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Verdicchio


One of central Italy's classic white wines, is produced from the Verdicchio grape in two doc zones of its home territory (since at least the 14th century) of the Marche: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, to the west of Ancona and a mere 30 km/20 miles from the Adriatic sea, and Verdicchio di Matelica, considerably further inland and at higher altitudes, close to the regional border with umbria. The wines share common characteristics, although the Verdicchio di Matelica, with lower yields (13 tonnes/ha against the 14 tonnes permitted for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi) and better exposed hillside vineyards, can be a fuller, more characterful wine. Matelica's 300-odd ha (750 acres) are dwarfed, however, by the more than 3,150 ha of the Castelli di Jesi. This latter DOC is divided into a classico zone, with over 90 per cent of the total vineyard area, and a zone of regular Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi with a mere 270 ha. Close to 60 per cent of the production of the Castelli di Jesi DOC is controlled by co-operatives, and négociant houses control three-quarters of the remaining 40 per cent; small producers are of marginal significance both in terms of volume and in their impact on the market.

 

The wine's fame was largely due to the efforts of Fazi-Battaglia, a large négociant firm with extensive vineyard holdings, which pioneered the large-scale marketing of Verdicchio and still controls over 20 per cent of the total production. It was Fazi-Battaglia which introduced the amphora-shaped bottle and scroll-shaped label, initially a positive factor in gaining recognition for the wine but later responsible for the image of kitsch and frivolity with which Verdicchio has been saddled.

 

Like many central Italian white wines, Verdicchio was once fermented on its skins, giving it a certain fullness and authority albeit often at the expense of any delicacy. The governo technique, whereby a second fermentation is induced by the addition of the must from dried grapes after the conclusion of the initial fermentation, was also employed to add a contrasting sweetness and an enlivening dash of carbon dioxide to the wine. These practices have been largely abandoned and Verdicchio is now made in a modern style, without skin contact and with temperature-controlled fermentations. It is now a more 'correct', if perhaps less distinctive, wine, although the lemony acidity and the bitter almonds of the aftertaste are still identifiably present in better bottles. A notable improvement in quality in the two DOC zones in the 1990s modified opinions of the grape's potential. As yields decreased, extract increased and acidity, while remaining high, is balanced by a relatively high ph giving the wines more roundness. As the vines—currently trained quite high with very wide spacing—are planted to more ambitious designs, Verdicchio is expected to become one of central Italy's most interesting wines.

 

The Verdicchio grape is also present in northern Italy, where it is known as Trebbiano di Soave, the superior variety that adds perfume to the steely Garganega in Soave. Further to the west, it is known as the Trebbiano di Lugana, where it is grown on its own in a warmer zone to give full-bodied wines of real interest.

 

Perhaps partly because of its high natural acidity, Verdicchio was one of the first Italian spumantes, with a tradition which can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, and pleasant bottles of bubbly Verdicchio remain an integral part of the DOC production. Total Verdicchio plantings were nearly 4,000 ha/9,900 acres in the early 1990s.

 


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