Half way between Perugia and Ancona lies the town of Matelica in le Marche. It's nestled in the mountains only a few miles east of the Umbrian border but its identity is inextricably linked with the most famous product of le Marche, the white wine Verdicchio. Matelica is much smaller and less well-known than the extensive Verdicchio zone of Castelli di Jesi which starts on the other side of Monte San Vicino from Matelica and extends all the way east to the sea near Ancona.
There may be as many as 100 wine producers around Jesi but the Matelica zone has less than 20 and in fact it produced more red wine than white wine only 30 years ago. I’m glad they corrected that anomaly because Matelica today is one of the top quality white wine producing areas in the whole of Italy.
I’ve always thought that Verdicchio should be more popular outside Italy than it is because of all the native white grape varieties grown in Italy, Verdicchio seems to produce wines that naturally are the most balanced between fruit, acidity and mineral notes. I like almost all Italian dry white wines but I can see why the flavor characteristics of some of them divide opinions, especially those of people who are unfamiliar with Italian grapes.
Not all of Italy's white wine varieties will convert you on the first sip but a well-made Verdicchio is immediately appealing to any white wine drinker and impossible to dislike. Wines from this region are also rarely very expensive and have significant aging ability; at Borgo Paglianetto we tasted a couple of the older wines and 22 euros for their 2011 Verdicchio is a very reasonable price indeed for a 10 year old wine and certainly better than waiting 10 years.
With regard to the main differences between Jesi wines and those from Matelica, the latter location is trapped in a valley between the mountains so both the seasonal and daily temperature fluctuations are greater.
The oenologist at Borgo Paglianetto, Aroldo Bellelli, in an interview a little while ago described the impact in this way “ on an average August day we’ll likely have a day-night temperature variation of 33-18 degrees celsius in Matelica versus a variation of 33-28 in Jesi, although the two regions are only 20 kms from each other”.
And in the winter the average Matelica temperatures will be lower, lacking the marine influence that favors Jesi. The combination of this highly beneficial accident of geography with the predominance of clay and calcareous soils around Matelica results in wines here that typically have more acidity and more minerality than those of Jesi, and therein lies their attraction to us.
Bellelli is first and foremost a Verdicchio grape oenologist and has clients in both areas. He contributes to some fabulous wines coming out of both denominations and his philosophy is very much in the direction of a minimalist approach with as little intervention as possible, hence the use of neutral fermentation and storage vessels and organic vineyard practices. In recent years Borgo Paglianetto has also gone beyond organic and adopted certain aspects of biodynamic winemaking but has stopped just short of certification as such.
In its current form Borgo Paglianetto dates back only to 2008 when it was created by joining together two existing wineries, both of which had great vineyard locations but were not exploiting them to anything like their true potential. With the merger everything changed. Organic practices were adopted in the three different vineyard sites, becoming certified in 2013, and Bellelli was appointed to assist in the transition to higher quality wines.
The current 70 acres are all at elevations of between 1,000 and 1,250 feet and 80% are planted with Verdicchio, with the remainder being Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Lacrima grape varieties for the three different red wines they make. None of the vineyards are less than 15-18 years old and total production today is about 100,000 bottles per annum of which the Terravignata and Petrara Verdicchio wines account for about 70%.
Martina Camoni is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Borgo Paglianetto and was the host for our visit and tasting. Both charming and very generous with her time she has a deep knowledge of all aspects of Borgo Paglianetto having been employed there for almost 8 years. She is also a qualified sommelier and fluent in English.
All of the following wines are 100% Verdicchio and fermented and aged for 4-8 months in stainless steel unless stated otherwise.
Terravignata 2020 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOC
This is an example of a wine that tastes better at home than it did at the winery because you can't expect a winery to open a fresh bottle for every tasting customer and after some aeration the organoleptic properties of white wines in particular will naturally fade. Something to always bear in mind on a winery visit. Which is why we always buy the wines to bring home.
Freshly opened however, there's a nose of white flowers, wet stones and just a hint of citrus. This is not a complex wine but it has a classic Verdicchio profile from Matelica with good acidity and notes of slightly underripe orchard fruits backed by a lean streak of minerality. This is a very impressive wine for 9 euros and if you don't like this wine then you probably just don't like Verdicchio. The Wine Society in the UK is also a fan of this wine and a regular stockist.
Petrara 2019 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOC (13% alcohol)
The Verdicchio grapes for this wine are left on the vines a little longer and the vines themselves are older. Also the Petrara vineyard has a southern exposure.
All of the above makes a difference because the Petrara is a sizeable step up from the Terravignata and a more complex nuanced wine. Luscious ripe pear and white blossoms on the nose with lime in the background. Mouth watering minerality with good acidity and very fresh lime on the palate, it keeps getting better in the glass and there's a lovely clean finish almost like mint. The Terravignata above is good value at 9 euros but the Petrara is so much more wine for little more than an extra euro. 10.50 euros is fabulous value and if you live in the UK I suggest you go to Waitrose and buy some and we just re-ordered ourselves the very same day we opened this bottle in Lucca. That's called putting my money where my mouth is.
Ergon 2018 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOC
Same soil type as the Petrara and same grape but a totally different result, which perhaps encapsulates why wine is such a fascinating subject.
Freshly opened there's a little whiff of petroleum on the nose which gives way to a much leaner style of wine. Grapefruit is the dominant flavor here but this is a wine that shows its fruit very reluctantly, remaining aloof and slightly austere. A touch of sourness on the finish confirms its complete stylistic difference to the Petrara. This is a well made wine but it will not be a crowd pleaser and for us it remains in the shadow of the Petrara. 11 euros is not expensive but we would choose the Petrara every time and in fact we just did exactly that with a re-order.
Vertis 2019 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOC
Ignoring the previous wine, Ergon, the Vertis is another big jump up from the Petrara which itself was a step up up from the Terravignata. You can take your pick of the various price points because they are all good value and even at 16 euros the Vertis is another excellent value wine.
The extra quality here is immediately apparent with honeysuckle, ripe pears and just a hint of spice combining for a more complex and richer nose. There's just a hint of tropical fruit here to go with the softer apple and melon flavor on the palate, more golden delicious than granny smith because the acidity here is kept on a leash. It's the type of acidity that provides balance to the fruit rather than overpowering it and if you like your white wines more rounded and polished this won't disappoint you. But at the same time it's clean, crisp and refreshing and much fuller and deeper than the previous wines.
Jera Riserva 2016 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOCG
(aged for 18 months in stainless steel and 8 months in bottle)
This is a great example of the benefits of aging for Verdicchio and particularly one from Matelica because the sumptuous nose of tangerine, candied fruit and a little honey are tamed in the mouth by the still vibrant acidity and refreshing notes of apple and pear. Despite the more viscous texture on the palate, which noticeably coats the inside of your mouth with flavor, there's nothing sweet or cloying here. Instead it's deliciously rich and full and at its peak now at 5 years old, though it will probably continue to evolve. Drinking it again on the second evening it hadn't missed a beat which shows just how powerfully concentrated it is. This is an excellent food wine and well worth the price of 24 euros.
Spumante 2015 - Verdicchio di Matelica DOP Brut (12% alcohol)
(metodo classico spumante from carefully selected and handpicked grapes in the best vineyards, left for 40 months on its lees and disgorged Dec 2020)
Fresh lemony nose and in the glass there's a very fine mousse with the tiniest bubbles and not in fact overly fizzy. This is a delicate wine with all of the hallmarks of a vintage spumante made in the Champagne method. The acidity has softened considerably but there's enough left to keep it fresh and get your gastric juices flowing without making you wince like you've just sucked on a fresh lemon as many non vintage French Champagnes are prone to do. This is perfect as an aperitivo but pared beautifully with smoked salmon at Christmas. 20 euros is a very reasonable price for a 6 year old vintage spumante of this quality.