Vinnie and I were mooching down the autostrada on the Adriatic coast in eastern Italy, in the region known as Marche, enjoying the sun, the views of the sea and the mountains, and generally enjoying life. Climatically, the north and south are quite different and we were passing through the area around the capital Ancona that divides the cooler north from the more Mediterranean south. Ancona takes its name from the Greek ankon meaning elbow and that gives us a clue as to its origins. The Greeks were here before the Romans and they founded a settlement here because of its fine natural harbour in the shape of – yes, you guessed it – an elbow. It has been an important port ever since. Today, you can take ferries from the city to Croatia, Albania, and Greece.
Above Ancona rises Monte Conero, the only coastal high point between Trieste and Puglia and thus an important navigational feature in ancient times and this was our destination. The importance of the mountain to the oenophile is that it gives its name to both a DOC red wine and a DOCG riserva and so to find out more we visited the winery of Silvano Strologo.
Today, the estate extends to 14 hectares and produces around 70,000 bottles of wine per year but its origins were much more modest. The cantina was founded by Silvano’s father, Giulio, in 1960 when, with only a few hectares of land, he produced wine that was sold in bulk in demijohns. Conero Rosso was given DOC status in 1967 and Giulio was one of the founders of the producers’ consortium. In 1997 Silvano with his wife, Catia, took over the running of the business and completely revamped it, producing the first bottled wines. To complete the story, the Conero Riserva was elevated to DOCG appellation in 2004. Both wines are produced from the Montepulciano grape, a variety that is grown extensively across central and southern Italy and Silvano grows it on 12 of his 14 hectares. The name, however, is taken from a town in Tuscany with which it has no connection and so, for reasons of European law, a change may be forced upon it.
The couple produce three iterations of the Conero Rosso, all made from 100% Montepulciano and the first one I tasted is called Julius. Made from grapes from the younger area of the vineyard, the harvest takes place at the end of September. Fermentation is in steel and then the wine is matured in large oak botti for eight to ten months before spending six months in the bottle. The colour is an intense ruby with a bouquet of bitter cherries with a hint of pink pepper. On the palate there is a pleasant acidity balanced with rounded tannins. Catia suggests pairing this with a pasta with ragu or rabbit.
Traiano was the next to be tasted. The grapes for this wine come from 50-year-old vines, harvested at the end of October. For this wine, the fermentation takes place in oak tini with a daily punching down of the cap for around 20 to 25 days. Subsequently, it matures for two years in once-used oak barriques before resting for six months in the bottle. The colour here is deep ruby and on the nose the bouquet is light with bitter cherries and I was surprised by the lack of the vanilla that I would have expected, given the use of French oak. In the mouth there is a medium acidity which is typical for this grape, balanced with rounded tannins and a hint of pepper. This is a wine to pair with hare or wild boar.
The third wine is unusual as it contains no sulphites. Sulphites are naturally occurring compounds that act as a preservative in wine and totally eliminating them means the wine is susceptible to bacterial attack. To achieve this requires a careful selection of only the healthiest of grapes that are fermented for 10 to 15 days in oak vats before being transferred to steel tanks for 7 months to allow the natural sulphites to settle out after which the wine is bottled. The colour is, again, deep ruby with a bouquet of strawberries and cherries, In the mouth it is clean and fresh with tannins more to the fore and good acidity – try this with pork.
The final wine that I sampled was the DOCG Riserva that Sergio and Catia have named Decebalo after a Romanian military leader of the first century AD. The carefully selected grapes are harvested at the end of October from 50-year-old vines. The fermentation is in oak and lasts for between 20 to 25 days with a daily punching down of the cap done by hand. The wine then spends 18 months on the lees in new barriques with batonnage carried out every eight to ten days. The colour is a deep ruby with hints of garnet. As you would expect with a wine that has received this degree of attention, the bouquet is full and complex with cherries and plums together with vanilla, leather, and pepper. On the palate the flavour is fulsome with a good balance of tannins and acidity and a long finish. A wine that can balance easily with big flavours, I would pair it with steak or a mature cheese.
These are wines that reflect the 60 years of love and care that have been put into the development of the cantina. If you find yourself in the area a visit to the tasting room with an explanation from Catia of the different wines is not to be missed.