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Verdicchio Rising
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 24, 2018
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Garofoli, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore (Marche, Italy) “Macrina” 2017 and “Podium” 2015 ($14 and $25, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Italian wine is all about native grape varieties, and increasingly the coolest aspect of Italian wines is about undiscovered white varieties.  I get it.  But with all respect to grapes such as Carricante, Timorasso and Pecorino, my own favorite emerging native white grape variety is Verdicchio.  It’s a grape that has been known for decades, but only now is it beginning to enjoy the respect it deserves.

Verdicchio is the main white grape in the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast.  It also grows in the north, under different names:  Trebbiano di Soave, in the Soave area (where it’s a minor blending partner with the fine Garganega variety) and Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana, in the nearby Lugana zone.  It’s known for its high acidity and citrusy and minerally aromatics.  In the bad old days of Italian white wines, 40 years ago, Verdicchio-the-grape didn’t offer much weight, texture or concentration to Verdicchio-the-wine, but today winemakers have lowered the yields and have begun making wines to take seriously.

Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli, founded in 1901, is the oldest family-owned winery in the Marche region, and is dedicated to helping realize the quality of Verdicchio.  Besides being on the vanguard of reducing yields in the vineyard, this winery has researched clones of Verdicchio and explored vinification options such as concrete vats.  Garofoli sells two Verdicchio wines on the U.S. market: the younger, fresher Macrina and the richer and more ageworthy Podium.  Both are from the hilly classico zone of the Castelli di Jesi DOC area.

The 2017 Macrina typifies the essential charm of a good Verdicchio wine: freshness and vitality, some complexity of flavor, crisp acidity, slightly viscous texture and mouth-watering pleasure.  Its aromas and flavors suggest lemon, lime, green apple and peach, with savory mineral notes and a saline character.  In your mouth the wine is dry and medium-bodied, with texture that feels slightly oily, and high acidity that supports the texture from within, like a strong backbone.  A nutty note and a pleasant bitterness emerge in the rear palate.  At $14 a bottle, it sets up everyday-wine expectations but it delivers beyond that, with more weight than a crisp, unoaked white wine normally has.  (Production involves direct pressing of whole berries, fermentation in stainless steel at quite a cold temperature, to preserve fresh fruitiness, and aging in stainless steel -- a no-frills sort of winemaking that leaves the wine to succeed or fail based on the quality of the grapes.)

Like Macrina, the 2015 Podium is also the product of stainless steel fermentation and aging, with no oak.  In this wine, however, the grapes come from a single vineyard where the yields are reduced by 30 percent and the grapes are harvested late for extra ripeness.  (In fact, Podium’s alcohol percentage is 14 compared to 13 for Macrina.)  The wine also sits on its lees for eight months after fermentation, which brings textural richness and flavor complexity.  Podium has been awarded “Tre Bicchieri,” the highest rating in one of Italy’s most important wine evaluations, fourteen times.

Here’s what you’ll find in the 2015 Podium: On the nose, the wine has a steely minerality, along with honey, citrus and marmalade notes.  In your mouth, the wine is dry and fairly full-bodied, with flavors of dried oranges, peach and a slight pithy bitterness that is not at all unpleasant.  The texture is soft -- more in the direction of creaminess than oiliness -- and the medium acidity keeps the wine soft rather than crisp.  On the rear palate you might detect a saline note, and savory mineral suggestions.  The wine shows enough concentration of fruit to confirm the producer’s prediction that the wine can age for six to ten years from the vintage.

Which is the better wine?  To me, quality is not the issue, because both wines have impressive quality, especially for their prices.  Macrina and Podium seem to be made for different tastes: those who value freshness and vitality (Macrina) and those who appreciate richness, ripeness and a softer expression (Podium).  While I give a slightly higher score to Podium for its importance, Macrina is the wine I want to drink.

2017 Macrina, 90 Points
2015 Podium, 91 Points