The Adriatic coast is where many Italians choose to spend their holidays and the beaches around Senigallia in the Marche are always particularly popular. Thirteen kilometres of beaches, the famous Spiaggia di Velluto or Velvet Beach, so called because of the fine sand, is a magnet for those who enjoy the seaside. Indeed, Senigallia has grown hugely since World War Two and a ribbon of hotels extends along the coastline but the ancient centre is still there for those that care to look for it. The settlement was founded in the fourth century before Christ so this is a town that, like the Roman god Janus, looks both backwards to its past and forwards to the future.
Away from the beaches, up in the hills behind Senigallia, is a small winery that could also be dedicated to Janus in the way it looks both backwards and forwards at the same time. Vigna degli Estensi is the brainchild of Stefano Bondanelli. Stefano is from Ferrara, a city in Emilia Romagna where he was a geologist by profession. However, geology was not enough for him and he decided upon a complete volte-face. Initially, he took a course and qualified as a sommelier. After that, being the scientific and thorough man that he is, he jumped right in and did a degree in oenology and viticulture which he attained at the age of 45.
He was then ready to launch his new life but the land around Ferrara is too flat to be suitable for vineyards and so he had to look further afield. He found what he was looking for here in the Marche where he now has around five and a half hectares of vines from which he produces around 20,000 bottles per annum.
But Stefano is not a man to forget his roots and the name he has chosen for his organic vineyard refers to the ancient family Estensi who, under the shortened form of Este, became Dukes of Ferrara, Reggio, and Modena. In contrast with the name that honours a family from the past, Stefano’s winery is new and modern employing all the latest winemaking techniques. However, even here the past has its place. The harvest, or vendemmia, is undertaken by hand using small boxes. This is not some romantic tribute to an imaginary rural idyll populated by happy peasants in a pastoral landscape by Poussin, but rather a rational approach to a number of problems. One of these is particular to the Lacrima grape, a native of the Marche. It takes its name from the Italian for ‘tear’ because of the tendency of the thin-skinned grapes to burst or ‘cry’, hence the necessity of the manual harvest using small boxes to ensure the integrity of the fruit. This is a variety that was falling into obscurity but with the growth of interest in alternatives to the ubiquitous international grape varieties it has been rescued. The establishment of the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC in 1985 has ensured its survival.
As well as two hectares of Lacrima vines, Stefano has another two of that other grape native to the Marche, Verdicchio, and the balance of the estate is made up of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Fiano, again, all varieties native to central Italy.
However, I was interested in the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and, after a tour of the small but perfectly organised winery that Stefano had built into the hillside underneath the tasting room and terrace, we entered the barrel room. Here, in tonneaux of French oak, he matures the finest of his red wines.
The first Lacrima di Morro d’Alba that we tasted, Stefano calls Piramo after Pyramus, one of the doomed lovers from Ovid’s Metamorphoses whose spilt blood turned the mulberry from white to red. After fermentation this wine matures for three months in steel then nine in the bottle. This wine was from 2020 and so still young and fresh. Maturing it in steel means that the characteristics of the Lacrima are to the fore. The colour was ruby with hints of purple and the bouquet was full of blackberries and raspberries. On the palate it was fruity with the light tannins that you expect from Lacrima. Stefano recommends pairing this with salami or pasta with a meat-based sauce.
A complete contrast is Ius, named from the Latin for juice. This is macerated for two weeks on the skins after the fermentation has finished before then maturing for nine months in the barrel and twenty in the bottle. We tasted the 2018. The colour was dark ruby and on the nose there was vanilla and leather coming through, a result of the time spent in the tonneaux. In the mouth it was fuller and more complex having more tannins, again, a result of the time spent in the wood. This is a wine that will have good ageing potential; enjoy it with red meat, game, or a mature cheese.
Finally, mention must be made of the Brut Rose spumante that Stefano produces from a blend of 70% Lacrima and 30% Verdicchio grapes using the Charmat method. It has a delicate pink/copper colour with a fine perlage. The bouquet has strawberries with a hint of lemon whilst on the palate the lemon dominates which would make it a fine aperitivo or an accompaniment to fish.
I can only admire the dedication and attention to detail that Stefano has put into this project and the results are now there for us all to enjoy. He welcomes visitors but, like many Italian vineyards, you need to book in advance.