grape. History documents its presence on Italian soil back to the 15th century, but opinions are split as to where those vines were grown. Some claim it was the Marche, home to most Verdicchio production today. Others argue that it was farmers from the Veneto who came to repopulate the Marche after the Plague, bringing vines from their homeland.
Much ado about nothing, I say! Whether you’re drinking a bottle from the Marche or the Veneto (where Verdicchio goes by the names Trebbiano di Lugana, Trebbiano di Soave, or Turbiana) you’ll be enjoying a wine with delicate aromas of sweet almonds, acacia flowers, and citrus/herb flavors. A few growers, including Villa Bucci in Castelli di Jesi experiment with barrel-aging their Verdicchio wines, which results in a more complex style of wine intended for the cellar.
About Le Marche
Most examples of Verdicchio (and the one I’m talking about today) come from Le Marche (pronounced MAR-KAY), which is located southeast of Tuscany, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The region takes its name from the word marchese, the Italian word for a nobleman of hereditary rank, usually a landholder. It also refers to a frontier territory, an apt description for a land which, during medieval times, served as a buffer between the Papal States of Rome and their enemies to the north. While the political divisions of Italy now run along completely different lines, present-day Marche still serves as a demarcation of sorts.
Situated between the Apennine Mountains and the sea, Le Marche’s climate varies quite a bit, depending on where you’re located: it is continental in the north, near the capital of Ancona, but warmer and more typically Mediterranean the further south you go. Its soils are calcareous; not surprising given that much of Central Italy was once submerged beneath the ocean. Compared to its more famous neighbors to the west, Le Marche is quieter, with rural vineyards tended by small farmers. In some ways it is a throwback to Italy’s rustic past, when everything was made locally, including your food and wine. The region is often referred to as “Undiscovered Italy” because it remains authentic, genuine; a place that revels in the traditions of the past, welcoming those who want to take part in them. It still has its soul, one that is unapologetically old-school Italian.
Verdicchio in the Marche
DOCGs: Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva; Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva
DOCs: Verdicchio di Matelica; Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi
Vineyards cluster around two towns in this east-coast region of Italy: the villages of Jesi, near the Adriatic and Matelica, which lies inland, closer to the Apennine Mountains. Both regions make a standard Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) version as well as a riserva that is labeled Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). DOC and DOCG wines must be a minimum of 85% Verdicchio, but the DOCG wines must be aged for 1.5 years before sale. Classico Superiore wines must achieve a minimum of 12% alcohol by volume.
Wines from Matelica come from a cooler climate, nestled in the mountain foothills. They tend to have higher acidity and fuller body than their cousins from Jesi, which are known for their floral aromas. Both exhibit the characteristic bitter almond profile that defines Verdicchio.
While the fresh, young wines make for enjoyable summer sipping, the older wines that have spent some time in oak have their own charms. The almond aromas deepen into marzipan, and a mineral or flinty component emerges. It would be interesting to compare two wines from the same producer that were put through different treatments. Do they share similar traits? Which style do you prefer? Sounds like I’ve got an experiment on my hands! I’d also like to try one of the sparkling wines made from Verdicchio – if I can ever get my hands on one.
Brunori Azienda Vitivinicoli
The Brunori family, whose ancestral home is the town of Cupramontana near Ancona, have always grown Verdicchio grapes, but it was not until 1956 that Mario Brunori began bottling his own wine. Not long afterward, he opened a wine shop in Jesi to showcase not just his bottles but those of his neighbors as well. The shop stands today, offering a selection of local wines from small producers.
The Brunoris presented their first vintage (1975) of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore in Bordeaux-style bottles rather than the traditional jugs used in the region at that time, hoping it would demonstrate their commitment to making wines of quality. According to their philosophy, this meant restricting yields, and hand-harvesting each parcel of grapes as it achieved ideal ripeness.
That tradition continues today, with the next generation at the helm: son Giorgio runs the business, daughter Cristina manages the office, and son Carlo is the enologist. In addition to Verdicchio, the Brunori family grows other indigenous grapes such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and the mystical, frustratingly hard-to-track-down Alborada from the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC.
Brunori’s Verdicchio Vineyard
The vineyard comprises 6.5 hectares in the heart of the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico zone, surrounding the town of San Paolo di Jesi, an area particularly well-suited for grape cultivation. Vineyards face south/southeast on rolling hills, atop soils of sandy clay, which contribute richness and body to Verdicchio. Cool night temperatures ensure adequate acidity in the grapes and encourage the development of their unique aromatic compounds.
The Wine: 2016 Brunori San Nicolò Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore (13.5% abv; $18 retail)
Color: Lemon yellow fading to pale lemon-green at the edge.
Nose: Lemon zest, honey, a touch of roasted almond, followed by an anise/fennel note.
Palate: Bright citrus flavors rounded out by almond butter and honey. This is a rather full-bodied wine that feels very rich on the palate but does not overwhelm, thanks to the balancing acidity which keeps it fresh. The finish is long, with lingering notes of fennel and lemon pith.
Verdict: Yes! I have had this wine several times and know that it makes a dynamite partner with simply grilled fish with a spritz of lemon juice on top. But where this Verdicchio really shines is with roasted vegetables. The fennel notes in the wine bring out similar qualities in the food, highlighting both the sweetness and herbal flavors that emerge after a simple roasting in olive oil and salt and pepper.
The Pairing: Roasted Potatoes and Fennel in Lemon-Herb Dressing (and Porchetta!)
A couple of weeks ago, on a freezing, awful day in New York, I decided to tackle the giant pork shoulder I’d bought (at almost 8 pounds, perhaps it was more like wrestling) and make an herb-infused porchetta. Using this recipe from the New York Times, I did my day-ahead prep work and left the beast in the fridge to steep in the garlic/fennel/sage/rosemary elixir.
The next day, after I’d caramelized the fatty top of the pork and reduced the heat for a long, slow roast in the oven, I set out to put my side dish together. I had plenty of fennel, having used lots of fronds in the porchetta seasoning mixture. And I had a bag of potatoes and some lemons sitting idly by. There was my side dish!
Once the porchetta had finished cooking, it needed about an hour’s resting time – exactly how long I needed to cook my veggies just right. Into the roasting pan went one bulb of fennel (halved and cored) then sliced lengthwise into one-inch strips; two russet potatoes, sliced lengthwise into one-inch strips; zest of half a lemon; olive oil, salt, and pepper; and a sprinkling of ground fennel. I covered the pan with foil and baked at 400 for about 25 minutes.
While the veggies were roasting, I made a dressing of zest and juice of one lemon; leaves of one rosemary sprig, chopped; leaves from a few sprigs of thyme; olive oil, salt, pepper.
After the initial 25 minutes, I removed the foil, stirred the vegetables, and added half of the dressing, put the pan back in the oven, and cooked uncovered for another 25 minutes. Before serving, I mixed in the rest of the dressing.
Fantastico! The vegetables were so good I could have made an entire meal out of them. And the Verdicchio was the proverbial match made in heaven, bringing out the sweet, caramelly fennel, cutting through the richness of the potatoes. Even my husband, who doesn’t usually get too excited about wine, loved this pairing. The Brunori Verdicchio may have spoiled me for any other white wine – especially if vegetables are the star of the meal.
But here’s the surprise: the Verdicchio was no slouch with the porchetta. Given all the herbs and garlic in the rub, I guess it shouldn’t have shocked me that this white wine could hold its own with a rich pork dish. The inner sections, which weren’t exposed to the high-heat caramelization of the outer layers, retained more of the herbal flavors of the rub, and they were amazing with the wine.
The crunchier, browner parts on the surface were a bit too full-flavored for it, however. And that’s why we also poured a Barbaresco (2013 Massimo Rivetti Family Farm). It was a much easier match with those crispy, fatty, swoon-worthy bites that practically scream for a Nebbiolo.
So there you have it – my experience with one of the best food-wine pairings I’ve ever made. I can’t wait to experiment with a different mix of vegetables, especially now that spring is around the corner (or so they tell me!)
Take a look at what the other members of the Italian Food Wine & Travel group have to say about Verdicchio, the wonder grape of the Marche region of Italy:
- Jeff at FoodWineClick! gives us a A Wine Pairing Lesson with Verdicchio.
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla pours Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica with a Panzanella di Primavera.
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm serves up Scallop Crudo with Verdicchio.
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures offers a Multinational Spring Lunch with Verdicchio.
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares Verdicchio Paired with the Flavors of Spring.
- Nicole at Somm’s Table posts Cooking to the Wine: Azienda Santa Barbara Verdicchio and Tuna Melts.
Lynn at Savor the Harvest has A Spring Date With Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
- Susannah of Avvinare listens as Verdicchio Sings of Spring.
- Jennifer of Vino Travels shares Verdicchio of the Marche with Tenuta di Tavignano.
- And here at The Swirling Dervish we’ve paired Verdicchio and Roasted Vegetables: A Match Made in Heaven.
About the Italian Food Wine & Travel Group
We’re a bunch of food- and wine-loving bloggers who meet virtually on the first Saturday of each month to discuss a particular theme of interest. Each of us writes a post on the topic, which goes up just prior to our live chat on Twitter at 11 am ET. If you’d like to follow the conversation, you’re welcome to join us. Next month our theme is Benvenuto Vermentino (A Look At this Versatile Grape Variety that Grows in Liguria, Tuscany, and Sardinia) with our host Susannah of Avvinare.