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A Verdicchio To Savour

Vinnie and I were in the centre of the Marche, near the town of Jesi, inland from the coastal Adriatic port of Ancona. This part of Italy may not be so well known to modern tourists but historically it was fought over many times and to protect themselves the inhabitants fortified their towns. The result is that this area became known as the Castelli di Jesi or the Castles of Jesi. The native grape is called Verdicchio and so, somewhat prosaically, the local wine became Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. As a result of a successful marketing campaign in the 1950s that centred around a curvaceous bottle - in America it was given the sobriquet ‘Sophia Loren’ - the wine has a reputation as an easy drinking white. However, there is a lot more that the Verdicchio grape has to offer and to discover what this might be we went to Poderi Mattioli.

This tiny winery is in the heart of the small zone where the wines can be labelled ‘classico’ and from a little over seven and a half hectares of vines they produce around 27,000 bottles of wine per annum. All their wines are certified organic. At about 20 kilometres from the sea and around 250 metres above sea level, the conditions for vines are just about perfect. The soils are sandy with some clay and, in common with many areas of Italy, they are salty because this land used to be at the bottom of the sea. The collision between two tectonic plates has raised the seabed until it is now the wonderful farmland of Italy. If further proof were needed, there are plenty of seashells to be found in the soil.


The current business dates from 2010 but is built on much older foundations. Giordano explained that his grandfather, many years ago, made wine that was sold sfuso, that is straight into whatever container - be it jug, bottle or flagon - the locals would bring along. This was only a small part of a mixed farm that grew cereals and cultivated olives as well. His father changed direction concentrating more on cereal cultivation and sending his grapes to a nearby cooperative which produced the wines on behalf of a group of local farmers.


The two sons, Giordano and Giacomo, have changed direction, moved into wine production, and have taken control of the whole process from vines to bottling the wine themselves. That this has been a success is demonstrated by the Tre Bicchiere that they were awarded by the prestigious Gambero Rosso wine guide. The modern cantina with the tasting room above was constructed in 2010 and from the terrace there is a beautiful view over one of the vineyards to the valley beyond.

Back in the tasting room we got down to the serious business of tasting the wines. These are not the ubiquitous light easy drinking versions of Verdicchio but rather something to be considered and enjoyed at length. The first wine we tried was called Ylice, a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore to give it its full title. It is named after an ancient local villa, long since disappeared, and the name appears to derive from the ilex leccio or holm oak that is very common in these parts. Giordano was happy to explain the intricacies of this wine. Half the grapes are harvested early and half when fully mature and they are fermented in steel with a small percentage allowed to remain on the skins to gain aroma. After fermentation, the wine matures in steel on the lees for a further six to eight months with frequent batonnage - or stirring to you and I - before bottling. This wine was from 2020 and Giordano said it will be at its best in 2023. The colour was pale straw and on the nose it was full of elderflower and apple. On the palate there were green apples and a pleasant sapidity. This would be a great accompaniment for fish.

Then came a moment of epiphany as he offered me a glass of Ylice 2014. Now the colour was pale gold and the bouquet was big with red apples. In the mouth it was more evolved and complex, redolent of peaches. This is a wine that for me would pair wonderfully with roast pork.


Finally, we sampled the Classico Superiore Riserva that they call Lauro. The name means laurel and was chosen as Giordano and Giacomo still remember their grandfather, together with his helpers, resting in the shade of a laurel hedge and talking at the end of a long day's toil amongst the vines - and yes the hedge is still there. The grapes for this wine are harvested at or just past maturity and there then follows a two to three week temperature-controlled fermentation. As before, the wine then matures on the lees but this time for 18 to 20 months, again, with regular batonnage. After bottling it rests for another 8 to 10 months. The colour is pale gold with a bouquet full of almonds. On the palate the sapidity dances on your tongue and fills your mouth with joy. At 14% ABV, it is not a wine to be trifled with but what a magnificent thing it is.

These are wines that Giordano and Giacomo make with love, patience and care, but more than that with respect for their environment seasoned with the knowledge and understanding that only comes from years of working with their Verdicchio vines at Poderi Mattioli.  

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