As Vinnie and I have found out in our travels around Italy there are an amazing number of attractions to tempt the tourist but some are more unusual than others. We found ourselves in the town of Ripatransone on the eastern side of the country in the region of Le Marche and this town’s claim to fame is that it has the narrowest alley, or vicolo, in the country at a very slim 43 centimetres. It is well worth spending some time exploring the mediaeval centro storico but for me the countryside setting was the most spectacular. Here, the rolling hills are reminiscent of the most attractive parts of southern Tuscany and that makes it a real ‘hidden gem’.
Heading west into this beautiful countryside, we went looking for a wine that was only recognised as a DOC in 2001 and achieved DOCG status as recently as 2011. This rising star in the Italian wine firmament goes by the name of Offida and to find out more about it we went to Tenuta Santori. Passing the fractal-like macro image of a vine leaf that is the logo of the business, we met Marco Santori who is the third generation of his family on this land. It started with his grandfather Lorenzo who bought 7 hectares of land and his father added another 10 hectares to the estate but it was Marco that has completely remodelled it and he now produces around 75,000 bottles of wine per year. He has his roots firmly in this countryside but he has also studied oenology and worked in California and Bordeaux. The results of this synthesis of traditional and modern are now there for all to see. In 2012 a new cantina was built that was designed to have minimal environmental impact and has now been certified organic. Two years ago Marco built a house on the highest part of the land with a stunning tasting room, fabulous views, and an infinity pool. It was there that we sampled his wines.
The regulations for Offida DOCG wines allow for the production of two white and one red and Marco produces all three. The first we tasted was a Passerina. Although the rules do not demand it, Marco makes this with 100% Passerina grapes. This is a variety local to this area; 75% of all Passerina grapes are grown in the Marche and the remainder in neighbouring Lazio and Abruzzo. The grapes are harvested early to give freshness to the wine and after fermentation it remains in stainless steel vats, on the lees, for six months. It then has a brief one month in the bottle to catch its breath before it is ready for drinking. The straw colour has a certain depth imparted by the time spent on the lees and a bouquet of green apples and wild herbs. On the palate there are almonds and citrus with good acidity and a pleasant salinity, for although we are at 300 metres above sea level we are less than eight miles from the sea. A wine to be consumed young, it has a long finish and would be good as an aperitivo but would also pair well with local fish dishes.
The second white from Marco’s cantina is Pecorino. Again, this is a local variety almost exclusively grown in the Marche and adjacent Abruzzo and has been attracting international interest recently. The name can cause confusion because of the cheese with the same name. The root is pecore which means sheep and so pecorino literally means little sheep. Marche was historically a major sheep raising area and apparently the sheep took a liking to this grape, hence the name. The harvest is undertaken manually and it matures, again in steel, for a longer seven to eight months again on the lees. A lighter bouquet is full of the flavours of fresh grasses and hints of apricots. In the mouth there is again a salinity together with a fruitiness. This is a wine that will pair well with stronger fish flavours and will age well, according to Marco at least five years.
Finally, we tried the red. This is 100% Montepulciano that has been matured for 18 months in fresh French oak barriques followed by a year in the bottle. After this explanation I was expecting a wine that would be swamped by the flavours from the oak but nothing was further from the truth. The colour is an almost impenetrable ruby and on the nose, yes, there is the vanilla that you expect from the oak, but it does not dominate and is balanced with cherries and old leather. In the mouth there is the warmth that comes from the 14.5% alcohol and a lovely flavour of bitter cherry. However, what struck me most was the sublimely balanced tannins that make this a true delight. Enjoy it with roast or grilled red meat.
This is a treasure of a winery, in a fabulous setting, producing great wines and one worthy of a long detour to visit.