Are you serious? (Marche, Italy – Day Two)

After six weeks in Italian wine regions I have reached a crossroads, and have developed some interesting theories and anomalies. One of these theories is about what the best wines in Italy are. What these wines should not be is purely statement wines, as this is not France. They should not be designed like something else, they should be themselves and proud of it. They should be made with indigenous grapes, particular to that area as often as possible. The wines don’t necessarily need to be a single variety, but the blend should make sense and express the origin. Some of the best wines I have tasted have had little to no oak treatment, avoiding the temptation to be matured for long periods of time in brand new medium toasted French barriques. I am by no means suggesting that this process is not good; I just feel it is not true to the wines here. The red wines should not be heavily extracted, but ultimately they should be balanced in fruit, alcohol and tannin. The white wines similarly shouldn’t be too rich and complex in malolactic, using oak only when necessary and again achieving balance. The wines should respect the traditions and origins of the variety and area, but utilise technology to merely observe and coax, rather than to intervene and dictate. Most importantly the wine should be approachable but not simple. The best wines are seriously made, but should not be taken too seriously. After all, wine is intended to be enjoyed with people and food, and too much emphasis placed on wines inevitably leads to disappointment and increased prices. Hopefully Italian wine won’t continue to lose its sense of place and personality, as the world needs the wines of Italy to demystify wine, and make it clear that not every wine has to be an ethereal experience. Variety is the spice of life, which drives the winery I visited today.

Porto Nova beach

Umani Ronchi is one of the largest wineries in Marche, producing about six million bottles from fruit in Marche and Abruzzo to the south. It is always important to remember that big does not mean bad (thanks Mr. Wolf) as a winery like Umani Ronchi introduces consumers all over the world to the wines of the region, effectively creating markets for them. Umani Ronchi has been doing this with aplomb for many years, focusing on indigenous varieties in a clean and precise style that is easier for people to appreciate and discover. A wide range is produced by the winery, made predominantly from verdicchio in the whites, and montepulciano in the reds. The range requires a lot of flexibility in capacity and techniques, with stainless steel, oak, cement and fibreglass used for a combination of fermentation, maturation, settling and blending. The reds are handled according to the variety, site and destination, with pump-overs favoured over plunging or rotary fermenters. Only the top red wines see new oak, with the entry and mid-range wines using at least second passage oak. As you would expect from an Italian winery of this size there are a number of different French varieties planted, most of them red, and mostly used for the icon wines. As an ambassador for these regions, Umani Ronchi has brought very positive attention to the are and varieties, winning the International Wine Challenge with their first vintage of the Pelago IGT. Despite the size the winery has a very simple philosophy to make the best wines possible and bring them to the world, and subsequently keep a very modest team of dedicated employees, such as Francesca from the Export Department, who took me through the winery and a tasting. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Blending tanks at Umani Ronchi

Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Marche, Italy.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Are you serious? (Marche, Italy – Day Two)

  1. The Marche is one of my favourite regions, I love it – if only I could get there for a summer holiday!James, I have to comment on a few of your points. Firstly, I agree that Italy's future is in its diverse range of indigenous grape varieties. No other country can make wine like Italy can from these grapes (try as they might). However, to exclude or dismiss those wines made from 'international' or French varieties is a simplification of the history of Italian wine. Trentino's San Leonardo makes a world class red from Cabernet, Franc and Merlot with more sense of place than most wines made from these varieties around the world. Then there is Bolgheri, Chardonnay and Merlot in Friuli, Cabernet in central Tuscany – many have been in the region for longer than Australia has been making wine. It's true that Italy flirted with international varieties too much throughout the 90's but I dont think that Italy is losing its "sense of place and personality". Rather, I would argue that it has well and truly discovered it and we are in a golden age of Italian wine.In regards to the wines at Umani Ronchi, yes there are a few! Despite the size and success, this is very much a family winery and their focus is clearly on Verdicchio and Montepulciano. Verdicchio is one of my favourite white grapes in Italy (underrated in my opinion) and I love Casal di Serra and Vecchie Vigne – the new vintages are exceptional. Did you taste the 2009 Vecchie Vigne, Gambero Rosso's 2012 white wine of the year? Where to next?Matt

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  2. Hi Matt,Firstly, thanks so much for your comments, it's great to actually get a dialogue going, as the point of my blog is to promote discussion and not suggest that any one person is right.Secondly, you are completely right about the so-called 'international' varieties being brought to Italy hundreds of years ago by various migrants and conquerors. These varieties have adapted and found new homes and new styles in Italy which are unique and of wonderful quality, most notably pinot grigio. Bolgheri is an interesting case because viticulture has a very short history there, so there are no native varieties and thus experimenting with non-Italian varieties is absolutely fine. I guess the thing I was disagreeing with was the recent planting of (mostly red) French varieties in areas that have very strong histories with indigenous varieties, in an effort to produce wines that the market want now, rather than increasing the profile, knowledge and quality of the indigenous varieties for future opportunities. When you consider that most of the New World is doing this in even larger scales (e.g. South America) this makes for a very homogenous market where people around the world are drinking a lot of the same wine that could come from anywhere. I think this is a bad thing, and will always champion the local wines made from local varieties. This doesn't mean that I will ignore the introduced varieties per se, I am a realist after all. I think the difficulty is in educating new markets about these different wines to create demand for them. The point I was trying to make was that great ITALIAN wines are made from these varieties in a unique, traditional and approachable way, whereas wines like those from Bolgheri are just great wines. Possibly a controversial assertion.Thirdly, you are also right that verdicchio is totally underrated and so is lacrima. I was blown away at the quality of the Umani Ronchi wines, and also admire their marketing and communcations; very good labelling. I didn't taste the 2009 vintage of the Vecchie Vigne, I now wish I had because the 2008 was fantastic.I'm in Rome now and head down to Abruzzo for two days (cursed by yet another public holiday), then Puglia for three days. I've been having problems getting responses from wineries in central and southern Italy, haven't heard from Morgante yet. Keep in touch, thanks again for the feedback.James.

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