Verdicchio: A Seriously Underesteemed Wine

Not a name that’s likely to set bells pealing in a wino’s brain, for sure, Verdicchio nevertheless deserves to be more highly valued than a good many other white wines of whatever origin. I’m not alone in thinking that Verdicchio ranks among Italy’s noblest white varieties.

verdicchioVerdicchio – the name of both the grape and the appellation – flourishes in the Marches, a region on Italy’s Adriatic coast bordered on the north by Emilia, on the south by Abruzzo, and on the west by Umbria. The grape is pretty much a Marches specialty: not much cultivated elsewhere, which may account for its lack of a larger reputation. That’s a real loss, because Verdicchio yields not only a very enjoyable everyday dinner wine but also a first-class, long-aging white of great subtlety and distinction.

According to Jancis Robinson’s authoritative book, Wine Grapes, Verdicchio probably originated in the Veneto but made its way into the Marches by the later Middle Ages. Recent studies have shown that it is the same as the variety now known in the Veneto as Trebbiano di Soave, which growers there prize as a component of the best Soave Classico – some indeed esteeming it above Garganega.

In the Marches, it appears in two distinct appellations, Verdicchio di Castelli di Iesi and Verdicchio Matelica, the former and larger zone more coastal, and the smaller Matelica zone more inland, near the border with Umbria. Both zones turn out a lot of simple, everyday Verdicchio, and both also produce much more important examples of delicious, structured dinner wines, with special reserve bottlings capable of impressive bottle age.

fazi bThe simple, everyday Verdicchio was once upon a time enormously popular in the US, at least on the east coast. Fazi-Battaglia’s version, packaged in a distinctive fish-shaped bottle (now only a stylized version of the original), was practically ubiquitous in Italian restaurants and made an unfailingly reliable accompaniment to seafood of all sorts – especially fried calamari. I still have fond memories of that enjoyable and inexpensive wine, as I do of those enjoyable and inexpensive restaurants. But as Heraclitus observed, panta rei – all things flow, and you can never step in the same river twice.

Nowadays, most Verdicchio that we see here is made to be more serious, which is really a great gain, no matter what I feel about the loss of the simpler wine. Contemporary Verdicchio belongs in the ranks of superior dinner wines, wines that bring not just citric or tropical fruit freshness to the table but also a complex minerality, round body, depth, and persistence. These are estimable wines, and they companion well with white meats and the best fish dishes. John Dory and sole, trout and sea trout, lobster and crab – all would shine alongside a good Verdicchio.

villa bucciFortunately, good ones abound. I recently enjoyed my last bottle of Villa Bucci Riserva 2007, which was a stunningly fine wine, reminiscent of top-quality white Burgundy in its structure and roundness, but unmistakably Italian in its racy acidity and distinctive slateyness. Bucci stands, in my estimation, at the top of the mountain in Verdicchio, and also has the distinction of being among the few wineries that still use the talents of the eccentric enologist Giorgio Grai, once a name to be conjured with in Italian wine circles.

But many other firms produce top-flight basic Verdicchio and Verdicchio Riserva: Fazi-Battaglia still ranks among the zone’s leaders, with its basic Titulus and its cru Le Moie. Equally highly reputed is Umani Ronchi, whose Riserva Casal di Serra is always among the Marches’s finest, long-aging Verdicchios. Garofoli makes a fine basic Verdicchio, Macrina, and several cru and riserva bottlings. Moncaro (a fine co-op very much in demand throughout Europe, but currently – and lamentably – lacking an importer in the US) produces the basic Le Vele and the distinguished Riserva Vigna Novali. These are all Castelli di Iesi wineries; the best Verdicchios of the smaller Matelica zone are the fine examples from La Monacesca.

What else can I add? If you already know Verdicchio well, this has been yesterday’s news for you – but if you don’t, you owe it to yourself to try some right away, especially now that warm weather and lighter meals are here, and preferably an older Riserva, so you can see right off the potential of this intriguing variety.

4 Responses to “Verdicchio: A Seriously Underesteemed Wine”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom: You know from my articles that I’m a huge fan of Verdicchio – both Jesi and Matelica. It’s a pity that more sommeliers don’t carry these on their lists, which I assume must be that the wines don’t have a buzz about them. It probably also doesn’t help that the wines are from the Marche region, one of Italy’s least celebrated.

    You mentioned impressive bottle age and that may be an understatement, as I have tasted 25 year old versions that offer remarkable freshness. I don’t know that this fact about Verdicchio is that well known, for it if was, you’d see a lot more of these wines on top wine lists and in the finest stores. I think Verdicchio suffers from an image as a fresh, medium-bodied, fragrant wine – nothing wrong with that, of course – but it’s much more than that. It’s one of the top four or five Italian white wines.

    As for Matelica, you mentioned a very fine producer in La Monacesca, but don’t forget about Bisci (especially their cru selection Vigneto Fogliano, a Verdicchio of outstanding complexity) as well as Collestefano (both are imported in the US).

  2. Ed Mccarthy Says:

    Tom, Do you have any general preference of the two Verdicchios in Marches, or is it really in the hands of the producer?

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Ed:
      There are enough terroir and microclimate differences within the two appellations to make it impossible for me to generalize about the quality of one versus the other, so it really does come down to the style and skills of the producers in both zones.

      Happily for us, there are very fine producers in both, and most pricing still falls in the reasonable range. There was a fad in Italy, a few years back, for the Matelica wines, and some extravagant praise was heaped on them at the expense of Castelli di Iesi, but that has subsided now and esteem for both zones seems pretty even-handed — which, to my mind and palate, is as it should be.

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