Umani Ronchi, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva “Plenio,” 2007 (Bedford International, $35): Remember Verdicchio? Maybe you don’t, and maybe that’s just as well, because Verdicchio is a finer wine today than it used to be. The native Verdicchio grape grown in the Marche region, on the Adriatic Sea side of central Italy, is an important part of Italy’s viticultural patrimony. Today its wines rank among Italy’s finest whites.
Umani Ronchi is a family-owned winery whose wines I have always admired. In addition to Verdicchio, the company produces several red wines from Marche based mainly on the Montepulciano grape, as well as a Montepulciano wine from the neighboring Abruzzo region. It is the Verdicchios that excite me the most.
Verdicchio wine is generally a dry, unoaked white wine with high acid and yet some weight on the palate, oily texture, and something of a saline suggestion. “If there’s a grape in Italy that represents minerality, it’s Verdicchio,” remarked Michele Bernetti, Umani Ronchi CEO, at a recent tasting. “It keeps its oiliness.”
Umani Ronchi sells three Verdicchios in the U.S. (All carry the DOC appellation, Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi, which indicates a central Marche growing region that stretches from the Adriatic coast to the hills of the Apennine Mountains; that appellation is enough of a mouthful that I will omit it in naming the three wines.) The first wine is CaSal di Serra Verdicchio Classico Superiore ($17), a crisp, oily-textured, unoaked, characterful white with concentrated, minerally and citrus flavors and good palate weight, an exceptional value.
Another is CaSal di Serra Vecchio Vigne ($35), made from old vines; the 2009 vintage of this wine earned the White Wine of the Year trophy in 2012 from Italy’s Gambero Rosso judges.
The fact that my favorite is neither of these terrific wines testifies to the depth of richness in Umani Ronchi’s Verdicchio portfolio. “Plenio,” my featured wine, is a Verdicchio Riserva. In Italy it is unusual for a white-wine DOC regulation to include a Riserva level, which provides for aging, but in fact Verdicchio wines can age beautifully. The current vintage of Plenio is five years old.
The 2007 Plenio shows the development of its age in its richly textured, soft mouthfeel and in its somewhat subdued flavor intensity. Nevertheless, it has freshness and energy, evident in its crisp acidity and its vibrant length across the palate. The wine is dry, full-bodied and creamy, with aromas and flavors of fresh herbs, ripe pear and apple, almonds, and honey. It sports Verdicchio’s characteristic saline note, along with an undertone of minerality; together these characters enliven the wine. In your mouth, the wine progresses from being broad and rich at first to sleek and edgy in the rear palate. This makes the wine fascinating to taste.
Plenio gives the impression of having been made partially with oak, more for its richness than for any actual flavor of oak, which the wine distinctly does not have. Plenio does undergo malolactic fermentation as well as lees aging in concrete vats, which both contribute to its richness.
I consider this wine at its peak now, and drinking beautifully with steamed shrimp (surprisingly), oily fish, seasoned cheeses, and poultry or seafood in creamy sauces.