By Jessica Colley Clarke
The number of indigenous grape varietals in Italy is vast, often leaving wine lovers with one of two opposite reactions: 1. How can I ever get a handle on the staggering variety? Or: 2. Challenge accepted.
I fall into the latter camp, excited by—rather than frustrated by—the long list of Italian grapes. One that crossed my radar recently is Verdicchio, an indigenous grape varietal with only two DOC appellations in the world, both in the Italian region of Le Marche. According to Gianluca Garofoli of Garofoli Vineyards, Verdicchio is a white wine known for its minerality and body, and for some wine enthusiasts brings Chablis to mind.
About 50% of Verdicchio never leaves Italy and it is consumed across the country from Sicily to Piedmont. In recent years it has expanded to have a presence in about 45 countries around the world, but many wine drinkers are still unfamiliar with it—and with Le Marche in general.
“Le Marche is a beautiful region in the center-east of Italy,” Gianluca says. “It is protected by the Apennines Mountains to the west and is open to the Adriatic Sea on the east. This location is responsible for the ‘sea soul’ of Verdicchio—a distinct salinity that calls to mind the freshness of the sea.”
For this reason, Verdicchio is commonly paired with a range of seafood including prawns, clams, mussels, oysters, and whole fish. Gianluca also recommends more unexpected pairings such as risotto and white truffles.
Even within Italy, Verdicchio isn’t completely understood. “Some people think it is just a young white wine,” says Garofoli. “But it is actually one of the few white wines in Italy to have incredible aging potential. Yes, it can be young and fresh, but it also has exceptional character and can age for 20 years.”
When I sat down with Gianluca to sample some of his wines, he compared a wine called Podium (Verdicchio 100% dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore – Montecarotto Hill) to a white Barolo. “I make that comparison because of aging capability,” he said. “They can easily reach 10 years—we’ve tasted even up to 30 years and they are still incredibly good.”
The first vintage of the Podium Verdicchio was in 1991. “It is a single vineyard, the result of 10 different lots in the same vineyard, fermented separately, and stored in underground cement vats for one year,” Gianluca says. “After that, we blend the best of the 10 different lots; maybe 3 or 5 will make the final blend.” The result is a fresh wine with good acidity, without the taste of wood.
“It is elegant and powerful at the same time,” Gianluca says. “With great minerality and a distinct taste of the sea or salinity.” Podium has won several awards including 15 Tre Bicchiere Gambero Rosso awards (a prestigious honor in Italian winemaking) plus recognition from Slow Wine Guide and Wine Spectator.
Garofoli Vineyards is now in its 5th generation of winemaking history. Its first consumers were pilgrims traveling to a famous church in Ancona and now their Verdicchio has the attention of industry magazines and consumers across Italy and beyond. “I always only wanted to work in the winery,” Gianluca says. “I did all the jobs since I was a kid. It is my family, my roots, my history.”
As indigenous grape varietals like Verdicchio are finding a larger international audience, wine lovers are learning not only about the wine, but about the place where it comes from and the people who bring these unique wines to life each year.