Sunday, August 26, 2018

Surf, swell and tides on Verdicchio Island – Matelica, the monster wave

I first encountered La Monacesca in the late 1980’s – My friends Eugenio Spinozzi and Sam Levitus (partners in Tricana) imported it into the USA. The wine was in a long, renano (Riesling shaped) bottle and was capable of good aging, developing secondary attributes and becoming a different wine, evolving into something deeper, more than just a run of the mill white wine from Italy.

Matelica - how does it differ from Castelli di Jesi? Matelica and Castelli di Jesi are like two siblings. They resemble one another but they have their own unique personalities. Generally speaking, the Matelica aromas are more towards wildflowers than the peppy citric two-step of Jesi. Matelica has a longer, more stretched-out body of the wine. The topography in Matelica is higher up, more spread out, arranged differently in regards to the nearby coast. And the soils are a world apart.

I loved everything about La Monacesca. I once posted about the red wine vineyard at La Monacesca being a place where someone could drop my ashes. Let me tell you more.

The old man, Casimiro, and his upstart son, Aldo, have identified with and changed this place, regardless of their personal philosophies. Casimiro, I think about him and what he envisioned in the 1960’s. There was promise. There was this great energy of hope unleashed by the end of WWII that Italians living in Italy had to harness and ride. La forza del destino.

La Monacesca makes for a memorable visit. I love the movie set looks of the place, as if Sergio Leone had dreamt the place up. Aldo, in his defense (“I need no defense!” I can hear him say) was early on possessed with an artist’s eye. There is very little at la Monacesca that isn’t intentional.

Not to say there is a lot of manipulation when it comes to the wine. Sure, there’s good science, and clean facilities. Some of the less financially secure cantine sociales in the area in the 1970-80’s, would not always give a good impression of fastidiousness. But La Monacesca was on the cutting edge of the “clean but not sterile” movement heading north to south in Italy, in the 1980’s.

Casimiro had custodians on site, sharecroppers,. They lived on the land, usually speaking in dialect. The farthest they’d travel would be to Pescara, maybe for a wedding or a funeral. They stayed close to their animals, their way of life, the time that was sifting away, like sand, through their lives. Lives of which one sees less and less of Italy in these times.

The farmer and his two sons. They ate the cheese from the milk of their goats. They had sturdy limbs and olive skin, and they stayed out in the sun way too long when they were working in the fields. Shining and polishing up Italy for the world. The energy that went into making Italy what it was in 1966, very few of you reading can imagine, even fewer know of those times. And there was Verdicchio di Matelica, making its slow steady trajectory up to 2010 to be awarded a DOCG (for the riserva). From 1966 to 2010, Casimiro and Aldo and all the souls living and those who have passed, among the wine, the land, to arrive at this appellation.

Aldo is a tinkerer. Like so many, he embraced small oak barriques. His white, Mirum, could be one of the most ethereal creatures in the universe one year. The next, it might be a cyclone off the coast of Malaysia that has gone off on a rampage. Not good in weather or in a white wine. But Aldo corrects in minor keys. And before you know it, 25 years have passed and we’re 90 degrees turned from where we were in 1993.

In the summertime, it took more than carrying a wine bag around Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston, even Austin, and Louisiana to sell the wine. Thankfully, New Orleans restaurateurs got it. Verdicchio was made for seafood and rich dishes like Pascal’s Manale Barbecue Shrimp, Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s or Shrimp Etouffée at Galatoires. And the longer it aged, the more interesting it got. I still have bottles from the early 1990’s – we tasted one last year and it was still kicking. Nice toasty notes (the winery was experimenting with oak, as many were, back then). Ground coffee, not unlike a Montrachet, but a different weight, another reality.

It just seems like I’ve been in the back of every restaurant in America. LA, SF, NY, Chicago, Montgomery, Alabama, New Orleans, Houston, Marfa, St, Louis, Boulder, and on. Yeah, I’ve had hat in hand in the kitchen of Commanders Palace in New Orleans, doing my best tap dance on the benefits of Verdicchio di Matelica vs Castelli di Jesi. Sounds odd now, that one would even want to pit one against the other (I only had a Matelica at that premium-point, the Bucci had moved to another house). And I did have a low-end one (1.5 Verdicchio, very good quality, low price) but the world was in the throes of “Fighting Chardonnay” at the time, so the 1.5 Verdicchio by the glass scenario didn’t work. Then. But hey, young’uns, you can (re) discover it (or put it in tap or cans) and make it a thing.

To taste the current vintages is like the wine has gotten younger, while the humans who have followed this wine for 30 years have aged. But to take the path of Merlin and travel back in time while all of us are traveling forward (metaphorically speaking only, for there is no back and forth in time, from what I’ve been told), there’s a bit of magic and wonder in a wine which comes from a special place like Matelica.

Now the wine is rounder, a little stubbier. But muscle weight, not fat. And the aromas smell fresher, maybe a little more focused (as many Italian wine has become in the last 40 years, thankfully).

Maybe Oysters Rockefeller or Shrimp Etouffée are passé now. But there are other offerings that this wine would love. A simple bowl of linguine with those fresh baby clams they get on the coast of Oregon. Or some nice sushi-grade hamachi in a bowl of freshly grown greens, some cauliflower “rice” and a light delicate sauce, maybe a hint of ginger. Slurpable. Yoga pants approved!

So, no I didn’t discover La Monacesca and expose it to the Instagram world. But I worked my butt off taking a bag around, for years, trying to get people to consider a wine that 20 years later would be seen as an “instant discovery.” People loved it then. And people love it now. As they should.

But nothing has been left uncovered, undiscovered in Italy. And anyone who wants to (re) discover it, think of it as a wave, waiting to be caught. And it is a monster wave of a wine, of the thousands that break on the shore, where one occasionally turns into quite the ride.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sold, 6 bottles, hoping to keep the ferragosto going for just a little longer ;)

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