Wine Ink: A White Wine Lesson
It’s time to break out the whites. Yes, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial/official start of summer, if that makes any sense, and that means it is time to start drinking differently.
Rosé is, of course, all the rage. But this summer let’s all try to break out of the box a bit. Let’s make this the summer where we expose ourselves to some white varietals that may be a little foreign to us but are delicious nonetheless. I make this suggestion based on a recent experience with a wine from the Marche (Mar-Kay) region of Italy that I tasted for the first time just this week. It opened my mind, and my mouth, to something entirely new. And it was a great example, for me, of just how rewarding it can be to try new wines.
I was vaguely aware of verdicchio, as I had sipped some on a long ago trip to Italy. But it’s not a wine that was in my wheelhouse. That is to say, while I knew it as a grape, I could not name a producer, tell you where the grape grew best or what flavor profiles it presented.
So, a bit of a primer, for both of us. Verdicchio is a white wine grape that is indigenous to the Marche region, which sits on the Adriatic, or east coast of Italy.
It is a region of rolling hills that shares a northern border with the tiny principality of San Marino and is basically on a parallel path with the food- and wine-obsessed regions of Tuscany to the west and Emilia-Romagna to the north.
The winemaking history of the Marche, like most of Italy, goes back 1,000 years or so, and the region is perhaps best known for making white wines that pair well with the seafood rich cuisine of the region. Trebbiano and verdicchio are the two main grape varieties of the Marche and both share similar characteristics of being versatile and pliable in the hands of skilled winemakers. In fact, the grapes may well be cousins and are closely related to greco, another white wine grape of Italy. While the past was marked by the production of IGT wines, basically “typical” or table wines, made from vineyards that were frequently overplanted, there has been a real turn toward the focused production of higher quality wines from vineyards with much lower yields.
The wine that introduced me to the region was a 2015 “Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi DOCG Classico Superiore.” Produced by the Garofoli family, which has been making wines in the region for five generations, this single-vineyard, 100 percent verdicchio wine is made from the finest grapes on the estate vineyard. The “Podium” was first introduced to the public in 1992 and was unique in that it was fermented and aged in stainless steel to allow the grape and the terroir to be more fully revealed.
For me, the 2015 Podium was a revelation. Slightly yellow with a hint of green in the glass, it was as fresh and pure as an Adriatic spring day. Hits of honey and a scent of stone and citrus on the nose were subtle but informative. My first taste of the wine was crisp and clean, as it was well chilled. But as the bottle sat out and warmed a touch, the weight of the wine seemed to become a bit fuller on my palate. I could well see this wine working perfectly with the grilled seafood of the region, or perhaps even a fresh filet of Norwegian salmon. It had the presence, the mouth feel and the complexity to stand up to fish, or a rosemary-rubbed chicken.
So the point is, a serendipitous meeting of a wine gave me a better understanding of a region, a grape and a winemaking family. And that is what getting out of your wine comfort zone can do for you. Rather than sticking with your tried and true, your chardonnay, your sauvignon blanc or even your prosecco or pinot grigio, make a concerted effort this summer to drink around. To try different grapes and styles.
It’s not that hard and there are many imported white wines that are fresh, flavorful and affordable. Other than verdicchio, there is a plethora of white wine options. Just start with the “V’s,” for example. There’s vermentino from Sardinia, verdelho from Portugal and viognier, from France.
Each tells a summer story.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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