Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca founded Sella & Mosca in 1890. They came from Piemonte, transforming a poor sheep-farming area into an extraordinary vinous landscape. These rich men were also amateur Egyptologists. Its commemorated in the winery logo, showing ancient Egyptians pressing grapes, from the tomb of Mereruka in Saqqara.
The origins of Sella & Mosca
Sella & Mosca I Piani
Erminio was an engineer, while Edgardo was a lawyer. They visited the Alghero area of Sardinia on its northwest coast, full of the remains of the Nuragic bronze-age civilisation. Just inland from Alghero, the land (I Piani) is pancake-flat, with the hills rising only in the far distance.
At this time, the phylloxera epidemic was devastating vineyards across Europe. The solution was to replant vineyards with European vines grafted onto American rootstocks that were resistant to the insect’s predations.
Here was a business opportunity. This part of Sardegna had virgin land and a climate ideal for vines. A nursery could supply newly grafted vines to replenish European vineyards.
After draining the land, they created one of the most extensive vineyard estates in Europe. 650 hectares in total, with 520 of them planted in a single swathe. Their nursery catalogue offered 1,671 vine varieties and 300 rootstocks. Millions of young vines were supplied to winegrowers worldwide until this business ceased in 1960. However, wine production continued. In fact, the Alghero DOC granted in 1995 is primarily due to Sella & Mosca and the neighbouring Cantina Santa Maria di Palma.
Campari bought Sella & Mosca in 2002. In turn, they sold it to Terra Moretti in 2016. Hence Sella & Mosca is now part of a portfolio of excellent Italian wine producers. Their stablemates are Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi in Franciacorta, and Terruzi & Puthod, La Badiola and Petra in Tuscany. That’s some stable!
A unique wine estate
The church at Sella & Mosca
The estate is far from ordinary. Sella & Mosca had created a complete model village around the winery. It has a spring, houses for the workers and their families, plus an elementary school and a church. The original winery dates from 1903, built in the centre of the vineyard and using the spring for water supply. Hence it’s never more than ten minutes away at harvest time.
It’s a reminder of those model villages created by philanthropists in Victorian England. Think of Saltaire (Salt), Port Sunlight (Lever), New Earswick (Rowntree), and Bournville (Cadbury).
These beautiful village buildings are all of a piece, made from local sandstone and surrounded by landscaped gardens. There are maritime pines, palms, eucalyptus and a profusion of showy and fragrant Oleanders. There’s a prehistoric Nuragic site too (called Anghelu Ruju); with many archaeological discoveries on show in their small museum.
And then there’s the wind. Sella & Mosca is only three kilometres from the coast, so the briny wind is a constant companion. It ranges from a whispering breeze leavening the torrid summer heat to a violent Mistral. Kilometres of cypresses and eucalyptus trees form essential windbreaks. As I discovered, Sardegna is called Isola del Vento for a reason.
Sella & Mosca today
Sella & Mosca panorama
Today, the grape varieties planted here are mostly indigenous, though they bear little resemblance to those found elsewhere in Italy. Yes, you’ll find international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. However, Terra Moretti is concentrating attention on Sardegna’s heritage and identity.
Those Sardinian stalwarts, white Vermentino and red Cannonau (Grenache), are well represented. Look harder, and you’ll spot a little Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Carignan.
Other, rarer, varieties are a real joy, especially the red Monica and the white Nasco. However, the highlight is the white Torbato. This grape is virtually unique to the property, the name meaning cloudy, referring to its juice. Torbato has a genetic relationship with the Arinto grape of Portugal, though its taste doesn’t suggest it. Sella & Mosca make delicious still and sparkling wines with it and are busy planting more.
Indeed, the Terra Moretti influence is already evident. I visited on the day of their final inspection for organic certification. Furthermore, their sparkling wines will soon include Metodo Classico as well as established Charmat examples.
And as if this wasn’t enough, there are also small vineyard holdings elsewhere; at Sulchis in the south and Gallura in the far north of Sardegna. That gives them an extensive coverage of the island’s wines.
You can’t escape the breathtaking scale at Sella & Mosca: their vineyard palette makes seven million bottles each year, with wines in every colour and style.
Colossal earth moving machinery is helping in replanting vineyards. They break up the sandstone bedrock below the iron-rich sand and clay soils. Meanwhile, 40% of the harvest is by machine. Even so, there 100 full-time staff here throughout the year, rising to 250 at harvest time.
One small section of the Sella & Mosca cellars
The modern winery sits adjacent to the old winery buildings which are still in use. There are hundreds of gleaming stainless steel and cement tanks, barriques, and substantial old wooden casks. There’s plenty of tradition here, but also experimentation and innovation using computer control.
Despite their size, the wines of Sella & Mosca range from excellent to outstanding, which is no mean achievement. Quality and volume are rarely partners, and the logistical challenges must be daunting.
Below is a selection of top Sella & Mosca wines. This selection also highlights the local Alghero DOC and how well the wines pair with traditional Sardinian cuisine.
All the wines come highly recommended and are available in the UK. The most accessible place to find Sella & Mosca wines is online at Alivini, who have a more extensive selection than mentioned here, including excellent examples of Cannonau and Vermentino. Retail prices shown below are for the UK, including VAT.
Wine recommendations and food matching
Sella & Mosca Lunch menu and wines
The pictured lunch menu is mostly self-explanatory. Fregula is a local pasta speciality, tiny silky toasted pasta beads that soak up sauces and stocks. The Sardinian cheeses included the classic Fiore Sardo. There were a few extra wine surprises too.
Torbato Spumante Brut, Alghero DOC, 2017, 11.5%
Charmat fermented sparkling wine made from Torbato vines selected from estate clones chosen for their ability to produce grapes with high acidity. Brut dry style, 9 g/l residual sugar to balance. Softly textured, good mousse. Leesy undertow suggests extended time on the yeast. Lemons and pears and a sherbet edge, long finish. Terrific match with a fried aubergine aperitivo. £16.66.
Anemone Rosato, Alghero DOC, 2017, 12%
85% Cannonau and 15% Sangiovese. A deep coloured pink wine, though lighter than many Sardinian examples. Deliberately left with a little spritz to pep it up, so it’s pétillant, with 2.5g/l of CO2. Cherries, roses and raspberries with bright acidity and a touch of salinity on the finish. Exuberant match for the squid and fresh tomato. £12.56
Their most elegant expression of Torbato, the top selection from a plot with chalky soils. This gem 85% fermented and matured in stainless steel and 15% aged in new French barrique. 60,000 bottles made. An exceptional wine, for quality as well as rarity. 2017 vintage was a heatwave, producing a small crop of excellent grapes, with stunning acidity and aromatics. Aromatics of scrubland and dried herbs. Full-bodied, beautifully balanced and a triumph. A lovely mineral streak, Mirabelle and pear fruit and just a whiff of vanilla and almonds to add a further dimension. £20.05 and worth every last penny.
Also, a bottle of 2016 was less aromatic but a shade more elegant, while 2007 demonstrates that this is a grape variety capable of longevity and development. Perfect with fish, especially the delicate nature of John Dory.
Marchese di Villamarina Riserva, Alghero DOC, 2013, 13.5%
The Estate flagship red wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with a distinctively Mediterranean feel. Elegance and grace. A perfume of blackcurrants and menthol, and a palate of dark black fruits and Dundee-cake spices. There’s also scrubland and grass buried in here too. Ready to drink now but the tannins and dense fruit concentration suggest this will last for decades. Superb wine, one of Italy’s top Cabernets, no wonder its been awarded Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchierri fifteen times. 40,000 bottles made. £45.96. Hang the expense; it’s a joyous bargain! In the absence of big meaty dishes, hard cheeses like Sardo are perfect.
Port lovers will adore this wine. It uses Cannonau grapes sun-dried outdoors for 20 days made in the port style. In other words, fermentation halts at 12% alcohol and 90 g/l residual sugar. After six months, the wine is then fortified with pure grape spirit to bring the alcohol up to 19%. Maturity is a minimum of five years. However, this example had many more, in old oak barrels. In fact, 2005 is the current release, served slightly chilled with an almond fruit tart.
There’s a browning colour to the rim with a dense black core. There are balsamic scents and alcoholic heat. However, the palate is where the action is; dried figs, brown spices, liquorice and hints of dark chocolate before a lingering savoury note. Not excessively sweet and the sugar/acidity balance keeps it lively. Meanwhile, this has decades ahead, the 1975 vintage proving the point. Wine for meditation on cold dark winter evenings, or for serving with cakes and chocolate. £50.22. The bottle has a reusable stopper so could last for weeks, though I doubt you’ll resist it for that long.
Sella & Mosca, Mereruka Logo
Sella & Mosca is an icon of Sardegna, and there’s no better place to get an introduction to the richness and diversity of Sardinian wine.
If you are fortunate to be in near the Catalan-influenced Alghero on holiday, then a visit to this fascinating estate comes highly recommended.
If you can’t get there, then at least you can console yourself with their wines!
Solenn and Dominique Génot own and run the small biodynamic estate of Mas Llossanes. It’s about 40km / one hour west of Perpignan, in the Roussillon region of deepest Southern France. For over ten years they managed the Caiarossa Estate in Tuscany, whose superb biodynamic wines I have followed closely and written about here. Having decided to create a domain of their own, they bought the dozen hectare Mas Llossanes estate in 2016. The fruits of their labours are now on sale for the first time, about 30,000 bottles in total. Right off the bat, they’ve made exciting wines that show great potential. Given their pedigree, this is no surprise.
Mas Llossanes logo – pruning shears
On their arrival, Solenn and Dominique put their winegrowing philosophy into place immediately. Organic and Biodynamic viticulture is now in use, with horses for ploughing and the grapes hand harvested. In the cellar, there is minimal winemaking intervention and a minimal sulphite regime. Fermentations start spontaneously with wild yeats in stainless steel tanks. Maturation is in a combination of stainless steel and older oak casks.
All this is to make great wines that are signatures of this land. In other words, authentic wines that taste great too.
Mas Llossanes – terroir
The domaine is in the foothills of the Pyrenees, close to the Spanish border. It dates back to the 1940’s. Llossanes in Catalan means “Saint’s Place”, after an ancient megalithic Dolmen on the property. The vines grow here at high altitude, some 600 metres, the highest in the Roussillon.
On thin shale and granite soils, the typical French grape varieties here are Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan. However, there are also two rarer French crossings, both suited to these hot and dry climes. These are the red Chenanson and the white Chasan. Chenanson is a crossing of Grenache Noir and Jurançon Noir. Chasan is a white crossing of Chardonnay and Listán. As an aside, Listán is the French name for the Palomino grape of Jerez in Spain, the basis of Sherry.
The first releases from Solenn and Dominique are two reds and a rosé. There is also a white Chanson wine, but with only 500 bottles available, this wasn’t available.
Rosé, IGP Côtes Catalanes. 2017. 13%
100% Cinsault from old vines. The grapes press in whole bunches, with fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks. There’s three months maturation on the lees to pick up more flavour and secondary malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. Then there are a final three months of ageing before bottling, using a glass stopper and a clear glass bottle. 1,700 bottles.
Served chilled during a UK heatwave, this was delightful drinking. Provençal-styled, perhaps a couple of shades darker in colour. Strawberries, nectarine and a herbal garrigue note on the nose and palate. Refreshing, soft, slippery texture completes the package. Retail price €10 cellar-door.
Traditionalists with drink this as an apéritif, or with a simple crab salad or French onion soup. Instead, I had mine with lightly spiced Pakoras and Samosas!
Au Dolmen, old vines Rouge, IGP Côtes Catalanes. 2016. 13%
A blend of 73% Carignan, 15% Syrah and 12% Chenanson. Blended and then bottled under cork after 12 months maturation in steel tanks and old oak barrels. 16,500 bottles. The result is an intense garnet colour, maybe down to the Chenanson. The nose is all red berries initially; then violets appear as the wine opens up. Rich and spicy and with no overt oak or big tannins. Hence this is ready to drink now and over say the next 3-4 years.
There are a velvety texture and red berry fruit. Nicely balanced acidity, fruit and alcohol and a long lingering finish. Fresh acidity probably reflects the high altitude and diurnal temperature variation. Excellent wine with a retail price of €12 cellar-door.
This wine hit the spot with an aubergine and mushroom risotto with a little tapenade on the side.
Dotrera, old vines Rouge, IGP Côtes Catalanes. 2016 13%
Dotera is the flagship wine of the domaine, meaning “Gift of the Earth”. A blend of Carignan (40%), Grenache (30%), Syrah (14%) and Chenanson (16%). Macerated on the skins for three weeks, with a slow low-temperature fermentation in stainless steel. The Grenache matures in stainless steel. Old oak barrels suit the other varieties. These age for 12 months before blending. Finally, the wine receives another four months of ageing in bottle. Bottled under a cork, with 10,300 bottles and 300 magnums made.
Dotera is a young wine with ageing potential. There are aromas of red berries, interlaced with scents of violets and lilies. Mocha joins in once it opens up in the glass. The balanced palate offers up fine-grained tannins, brown spices and a long length with a mocha reprise. What I enjoyed was the wine’s balance; nothing over-extracted or over-alcoholic here. I’d wager a year’s keeping will allow the tannins to soften and more flavours to develop. Regardless, this wine is fine drinking now and say over the next five years. Retail price €18 cellar-door.
I’d suggest hearty stews, something autumnal. I found it pretty irresistible with that southern French classic, Cassoulet. Raymond Blanc’s Cassoulet recipe is here. Mind you; I’ll shamelessly admit that my Cassoulet came straight from a French can!
These are great wines that openly express their terroir, true Grand Vins of the Roussillon. Doubtless, they will get better still with each new vintage as Biodynamic practices take hold. Perhaps too, the blends might change with each harvest according to conditions of the year. That’s a method Dominique has long employed. It’s a domaine to watch!
Though the wines are not yet available in the UK, this the first review of them in the UK. I expect this Domaine to make waves and I hope that importers will beat a path to their door! Meanwhile, if you find yourself down in the Roussillon then check out them out!
Colonnara is a 110-member co-operative winery located in the heart of the Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi DOC, in Cupramontana. It’s some 40km inland from the city of Ancona and 20km from the town of Jesi. Colonnara was established in 1959 by 19 growers; it now makes many different wines from around the March; there are whites, reds and fizz.
These days, I enjoy visiting co-operatives, whether in Italy or Spain and France. For most, their reputation for making poor quality wine is now far in the past. That reputation unfortunately still lingers amongst the unenlightened but is only rarely justified.
No longer are growers paid by the sheer weight of grapes, a system that rewards quantity rather than quality. Nor can co-ops rely on subsidies these days either. Instead, most have undergone a silent quality revolution. The best cooperatives have guaranteed access to the best growers grapes. Highly qualified agronomists ensure that each grower meets quality standards. In turn, the growers now receive quality incentives based on a range of scientific tests measuring grape quality. All this has led to a massive leap forward. In short, co-ops are now excellent sources of quality wine at fair prices.
Make a co-op your first stop
Also, co-operatives fulfil a vital social, economic and community function as well as underpinning much of the wine industry. For example, 60% of Italian wine is from co-ops! Co-ops are mutual, owned by the members that combine their resources. Consequently, it means they can invest in wine-making, technology, ongoing research, bottling and branding. The economies of scale derived from such fragmented underlying ownership enable them to compete with privately owned wine companies. They can export to overseas markets and reduce their production costs while offering a diverse range as well. It’s a business model that can serve both small winegrowers and consumers well. Meanwhile, the top wines are from a selection of the best growers. Many are outstanding. Meanwhile, I believe co-operatives don’t get the attention they deserve and remain sadly invisible to many.
Finally, all this means that a co-operative should be the first stop in an unfamiliar wine region. While lacking the glamour and reputation of a top estate, they are perfect for discovering an area under one roof. There’s usually a shop where you can often try before you buy. That’s ideal for a holiday and fun too, especially for those daunted by the prospect of making winery visits. All you have to do is turn up.
So I turned up at Colonnara.
As mentioned above, Colonarra has 110 growers. As they have 120 hectares of vineyards, located across the Marche, the individual grower holdings are tiny. Despite this, the vines are all in organic conversion too. Indeed, they are well on the way to becoming a Cantina Verde. Presently, about 50% of the growers are organically certified, with the rest to follow. Except for the ubiquitous vino sfuso, dispensed via “petrol-pumps” for local consumption, there are no bulk wines. The rest makes one million bottles each year, of which nearly 25% is sparkling.
Colonnara is known for its Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. However, the selection below also includes some of their red wines to check out. All are available in the UK. There are more than a dozen more available at their winery. The UK importer is Alivini,(minimum order six mixed bottles) and they are also sold in the UK by GP Brands. Retail prices include VAT. A visit comes highly recommended for those fortunate to visit the Marche, where the prices are, of course, much lower.
A selection of Colonnara wines in the UK
Anfora, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico, 2016
Anfora is the entry-level Verdicchio for young fresh drinking. The name refers to the packaging, as it comes in the “classic” amphora-shaped bottle. Lighter style, made and matured in stainless steel, with lower alcohol. Still has tell-tale salinity and almond varietal character. It’s best as an aperitivo and is a well-made introduction to the style. Alivini, £10.08; GP Brands £11.76
Cuprese, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore, 2015
Cuprese is a blend of their best Verdicchio, chosen from several growers located around the DOC Classico. Typical fennel and white flowers on the nose, mineral freshness and pear fruit. A vertical tasting of superb older bottles from 2003 and 1988 shows longevity; the wine takes on an increasingly honey and butter character. Alivini, £12.34; GP Brands £14.38. Cuprese is in my recent Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi article.
Tùfico, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOCG Classico Riserva, 2016
A years ageing in stainless steel is followed up with six months in barrel. The result is a highly aromatic and powerful expression of pineapple, lemons and pears. There’s a soft silky texture before that typical saline bite on the finish. Buy the oldest you can; 2010 has developed a honeyed feel about it. Alivini, (2010) £15.97; GP Brands (2010) £18.63
Tornamagno, Marche IGT Rosso 2013
Tornamagno is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, those stalwart red grapes of the Marche. Though labelled an IGT, these days it could be a classified as a Rosso Piceno DOC. This selection gets the treatment; given 36 months ageing; 24 months in barrique and a further twelve in the bottle. Ruby coloured, a nose of dried flowers and bergamot. It’s big and bold, yet balanced alcohol at 13.5%. Prominent tannins make this one best with meats at this stage, but it will mellow with age so that older bottles will have improved. Damson fruit and a liquorice finish. Alivini, (2010) £15.43; GP Brands (2010) £17.99
Lyricus, DOC Rosso Piceno 2014
A much lighter and young-drinking version of Rosso Piceno that sees no oak. Featuring morello cherry on the nose and palate, together with fresh acidity. At 12.5% it makes for delightful drinking and is pasta-perfect. Alivini, £9.67; GP Brands £11.27
Lacrima di Moro D’Alba, DOC 2017
Lacrima di Moro D’Alba is both a grape and a tiny DOC of 260 hectares situated to the north of Jesi. The Lacrima grape variety was once nearly extinct, named after its tear-shaped grapes. Highly aromatic, with lovely scents of lavender, nutmeg and roses, this is a highly distinctive wine. Made dry, it’s blackish, and there’s a whack of black cherry on the palate. Consequently, Lacrima is a unique experience; this is an excellent example and best drunk young. Everyone should try Lacrima, drink it with food or on its own. Alivini, £14.47; GP Brands £17.99
As for Colonnara, they seem to be one big happy family. VerdicchiAMO, you might say.
In my first article on Verdicchio, (Part 1: Matelica, fifty shades of green), I mentioned that the Marche region of central Italy is where the best Verdicchio grows. Here it proves to be one of Italy’s finest native white grapes, capable of outstanding longevity. This Part two is about Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Matelica’s more famous partner.
It’s in the province of Ancona where you’ll find the Castelli di Jesi DOC and DOCG. The name means the Verdicchio of the castles of Jesi. It refers to the numerous hilltop villages that dominate this region, surrounding the central town of Jesi. Each has its medieval fortress. Communities such as Staffolo, Cupramontana, Montecarrotto, Castelbellino and Castelplanio are some of the main gems. They are balconies offering breathtaking views of their surrounding landscapes.
This Marche coastal region, when seen from above, resembles a giant hair-comb. Numerous river valleys cut through limestone and run east-west to the Adriatic. Cooling sea breezes blow unimpeded up these valleys from the coast.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
Unlike Metalica, the much larger Castelli Jesi, with some 3,000 hectares under vine, is a more complex DOC area. It’s possible to imagine subzones based on different terroirs, aspects and altitudes. However, these remain undefined, although a Classico zone covers 90% of the vineyard area.
The designation Superiore is for wines with a higher minimum alcohol content from the Classico zone. However, in these days of climate change, grape ripeness is hardly an issue. Mostly, the wines are still, and bone-dry. As in Matelica, there are also some excellent spumante fizz and sweet passito syles.
Most wines never see oak. However, some producers do use it in fermentation and maturation, usually for the Riserva’s. Indeed, Verdicchio has an affinity with wood, which can add an extra gastronomic complexity to a winegrowers range.
This year, Jesi celebrates the 50th anniversary of it’s DOC, and the DOCG for Riserva wines came in 2010. The DOCG covers just 145 hectares. It stipulates a minimum of 18 months of maturation, of which six must be in the bottle. Meanwhile, the DOC requires a minimum of 85% Verdicchio, though most (and the best) are 100% varietal wines.
Jesi’s Verdicchio is sometimes rounder and mellower than that from Matelica. However, within Jesi, there are considerable zonal differences. For example, it seems to me that wines from Montecarotto are weightier than from, say, Cupramontana. However, much depends on the individual winegrower, so the producer name remains the best guide.
The white Barolo?
Some call Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi “the white Barolo”. That conjures associations of complexity, delicacy, longevity and high quality. Indeed, the best wines are genuinely world-class; beautifully aromatic and fresh when young, yet capable of developing over many years in bottle.
Old Castelli di Jesi Amphora-shaped bottles
There are still high-volume cheap quaffers available, some even with an unwelcome hint of residual sugar. Ignore those, as they offer none of Verdicchio’s glory and historically have tarnished its reputation.
Often, such wines still come packaged in an unusual amphora-shaped bottle which won a design competition in the late fifties. While that has helped with recognition, that became increasingly for the wrong reasons, mostly an advert for indifferent wine. Hence quality producers have distanced themselves from it by adopting standard shaped bottles.
So a memorable Verdicchio should be bone-dry and offer scents of Hawthorne, herbs and almonds. Look for refreshing and zingy pear and lemon flavours, a streak of flinty or saline minerals; and finally a real more-ish bite. Delicacy and elegance should be a hallmark. At its best, (which is often), Verdicchio is distinctive, unique and glorious. The older they get, the more complicated they become, and many will peak at between five and ten years. So do buy one bottle to drink now, and another to put away!
Below are some food suggestions and wine examples to seek out in the UK.
Partner Castelli di Jesi with Gnocchi
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi shines with food, in the same way, that Verdicchio di Matelica does. So seafood is a great match, from mussels and clams to octopus and squid.
Fritto Misto is brilliant. Verdicchio even pairs well with pork, duck and rabbit dishes, especially those older examples.
My favourite match is Gnocchi. Try it with asparagus, basil and fresh tomato drizzled in extra-virgin olive oil. Further afield, Japanese-style Tempura prawns or Sashimi/Sushi are terrific too.
Six great Jesi DOC Classico Superiore’sGioacchino Garofoli. Podium. 2014.
“Podium” is from a single vineyard at Montecarrotto, spending 15 months in stainless steel then four months in bottle. This wine is a revelation from one of the Marche pioneers. Late harvest and barrel-ageing bring out the Hawthorne scents and add a tropical fruit dimension with almonds and mineral finish. “Podium” is a must-try classic that ages beautifully. For example, the 2008 vintage still looks young and tastes fresh but has evolved a rich complexity. Mondial Wine. £19.69
Villa Bucci. Bucci. 2016.
Another Marche institution, based in Ostra Vetere, and organic too. All their wines look for elegance rather than power. Everything is by hand. With climate change, they even spray clay onto the vine leaves to limit sugar production (and therefore alcohol) in heatwaves. Hard to believe that this “Bucci” line is more “entry-level” than their “Villa Bucci” range. It’s softly golden in colour, aged for six months in bottle. It’s fresh and zingy and with a persistent salinity. A delicious bargain. The Wine Society has half bottles £6.75; Italvinus has full bottles £12.23
Stefano Manicelli. Santa Maria Fiore. 2014.
This estate in the northern part of Classico makes superb red Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC. Their Verdicchio is a treat too. This one is a selection from their oldest vines. Green apples, a hint of candied lemon and lots of almonds before that salinity kicks in. Will age well but hard to resist now. Bat and Bottle.£15.00
Collonara. Cuprese. 2013.
Some Italian co-operatives are making brilliant wines these days, and Collonara in Cupramontana is an excellent example. For Cuprese they blend their best Verdicchio selection from several growers around the DOC Classico. Fennel and white flowers on the nose, mineral freshness and pear fruit. Older bottles are a treat too, 1988 had taken on a deliciously honeyed, buttery character. Collonara has a vast wine range, and all are worth investigating. GP Brands£14.38. By the way, at £25.00 Cuprese is also a stunning bargain at Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli restaurant in London.
Cológnola/Tenuta Musone. Ghiffa. 2015.
Established in 2010, this 25-hectare estate at Cingoli is a rising star. It will receive organic certification from the 2018 harvest. 85% of their vines are Verdicchio, plus a small amount of red. My pick is Ghiffa, a late picking, low yield selection from 20-year-old vines, aged for 12 months in stainless steel. Deep coloured and leesy flavoured, this a rounder, creamier and more powerful expression that nonetheless retains a zingy crispness. Old Butcher’s Wine Cellar, Monmouth. £14.99
Umani Ronchi. Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne. 2016.
Umani Ronchi is a byword for Italian excellence, organic and a giant in the Marche. This Verdicchio is a selection from their Montecarrotto vineyard. Matured for ten months in cement vats. Camphor-scented, acacia and pears, delicious wine with a final salty kick in the pants. Great Western Wine£13.95; Italvinus £13.60
And now a couple of brilliant Jesi Riserva DOCG’sVilla Bucci, Classico. 2013.
A Masterpiece. Only made in better vintages, this takes elegance and finesse to a new level. A sublime silky texture and a fabulous mineral streak. Organically farmed and matured for two years in big old barrels. Time brings a savoury note, with nuts and stone fruit. A 1992 vintage still has a freshness to underpin a honeycomb development. Watch out, Grand Cru Burgundy. Outstanding value for one of Italy’s finest white wines, a treat with oysters, lobster or crab. Alexander Hadleigh Wines, £25.28
Umani Ronchi, Plenio Classico. 2015.
In contrast, this is a thoroughly modern organic example. The Verdicchio comes from higher altitude vineyards at Cupramontana. 60% is in stainless steel, the rest gets the oak cask treatment, using 5,000-litre botti. Maturation is 12 months plus six in the bottle. A small proportion of the wine also receives the malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. The result is pineapple fruit together with vanilla, spices and nuts. Butter, smoke and honey. Softer, but finesse and minerality. Consequently, it proves that Verdicchio and oak can be a happy marriage. One for meat as well as fish. Great Wines Direct, £20.15
Verdicchio is not only a great white grape; its wines seem to give a sense of unity and identity to the Marche. In Ancona, I saw a line from a poem by Francis Thompson graffitied on a wall. It said, “Non-si puó cogliere un fioré senza turbare una Stella”. “Thou canst not stir a flower / Without troubling of a star”.
There’s undoubtedly superior quality graffiti in the Marche! Must be a side effect of all that poetry from Verdicchio!
Some recent correspondents have asked why I don’t append a points score to the wines I recommend. Well, I’ve always preferred words to mere points when evaluating wine. So I prefer reading to seeing yet another naked 90+ point score. They’re just noise. Instead of being part of the equation, now they are the equation. Points are not objective, absolute or scientific. To interpret the score, you need to know the scorer’s tastes and preferences as well. I’d rather write a Haiku.
Q: What’s the difference between an 89 point and a 90 point wine? A: Quite a lot of money.
“The numerical wine rating system has been heavily criticised. It has been considered a driving force in the globalisation of wine and the downplaying of the influence of terroir and individuality in winemaking.
Critics of the wine rating system contend that the economic and marketing power of receiving favourable scores by influential wine critics has steered global winemaking towards producing a homogeneous style that is perceived as appealing to them. These critics point to what they contend is an inherent flaw in sampling a wide assortment of wines at once.
When compared together, wines (particular red) that have deep colours, are full-bodied, with stronger, concentrated flavours and smooth mouthfeel tend to stand out from the assortment more than wines with more subtle characteristics. These wines tend to receive more favourable wine ratings which have led to an increase in the proliferation of these styles of wines on the market.”
Consequently, outside of participating in official wine judging which has rigorous bias controls, I don’t score.
Meanwhile, a Haiku is a kind of Japanese minimalist poetry that has medieval origins. Haiku have strict rules: they must consist of a maximum of only three lines. Each line must consist only of a set number of syllables; five in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the third, making seventeen in all.
create trophies greedily.
Prices spiral up.
In other words, trust your palate and critics that explain their scores. Raise a glass with me to the wonderful diversity of wine. And maybe try writing a Haiku!
The Marche in central Italy is where the Verdicchio grape shows that it’s one of Italy’s finest native white grapes. As well as making highly distinctive and characterful wines, it’s also versatile. It makes a range of wine styles; from fizz through to sweet wines. However, the best examples are the dry still white wines that can have outstanding longevity. Verdicchio here comes from the famous Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and its neighbour, Verdicchio di Matelica.
The name Verdicchio means “little green one,” after the distinctive green tinge of the grapes; a colour the grapes retain even when fully ripe. DNA tests show that Verdicchio is the same as the Trebbiano di Soave of the Veneto. It probably arrived in the Marche with farmers coming from the Veneto during the late middle ages. They settled in the Marche after calamitous plagues devastated this part of Italy.
Both Jesi and Matelica are DOC’s, with their Riserva wines gaining a higher DOCG status in 2010. Jesi celebrates the 50th anniversary of its DOC this year. Matelica obtained it’s DOC one year earlier, in 1967. The laws for both of them stipulate that Verdicchio must make up at least 85% of the content. However, most are 100% varietal wines.
While the towns of Jesi and Matelica are only some 30 miles apart, their terroirs are different. The wine region on the hills around Jesi is near to the Adriatic coast and the city of Ancona. There, cooling breezes blow from the Adriatic up several east-west river valleys. In contrast, Matelica is further inland and has a unique north-south orientation, where mountains block any seaborne ventilation. Vineyards in this single landlocked valley consequently enjoy a distinctively continental climate. That means warmer summers and colder winters. There’s more day-night temperature variation too, so extending the growing season and aiding wine aromatics and acidity. Harvests here are often in late October.
Hence in general, the Matelica wines tend to higher acidity, yet with more body than many of their Jesi counterparts. Neither area is necessarily better than the other. Instead, they are different. Viva la differenza!
Matelica, from the La Monacesca vineyards
Matelica is a tiny area, only one-tenth the size of Jesi, with just 325 hectares of Verdicchio. Its vineyards are at an altitude of 400 metres upwards, on the limestone and clay slopes of the valley sides. From there, it’s possible to see the entire DOC laid out below, a vista of unspoiled nature. The vineyards, forest and fields make for an unexpectedly lush patchwork. There are fifty shades of green in the early summer landscape that pleases the eye. A Verdicchio di Matelica tasting revealed as many shades in the glass too.
Tasting Verdicchio di Matelica
What better way to explore the Verdicchio d Matelica wines than with a tasting featuring twelve of its leading producers? They brought 22 different Matelica wines from their DOC and Riserva DOCG. These also ranged in age, from 2017 going back to 2007.
The venue for this was the Teatro Piermarini in Matelica, co-hosted by winemaker Roberto Potentini of Cantine Belisario and Conductor and Pianist Cinzia Pennesi.
Teatro Piermarini, Matelica
The theatre dates from 1805. It was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, who also created Milan’s world-famous Scala opera house. Built on the site of Matelica’s Roman baths, it’s a glamorous setting to showcase Matelica wines. Here’s a two-minute video of the theatre, resplendent in white and gold.
This tasting revealed that Verdicchio is as elegant and sophisticated as its surroundings. The younger wines are fresh and vivacious, often with delicate scents of Hawthorn flowers and almonds. These have leesy flavours, a pronounced saline minerality and a distinctive kick on the finish.
After a year or two, they begin to show further complexity. At between five to ten years old they are arguably at their peak. Even then, the best will have many more years ahead. Now, camphor-like scents mingle with almonds on the nose. On the palate, acacia, green fruits and a honeyed complexity develop. With a satin-sheets texture, there is always a refreshing bite at the finish.
These wines are also great food partners, as you might expect, and the Marche is where northern and southern Italian cuisines collide. Verdicchio, whether from Jesi or Matelica, has a natural affinity with the sea, so fish is a great match, including Ancona’s traditional stoccafisso.
As an aperitivo, a plate of deep-fried stuffed Ascolana olives (ascolane all’ascolana), and a glass or two of young Verdicchio is a more-ish regional treat. However, the Marche is a Truffle hotspot and its flavours pair well too. Alternatively, a Marche speciality called Vincisgrassi hits the spot. It’s a creamily rich version of Lasagne, using chicken livers and offal.
Verdicchio di Matelica examples to try
Here are three recommended examples of Verdicchio di Matelica that are available in the UK. I’d always advise buying two bottles at least; one to drink now and another one to put away and return to in a few years!
Fattoria La Monacesca, “Mirum” Riserva DOCG, 2015. Cadman Fine Wines, £20.99. This no-sulphur flagship wine is one of my top ten Italian whites. Older vintages will give any Grand Cru Burgundy a run for its money.
Cantine Belisario, “Terre di Valbona” DOC, 2016 Valvona and Crolla£9.99. A terrific introduction to Matelica from this local high quality co-operative. Delightful younger drinking.
Cantine Colpaola, DOC, 2016 Tannico£13.42. Carefully handcrafted wine from this small organic estate.
This article is about Provençal rosé and the wines from one of its leading companies, Mirabeau.
Mention the word “Provence” to virtually anyone, and that will invoke an immediate response, accompanied by a smile. Such is its resonance. The images and memories it conjures might be of chi-chi glam locations; of Aix-en-Provence or the Côte d’Azur playground. Alternatively, of sipping Pastis while watching boules in the shade of chestnut trees in the village square. You may recall the books of Peter Mayle, just one of many lifestyle émigrés. Cezanne and Van Gogh painted the light. Meanwhile, Mont Ventoux is arguably the toughest of all the mythical Tour de France climbs.
Then those slow idyllic country days under a cornflower sky; sun-drenched, the smells of garrigue and lavender fields. The constant sound of cigales, sometimes interrupted by the fierce Mistral. Long, lingering meals with garlicky aïoli, bouillabaisse, tapenade and crusty bread.
However, my first thought of Provence is the rosé wine with which the region is synonymous.
Provence is rosé
In Provence, rosé is a way of life. Nearly 90% of all its wine is bone-dry rosé. The best have a slippery, satin-like texture and are delicately pale pink. You drink wine here with your eyes as much as with your nose and mouth.
There are several different appellations in Provence, including those for white and red wines. However, the Côtes de Provence, with 20,100 hectares under vine and some 150 miles wide, is the most prominent. This vast, sprawling area has four sub-zones making around 123 million bottles per year. And while production was down in 2017 due to the European heat and drought, recent claims of a potential shortage seem exaggerated. Meanwhile, because the appellation is a patchwork of terroirs and has a dozen permitted grape varieties, including seven for rosé, there is no shortage of potential variation either. Inevitably then, the name of the estate is the most reliable guide to wine quality.
But while Provençal life can seem unchanging, the quality of its rosé has improved beyond recognition. Years ago, it tasted like too many winemakers spent most of their time in a deckchair. Quantity was more important than quality.
However, since pink became fashionable worldwide, there’s now seriously good premium rosé, often aided by foreign investment and new business ideas.
Provençal Rosé is a blend of red grape varieties. Grenache Noir and Cinsault are the stalwarts. Syrah, the great improver, is increasingly included, displacing Carignan in the better wines. More powerful versions may feature Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. The indigenous Tibouren, unique to Provence, is also used, especially for its garrigue-like aroma.
Mirabeau is the story of modern Provence in microcosm. It was created by UK expats Stephen and Jeany Cronk, who quit corporate life for Provence in 2009, realising a long-held dream. Instead of buying vineyards, (expensive and promising a life of backbreaking toil), they set up as négociants. After all, a pen makes fewer blisters than a pickaxe. It means they can source their base wines from high-quality growers across Provence and employ a dedicated winemaker. That leaves them to concentrate on quality by selecting, blending, bottling and, above all, marketing their wines. That’s why today the branding and communications aspects look so good. Moreover, their business smarts mean that their wines are in 50 export markets including the UK. It’s an ideal wine business model, allowing growth from small beginnings.
Mirabeau now produces four different rosé wines. All are bone dry, each distinctive. They are stylishly packaged and branded, fit to grace any table. Drink them young while as fresh as possible to get all that youthful exuberance.
Classic Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence 2017, France
Made from 60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Cinsault and bottled under screwcap. Very stylish pink-salmon colour with peach fragrance. Fresh acidity and excellent intensity of raspberry and strawberry fruit. Nice delicacy. Fantastic value and fast becoming a Provençal classic. Newbies to Provençal rosé should start here. Drink it as an apéritif or with food. Waitrose,£9.99
Pure Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence 2017, France
60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, bottled under DIAM cork. More expressive than the Classic, again a pink-salmon colour and with more of that satin-textured mouthfeel. Broader, some grassy and herby aromas in the mix too. Red fruits, slightly higher acidity and a smidge less alcohol but also a touch of tropical fruit. Poised, and a step up from the Classic and well worth the extra money. In fact, this is my favourite of the Mirabeau wines, charming. Waitrose,£13.99, now also in Magnum at £27.99.
Etoile Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence 2017, France
60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, bottled under DIAM cork. The top Mirabeau rosé bottling. Paler colour. It’s a more subtle experience that adds white flowers to the aromas and a hint of fennel and salinity to the flavour. Rounder fruit character (a touch more alcohol?), raspberry and hints of grapefruit. Good long finish. With more structure, it shines best with food. Sainsbury’s£15.00
La Folie, Vin Mousseaux, Sparkling Brut Rosé 2017, Provence, France
Syrah and Grenache. A new addition to the line-up, bottled under Diam’s Mytik cork. Made, like Prosecco, using the Charmat tank method, but there any resemblance ends. Dusty pink in colour, in fact, it’s the colour of ballet slippers. Lightly sparkling and great fun. Citrus undercuts the red fruit on the nose and palate. Very refreshing and balanced, with a well-judged dosage that keeps it nicely Brut in style. Pop one in the fridge for a romantic evening. Waitrose,£13.99
Many assume that light, delicate looking wines like Provençal rosé are best drunk as apéritifs. In fact, they are incredibly versatile and food friendly too. Indeed, these gastronomic wines can be drunk throughout a meal.
I’ve already mentioned Provençal favourites like aïoli, tapenade and bouillabaisse. Cold ratatouille and salads are other obvious choices. But there’s no reason to stop there. Banon, a goat’s cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves is a local speciality, but any creamy goat and sheep cheeses should work brilliantly.
Mirabeau Classic and Pure wines were perfect with Poached Salmon, English asparagus and wild garlic mayo. Meanwhile, Etoile, while being a good match for fish and shellfish, also went down well with charcuterie; especially so with lamb Carpaccio. Meanwhile, La Folie washed down a barbecue of lamb skewers and Mediterranean Chicken.
And don’t forget Asian cuisine either, for example, rosé is usually the first wine I look for in Thai restaurants.
Finally, light desserts get a look-in too. Tarte Tatin, fruit or something with Mascarpone hit the spot. But of course, nothing beats rosé with fresh strawberries. If you can find the French gariguette variety then so much the better!
For me, a day without real coffee is unthinkable. Instant coffee is only for dire emergencies because even bad coffee is better than none. I prefer Italian espresso to keep the jitters at bay. However, I enjoy finding new coffees, drinks and venues to try. Consequently, a new book called The Philosophy of Coffee is the perfect introductory book on the subject of coffee.
It’s a slim 80-page hardback, by Brian Williams. He blogs on coffee at Brian’s Coffee Spot and contributes to Caffeine Magazine. His book shares the blogs accessible, factual and engaging tone. In other words, it’s a quick and entertaining read that will appeal to any coffee lover.
Between the covers
The book aims to be a brief introduction to coffee, that doesn’t attempt to be exhaustive. It’s refreshingly short about philosophy too. While many philosophers have espoused its virtues, their students probably needed coffee to stay awake. Coffee is a relative newcomer to the drinks world in comparison with beer, wine, or even tea. However, the book charts its thousand year history and is full of fun facts.
For example, you’ll find out about its Islamic origins, the rise of the coffeehouse, and coffee prohibition. Fashion, economics, and colonial empires have all played a part. It shows why that as nations, Americans prefer coffee while the Brits still opt for tea. The story of how Brazil became the world’s number one coffee producer is also here.
Included too are black and white illustrations from the British Library. My favourite of these is a London petition from 1674, warning against “the excessive use of that drying, enfeebling liquor”. Perhaps that should refer to Instant!
The book contains short sections. It discusses variations in flavours, roasting and techniques, including the birth of the espresso. Modern trends include the rise of the big coffee chains on every high street but also the need for sustainability. The suggested further reading makes a useful resource for those wanting to delve deeper.
Coffee is a now a global phenomenon worth billions, with seemingly endless cultural permutations and trends. However and wherever you prefer to drink coffee, there’s something in this book for you. It comes highly recommended.
Williams, Brian. “The Philosophy of Coffee”, 2018. Hardback published by The British Library, ISBN 9780712352307.
Direct online purchase from the British Library is just £5.00.
It was Andy Warhol who famously coined the phrase, “in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. Well, perhaps this is my time. Issue number 96 of Italian Wine Podcast (IWP) features yours truly in conversation about Italian wine in general and about the Blockchain in particular.
Actually, it’s 16 minutes and 29 seconds long. Maybe I had an extra 10% time for good behaviour.
It was recorded live in Verona at wine2wine and its recent release to the airwaves coincides rather nicely with VinItaly, the world’s biggest and best wine exhibition.
The co-creator and host of IWP is Monty Waldin. He’s also a Biodynamic wine expert, writer, broadcaster and winemaker. You can find out more about his activities here. Anyhow, if you’d like to listen in, then you can find this piece on several different channels:
I’m a subscriber to IWP. Each one has conversations with the producers, experts, and personalities of the Italian wine scene. They feature such stellar wineries as Masi, Gravner, San Leonardo, Allegrini, Zonin and Planeta. That’s some pretty illustrious company! Moreover, it’s all free!
Well, I promised some compelling vegan wines after my recent article called Vegan wines are not just for vegans. Consequently, and without further ado, here are ten vegan wines to explore. From a range of UK stockists, all are superb examples.
A stylish, more unusual Soave style, as oak maturation brings additional toasty and nutty notes. Creamy and luxurious, and deeply coloured. 100% Garganega grape. Biodynamic, all the Fasoli Gino wines are exceptional, including a stunning Amarone. You can read more here about their story. Vintage Roots£15.99
Domaine de Forges, Moulin de Gué 2014, AOP Savennières, Loire, France
For me, the Loire is where the Chenin Blanc grape reaches its zenith. From the small enclave of Savennières in Anjou, dry Chenin can age for decades. This example is riper and fruitier than many rivals, without the youthful austerity of some more celebrated estates. Completely dry and with the typical smell of damp straw, welcome tangerine and honey notes indicate some botrytis complexity. Full bodied with zingy acidity and mineral notes. Irresistible at this price. Well done to the Coop for stocking this! The Coop£10.49 (in selected stores – check the website for nearest stockist).
Domaine JosMeyer, Mise du Printemps 2016, Pinot Blanc, AOP Alsace, France
Sitting at the top table of Alsace winegrowers, JosMeyer is all about soaring aromas, freshness, balance, elegance and subtlety. It’s usually 20% Pinot Blanc and 80% of the closely related Auxerrois. Pale, fresh white blossom. Bone dry, with a streak of minerality, excellent length and balance. If left a couple of years some additional spice notes appear. Biodynamic, naturally. The Wine Society£12.95
Committed vegan Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni owns Querciabella in Tuscany. Their Biodynamic regime even uses specially made ceramic horns. The Chianti Classico is one of the best examples available. This older vintage also has some attractive bottle age. 100% singing Sangiovese. Read more about Querciabella and their fabulous wines here. Hic! Wines,£20.00
Domaine Sébastien David, L’Herluberlu 2016, AOP Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Loire, France
Cabernet Franc from the Loire is a joy. The small Saint-Nicholas de Bourgueil appellation tends to have lighter, early-maturing examples like this. L’Herluberlu means “The eccentric”, perhaps a reference to its “natural” winemaker. Deep purple, exuberant red berry fruit, soft rounded body and the classic aroma of pencil shavings. Just a hint of funk adds extra sensory interest. Biodynamic. Buon Vino, £15.99
Emiliana Organico, Coyam 2013, Los Robles Estate, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Coyam is one of Chile’s best wines. While the blend changes a little each year, it’s usually Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot, Malbec and Mourvèdre. Inky-purple in colour, blackcurrant and herb scents. Luscious, velvety texture. Berry fruits, plum and a touch of orange peel. Then spice and pepper before mocha and dark chocolate round it off. Ages well and ticks all my environmental boxes too, being Biodynamic and carbon-neutral. Vintage Roots,£18.50
Bodegas Aranleon, Soló Tinto 2016, DO Utiel-Requena 2016, Spain
I never tire of recommending this wine! in 2016 it’s a blend of 80% Bobal and 20% Syrah. Rich and fleshy, red berry and damson fruit. Hints of lavender on the nose and a savoury finish. A refined and delicious organic wine from near València.One of my AWEsome wines 2018. Read more about Utiel-Requena and Aranleon here. The Wine Society,£8.95
Bodega Colomé, Estate Malbec 2014, Salta, Argentina
Argentina is rightly famous for the quality of its signature Malbec, and this is a firm favourite. Bodega Colomé is the highest commercial wine estate in the world. The vines are 3,000 metres up in the Andes. Blackish colour, fresh acidity and silky-smooth tannins. 100% Malbec, the nose is a mixture of black fruits, with a floral note. The palate shows finesse, density and power, with bold black fruit. Dark chocolate, black pepper and coffee at the end. If you like this, then try their single vineyard wines. Waitrose,£17.49
RoséChâteau Massaya, Rosé 2016, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Featured in my recent Rosé wine article, This is a glass full of strawberries and cream, made from Syrah and Cinsault. Delicate and floral, strawberry and peach flavours and a super-fresh finish. Tanners, £14.95. Read more about Rosé wines here.
Mirabeau Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence 2016, France
Bone dry award-winning rosé, fast becoming a Provençal classic. Made from 60% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 5% Syrah. Very stylish pink with quaffable raspberry and strawberry fruit. Real wine, not soda-pop. Look out for the forthcoming story on Mirabeau. Waitrose,£9.99
All these ten compelling vegan wines prove that vegan wines are not just for vegans. Treat yourself!