Killer Vees: Vacation and Verdicchio

positano coast

Right about now, Italians are gearing up for Ferragosto on August 15, a holiday of ancient origin that signaled a time of relaxation and feasting at the end of summer’s grueling agricultural labors. These days, it’s the green light for the start of vacation season. Across the land, restaurants and shops close down for a week or two. Seaside resorts are mobbed, and hotels packed, by hedonistic sun worshipers and revelers. The usual frenetic pace of traffic collides with critical mass on super highways and winding two lane roads. La dolce vita swaying to club beats.

So what are Giovanni and Chiara drinking during those languorous dog days and nights? Birra, especially the twenty-somethings. And, of course, vino – by the glass, bottle, or liter –  most of it white. Of the scores of varietals to choose from, it’s a safe bet that an ocean of Verdicchio will be consumed.

The signature grape of Le Marche may have been cultivated in the region as early as the 8th century B.C. Typically, it has a distinct, sometimes tart, “green” quality (hence its name from verde) of sour apple, herbs, quince, even a touch of lime. Savory, resin accented white fruit flavors can be discerned, and it often finishes with a pithy almond skin bitterness. Its two designated (DOC) production zones are centered on the towns of Jesi and Matelica, hard by the Esino River as it meanders to the Adriatic.

Jesi comprises hills of limestone and clay in a temperate, dry micro-climate barely 20 miles from the sea. The natural conditions slow down ripening and promote higher levels of acidity. Here, Verdiccchio tends to have lusher fruit flavors laced with salinity and minerals and a more floral aromatic profile.

Matelica is farther inland in a higher altitude Apennine basin swept by cool continental air flows which create the diurnal temperature variances that delay the grape’s maturation. Generally, Matelica wines are more aromatically complex, with concentrated and persistant flavors supported by a noticeable structure.

The good news is that you don’t have to be in Viareggio or Rimini, or even on vacation, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a well-made Verdicchio. Here’s an All Star lineup of well- regarded producers whose wines I’ve sampled recently:

sartarelli-verdicchioSartarelli “Tralivio” Castelli di Jesi 2007 ($17.49)
A lush, beautiful  expression of the grape, but not if you’re put off by bitterness in a white. Loads of almond and citrus pith set the tone for white stone fruits and melon, mildly tart citrus and stony minerals. A mouth filling classic, a day at the beach in a glass.

Brunori “Le Gemme” Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009 ($12.99)
Traditional Jesi style, aromas of ripe pear, minerals, salinity. Lush, concentrated white fruits bolstered by fresh acidity and a bracing rush of minerals that leads to a mildly bitter, nutty finish. Never loses its focus.

Ampelio Bucci Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009 ($26)
Restrained nose that is more floral than fruit-driven.  Tart citrus and green apple flavors dominate a smooth entrance, and a touch of almond scent emerges. A round, full texture doesn’t hold back a steady flow of savory minerals and lemony acidity. The finish is lively, clean and lengthy.

Stefano Mancinelli Castelli di Jesi Classico 2010
Well crafted, as are all the wines from this estate. White flowers and peaches up front. Somewhat similar to a Matelica but not as structured, though the invigorating saline acidity is all Jesi. Has a refreshing stony quality from start to finish.

Fontezoppa Matelica 2010
Atypical of this DOC in terms of density and structure. Waves of citrus and grapefruit scents accented by lemongrass and orange rind. High level of tart acidity in a chalky, citric mouthfeel. Sort of a crossover of the DOCs.

Colle Stefano Matelica 2012
This may not have the fullness and structure of its neighbors, but it’s packed with ripe, pure white fruit-green apple aromas and flavors. Tangy acidity enlivens every sip, adds a zippy bite to the texture. Flavors never fade, thanks to the persistent acidity. Close in style to a Jesi, but has more layers to peel and a fuller feel on the palate.

Bisci Matelica 2011 ($12.99)
Classic Verdicchio nose and sensory profile. Cleaner and more focused than the Matelica norm. All the requisite flavors have their say – peach, pear, green apple, tropical melons – complemented by their corresponding aromas. Stays fresh and keeps you wanting more. Almost as good as a Sartarelli.