[PHOTO: Jo Diaz – Cupramontana Headquarters]

To understand wine, first we need understand its culture and people. The first time I wrote that was in 2009, just prior to a trip to Portugal. This thought was just reaffirmed, as I’m newly returned from an Italian adventure, in the epicenter of the Renaissance.

This story is about my beginning adventures in the Marche wine region in Italy.

DISCLOSURE: I was a guest of the following:

  • Castello di Meleto in Gaiole ~ In the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany
    • Hosted by Antonia Caserta (sales manager)
  • and Colonnara Viticultori in Cupramontana ~ In the Castelli di Jesi region of Le Marche
    • Hosted by Emiliano Bernardi (Italian commercial wines) and Cora Tabarrini (export manager)
  • Arranged by Michael Yurch’s Bluest Sky Group.

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz]

I was part of a wine and food professionals’ collective, assembled by Michael (Mick) Yurch of the Bluest Sky Group, Michael Apstein (Boston-based wine writer), a pop-in at Castello di Meleto by wine educator Kevin Zraly (on tour with his publisher, for his  Fourteenth Edition release of Windows on the World). On this leg of the journey, we were all  guests of Colonnara Viticultori in Cupramontana ~ located in the Castelli di Jesi region of Le Marche.

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz]

An Italian Adventure to Last a Lifetime

I just experienced a seven-day, cross-country van tour in Central Italy. I first crossed the Atlantic Ocean, landed in Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, traveled to Gaiole in Chianti, to Cupramontana in Marche, then to the Adriatic Sea. This map is of Route E-78, which we picked up in Siena, to finish crossing Italy to it’s eastern seaboard.

What a fabulous experience. If you love adventure, just get on that plane or boat and do it. A whole new world of wine is waiting for you! And, the center of Italy, like all other regions in Italy, is jam packed with history that dates back to the early beginnings of time, and incredible, reflective wines of each region.

[Map by Friedrichstrasse, via Wikimedia Commons]

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz – Headed toward the Apennini Mountain Range.]

It did help to have Emiliano Bernardi, the Italian sales manager for Colonnara Viticultori, driving us from Castello di Meleto in Chianti to Cupramontana, starting in Siena on Route E-78 (to the right), as we drove through the Apennini Mountain Range. Also, on this leg of our journey, was export manager Cora Tabarrini, from Colonnara. They – throughout the trip – provided a lot of hospitality, history, culture, and many backstories.

Just before we boarded the van, I had told Mick Yurch, “I pity whomever is going to be sitting next to me, because I had just had two espressos.” I was totally buzzed on really excellent coffee. He said, “Sit up front with Emiliano, he’ll answer all of your questions.” (Great plan.)

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz ~ I was really struck by the enormity of the Apennini Mountains and the thick, looming fog.]

This entire belt of Italy is an amazing trip for anyone wanting to learn and experience this area of Italian culture, life, foods, and wines. The latitude is filled with Romanic history, the ravages of the Middle Ages, castles and Medieval tales of knights in shining armor, Benedictine Monks protecting their Castello di Meleto (for instance), the Siena Roman Catholic Cathedral with it’s historic, mosaic marble floor, to the adventures of Fabriano’s Museo della Carta, a paper making tradition. Then off to the spectacular Grotte di Frasassi with its into-the-mountains-we-go world famous stalactites and stalagmites, followed by a trip to the Adriatic Sea at Marche’s Ristorante La Pagaia, Next off to one of Marche’s most famous beach locations. When it was explained by my host Cora that Croatia was just across the waterway as we looked to the east over the Adriatic, it was then that I really understood the enormity of what we had all just experienced. What a gift we were given by Colonnara Viticultori (and Castello di Meleto in Chianti).

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz ~ Emiliano Bernardi (left), and Cora Tabarrini (right) are preparing our tasting and Colonnara.]

Before I jump into the wines we tasted at Colonnara Viticultori, I feel compelled to share my primary experience… what my eyes saw, for this is where I began to taste the fruits of their labor… from the landscape, the mountain ranges always in the distance, the olive trees, the Roman Pines, and the tunnels through massive mountain ranges. There was so much to take in, think about, and wonder in amazement. I was transfixed in this new wine region and its terroir. And, I learned enough to fill a dedicated notebook.

Colonnara is in the province of Ancona, the capital of Marche. This is a land of rich harmony and tradition. Our group was given first-hand opportunities to experience so many aspects of Marche. Friends were made, bonds were created, we tasted the flavors of the regional wines with regional cuisine, and we visited many cultural centers as we learned about their ancient, Italian history… Marvelous memories that we now cherish.

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz. Note the enormous fog bank that was to eventually welcome us, on the other side of the Apennini Mountains, through a succession of tunnels.]

And the flavors of the wines? They were all delicious, well balanced, and precisely reflecting their terroir and culture. Much on the main tasting, later. For now, I’ve begun a bit of Colonnara’s geography as we witnessed it, which is reflective of the Cupramontana region.

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz.]

Today, this region is considered the world’s capital of Verdicchio, the white Italian wine grape variety, which is primarily grown in the Marche region of central Italy. A major role of their terroir are the Apennini Range that consists of parallel smaller chains extending for 750 miles. These ranges run along the length of Italy’s peninsular structure. So, as we traveled from Gaiole (in Chianti) to Cupramontana (in Marche), it was along a roadway running west to east, which goes through a succession of tunnels (still being constructed, after 40 years).

I mention all of this, because it’s the major influence that I could find and define between the terroir of Gaiole and Cupramontana. It’s similar – on a much larger scale – to the terroir differences between Sonoma and Napa in California, for instance. There, it’s the Mayacamas Mountains that create one area: Napa Valley, to be defined by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and Sonoma County to be defined by Pinot and Chardonnays. In the instance of Gaiole, Chianti in Tuscany, it’s Sangiovese; in Cupramontana, it’s Verdicchio. As we drove eastward through the tunnels of the Apennini Range, we eventually arrived on the eastern side of Italy’s Adriatic Sea. Much like the Pacific has influence over California’s wine growing regions, the Adriatic has a powerful, cooling influence over the wines grown in the central/eastern shores of Italy. This is why the Marche region of Italy is defined by the white (and slightly green tinged) wine, with stone fruit flavors (and a slight oiliness) variety called Verdicchio…

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz ~ This is my view from Casa Blu, my country B&B home for three days. The fog haze never lifted, during my stay. The influence from the Adriatic Sea is powerful.]

This is not the first place in history to have Verdicchio to be as part of its history. It does now, however, through the passage of time and  generations of experimentation with the Verdicchio grape, come to be known world-wide as the home to this varietal wine. Cupramontana has become known as one of the best places in the world to grow and experience Verdicchio’s best expression of its character. And, in my next story about this area, I’ll discuss the wines we tasted, gratis of Colonnara Viticultori in Cupramontana.

Welcome to Verdicchio Central

From: Google Maps

Le Marche, an eastern Italian region, sits between the Apennini Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Ancona, its capital, is a port city on the Riviera del Conero, an area with sandy coves, limestone cliffs and medieval villages. Pesaro is the birthplace of renowned opera composer [Gioachino] Rossini. The interior has countryside dotted with fortified hilltop settlements and the glaciated valleys of the Monti Sibillini National Park.

Special thanks to Michael Yurch of Bluest Sky Group.

PHOTO CREDIT: Iryna Markova of the Apennini Mountains.