Some of the most talked-about white wines in Italy right now are those from the Verdicchio grape grown in the region of Le Marche. The wines have always been distinctive because Verdicchio is distinctive, but with each vintage they get more serious, more acclaimed by critics, more likely to be featured in “what to drink now” articles in magazines.
If you were to drink today’s wine from La Staffa in one of the Marche’s many seafood temples along the Adriatic Coast, you’d likely classify it among the best whites of your life as you snapped photos of the label. Sometimes those experiences get lost in translation when you try to recreate them in your kitchen at home, but La Staffa’s 2016 “Rincrocca” won’t let you down. It will lift you up. This isn’t a ‘collector’ wine, it’s a wine and food lover’s wine—the kind that makes you want to cook dinner and invite friends over, with a few chilled bottles ever at the ready. If it’s me (and it will be), I’m buying some branzino or other fresh whole fish, stuffing it with lots of green herbs and lemon, and roasting/grilling it with a glass of Rincrocca in hand. To me, this is the ultimate form of wine appreciation, and La Staffa’s young proprietor, Riccardo Baldi, will make you appreciate Verdicchio, a grape the author/educator Ian D’Agata says is “arguably Italy’s greatest native white grape.” Check it out!
Baldi, only in his mid-20s, organically farms 12 hectares of vines in the town of Staffolo—one of the communes in the province of Ancona that comprise the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi appellation (DOCG). Ancona is an Adriatic port city and a jumping-off point for ferries to Croatia and Greece, and just to its south is a magnificent stretch of coastline in the Parco del Conero, a national park. The “Castelli di Jesi,” or “Castles of Jesi,” are a series of medieval-era fortified towns, including the namesake commune of Jesi, that stretch inland into the foothills of the Apennine mountain range. The soils in the Castelli di Jesi are clay with limestone, with an interplay of mountain and maritime influences (the Apennines form the Marche’s border with Umbria on this part of the peninsula). Baldi’s vineyards are at 400-500 meters’ elevation, which helps preserve natural acidity in grapes over the course of a longer growing season.
And while Staffolo is about 40 kilometers inland from the Adriatic, the Verdicchios of the Castelli di Jesi area have kindred qualities to “coastal” whites from other regions of the world. Perhaps the closest analog would be Albariño from Rías Baixas or some of the other crisp, fragrant whites of Galicia in Spain; the two regions share a similar green lushness to their landscapes and a hint of seaborne salinity in their wines. “Verdicchio” translates roughly to “little green one” and indeed there’s a “green-ness” to the fruit character that may remind you of Austrian Grüner Veltliner as well.
Baldi is working towards organic certification in his vineyards, including an heirloom site planted in 1972 from which he sources fruit for his “Rincrocca” bottling. Comprised of 100% Verdicchio, the wine is fermented in a mixture of stainless steel and cement, then aged on its lees for a year before bottling. It then ages another year in bottle before release, lending the wine a deep yellow-gold hue with flecks of green at the rim. The aromas are flecked with green as well, as in green apple, green melon, lime peel, and green herbs, along with a touch of nectarine, chamomile, chalk, and wet rocks. To introduce another analog, Verdicchio offers up a similar push-pull of juicy, palate-coating texture and racy acidity found in Loire Valley Chenin Blanc: it leans toward medium-plus in body but zips up with freshness on the finish. Today’s 2016 is ready to drink now and over the next year or two with herb-and-lemon-drizzled seafood of every stripe: Simply pull the cork 10 minutes before serving in all-purpose white wine stems at 45-50 degrees and pair it with grilled or roasted branzino as suggested above. This, to me, is one of those essential combinations every wine lover must experience. And this is an essential Italian white—don’t pass it by!
Castelli di Jesi
Clay & Limestone