Vinnie and I were up in the mountains that make up around 40% of Italy. Here, in the eastern part of the country, villages are few and far between and found mainly in the valleys. The only evidence of economic activity is forestry and sheep farming. This is a landscape of broad vistas and a majestic solitude. Descending from the uplands into the region of Le Marche brings us to the village of Braccano. At first sight there is nothing of note here until, walking through the streets, we see the colourful murals which have made this small place famous. The project for these paintings was the brainchild of someone on the local council who managed to convince everyone that it was a good idea. They then invited students from the art schools in Macerata, Urbino, and Brera to paint the town and the results are now there for all to admire.
But colourful and fun as these alfresco artworks undoubtedly are, we were there for another purpose. Above the town at around 650 metres above sea level, in a vast natural amphitheatre, with stunning views to every side lies Tenuta Colpaola. The winery is owned by Francesco Porcarelli and his wife, Stefania Peppoloni, ably assisted by Laura who greeted us when we visited. It was in the 1960s that Francesco’s grandfather first rented this land and, in due course, at the end of the 1970s his father took over the business and it was here that Francesco spent his youth. When the owners put the land up for sale it was inevitable that Francesco would buy it and so in 2003 a new story was begun.
In 2007 the first vines for the new enterprise were planted, in 2013 the first wines appeared, and in 2016 the business received organic certification. Stefania is originally from Umbria and was working in a bank but has taken to this project with a passion, so much so that she has passed the exams to qualify as an Advanced Sommelier. Today, she is responsible for the day-to-day management of the business that has 10 hectares of vineyards and produces around 50,000 bottles of wine per year.
The majority of the land is planted with Verdicchio vines with a modest half a hectare of Merlot. Verdicchio is one of the great Italian white grape varieties and the majority is grown in Le Marche. Le Marche is probably best known for the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi wine that comes from the lower coastal areas in the north of the region but here they produce a different iteration called Verdicchio di Matelica. The name comes not from the heavy metal group, but, more prosaically, from the local town of that name. Up here in the hills the climate is very different from the coastal areas, not just because of the height but also the distance from the sea. Indeed, the designated area for production of this wine is much smaller than its more famous sibling and there are only 13 producers, so this was the chance to sample something of a gem.
The rules governing production of this wine allow for the production of a still wine, a spumante, and a passito or sweet dessert wine. Tenuta Colpaola produces two of these and we started with the sparkling wine called Cavea. Made from 100% Verdicchio, the grapes are harvested two or three weeks ahead of the main harvest. After the initial fermentation the wine spends seven months in a sealed tank undergoing a second fermentation that adds the bubbles to it. This is the Charmat or Merinotti method. At the bottling stage a small amount of sugar solution is added for balance so the result is classified as brut. The colour is light golden with a gentle bouquet of peaches. In the mouth it is soft with the flavour of almonds and a long finish. The Charmat method means the bubbles are softer than the traditional bottle fermentation and the result is a wine that could be either an aperitivo or a great accompaniment to fish dishes.
The majority of Tenuta Colpaola’s production is the still white Verdicchio and I sampled two of these, beginning with the 2020. This wine spends four months maturing in stainless steel tanks on the lees before bottling. The colour is a light gold with hints of green with peaches and brioche on the nose. In the mouth the flavour is full but at the same time delicate with low acidity and the flavour of almonds. The finish is long. By contrast, the 2019 has a bouquet of melons and in the mouth the same low acidity and flavour of almonds but this time with an additional hint of honey adding a little complexity.
Either of the aforementioned wines would go well with fish-based pasta or risotto dishes or, indeed, with chicken or pork. These are wines that will age well; Stefania said that they are at their best between three and five years. Given that they benefit from ageing, the decision to put them into screw top bottles I found a little surprising. The arguments for and against screw top closures for wine will continue for a long time, I am sure. Suffice it to say that intellectually I understand the reasons for the use of screw tops but emotionally I am still attached to those little formalities that accompany the process of drawing the cork from the bottle and the reassuring sound that indicates the task has been successfully completed.