Modern Meets Marche

“Marche is like Tuscany 30 years ago,” Marco Scapagnini, the US rep for Domodimonti, tells me, as we speak on the phone recently. “It’s not polluted. It has small producers who make wines from their own grapes, without having to buy from other growers or areas.” This region, located north of Abruzzo and east of Umbria, certainly does hit all the marks as a prototypical undiscovered gem for wine lovers, food lovers and tourists alike, with its off-the-beaten-path status, high quality culinary production and beautiful scenery.

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One thing Marche (pronounced Mar-kay) has that Tuscany doesn’t is the sea. Well, Tuscany has the sea, obviously, but not close to key wine growing areas Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano. In Marche, it’s right there. “There’s this perfect micro-climate with the low hills between the sea and the mountains,” says Scapagnini. “It creates a perfect balance between acidity and minerality in the wines.

Though there is a long history of grape growing and winemaking in Marche, Domodimonti is one of the newest producers in the region (though its vineyards date to the 1950s). Owner Francesco Bellini grew up here, but moved to the Montreal area to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals. After achieving breakthroughs with drugs to treat diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C and Alzheimer’s, Bellini was able to cash in and achieve his dream of owning a vineyard near his home (because, as they say, the best way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large one).

Francesco and Marisa Bellini

Francesco and Marisa Bellini

The core philosophy behind Domodimonti is natural wine. Growing the grapes sustainably, with no chemicals or machines used in the vineyard. No sugars, acids or additives and minimal sulfites. This is Bellini’s passion, and drives every decision that’s made, from the way the winery is designed to the final wine in the bottle. This idea – natural wine – is actually a controversial issue in the wine industry, and I’d prefer to refrain from rehashing the debate here. But feel free to check out Domodimonti’s website for more details on their vineyard and winemaking practices.

Regardless of your stance on natural wine, the outcome of these decisions on the end product is obviously relevant. One might wonder, for example, if natural means rustic, especially with wines from Italy. In this case, it most certainly does not. These wines are quite modern, made with state-of-the-art equipment and big-name consultants. They’re not particularly earthy or savory, and definitely do not feature any dirty or bretty aromatics. They’re fruit-forward, pure, clean and well-balanced.

Truth be told, I have my reservations about the grape Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (not to be confused with the region Montepulciano in Tuscany, where they grow Sangiovese). I’ve had excellent renditions, but when it isn’t done well, it can be awful. Sure, you can say that about any grape, but whereas I typically find something to enjoy in mediocre Sangiovese, mediocre Montepulciano is often drain cleaner. (And there’s a lot of bad MdA out there.)

The reason I bring this up is that, when it comes to Montepulciano, Domodimonti is straight up killing it. School is in session Abruzzo, and you best be taking notes. As I said above, this is just a pure, clean expression of fruit – ripe, fresh, bright, great acidity, food friendly, lingering complexity and downright beauty.

If there’s a knock on Domodimonti wines, it’s cost – many premium wines from Marche still tend to come cheap, yet these are an obvious exception. However, three bottles – two of which feature Montepulciano – were recently given a significant discount by the PLCB, so grab ’em while you can!

Domodimonti Il Messia 2009domodimonte-ilmessia ($18.99, was $29.99)
A mix of Montepulciano and Merlot, the name means “The Messiah.” (Let’s not get too crazy.) The nose leads with well-integrated oak notes of caramel and vanilla, as well as hints of mushroom. On the palate, big blackberry flavor intermingles with herbal notes and the slightest waft of smoke. This wine is fresh, vibrant, easy to drink, and will pair with a variety of medium-hearty foods. I’d drink now (but can age a few years).

Domodimonti Solo Per Te 2010 ($31.99, was $49.99)
100% Montepulciano, means “Just For You.” Big cherry flavor, with notes of anise, herbs, a touch of tar on the nose and lingering cocoa on the finish. This wine has great structure – featuring bright acid and huge tannin, making it outstanding with hearty foods and an excellent candidate for cellaring.

Domodimonti Passione e Visione 2010 ($44.99, was $69.99)
100% Petit Verdot, name means “Passion and Vision.” This definitely feels like the oddball of the group – a Bordeaux blending grape, hardly ever used in a monovarietal bottling, even in BDX or California, from Marche? Actually, Petit Verdot is making a name for itself in Central Italy, mostly in Maremma and Lazio, so it then stands to reason that it could also thrive here.

I drank a rare 100% PV from California a few weeks ago, so I went into this expecting a bold, lush wine, but instead was greeted with something much more elegant. Medium-bodied, this wine is fresh and vibrant, with the telltale PV acidity, but not the piercing tannins. It’s smooth, plummy, and packed with violets on both the nose and palate. If anything, it could use a touch more ripeness (something I rarely say, but a common issue for this grape).

All that said, this is going to be a tough sell at this price point, considering the region and the grape. It’s a tasty wine, and surely one for those seeking rarities. With my money, however, I’d buy the other two first.