Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sleeping Beauty of the Marche

One of the things I really love about Italian wine is that you always seem to stumble upon a new varietal, a new appellation. You can go a lifetime and still never truly be a master of its boundless bounty. In terms of attaining its regional prowess, Italian wine is a juggernaut. Recently, I had a chance to taste Marotti Campi’s Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore ‘Orgiolo’ from the 2012 vintage, a truly elegant and delicious wine. It hails from the region of Marche, off the Adriatic.

The Marche is known for its crisp Verdicchio and its brodetto, fish soup, which makes for a sumptuous pairing. Marcheans love raw fish or crudo and take advantage of their propinquity to the Adriatic. Their predilection for seafood, especially crudo make them the Peruvians of Italy. Their wine is excellent though not ubiquitous, and their wonderful reds fall even further under the radar. Rosso Cònero and Rosso Piceno are two standouts, but both focus on neighboring blends: Sangiovese from Tuscany and Umbria, and Montepulciano which is mostly associated with Abruzzo. Geographically speaking, this does make sense.

The sleeping beauty of the Marche is the expressive red, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Native to area Lacrima di Morro almost went extinct in the mid 80’s. Fortunately, a small but zealous following of growers rescued it from its evolutionary cul-de-sac, and thus helped secure its DOC designation in 1985. With a mere 261 hectares under vine, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba remains one of Italy’s smallest appellations, bottling a little more than 9100 hectoliters a year.

Lacrima means tear in Italian. Its skin is very sensitive, and when it gets close to harvest, the grapes seem ready to burst, their ruby rivulets, seeping from the pierced skin are said to suggest tears. The Lacrima grape is a local varietal of unknown origin, although legend has it the grape was relished by Morro d’Alba’s most famous interloper, Frederick Barbarossa. After the red-bearded Holy Emperor had marched into Ancona in 1167, he passed through the Castello di Morro d’Alba and is said to have grown smitten with the Lacrima-based wine. And why should that be so hard to believe? It’s beguiling floral aromatic reminds me of Ruché and Cesanese, it’s sensual mouthfeel offering a more Rhone-like or even cru-level Beaujolais, maybe Fleurie. The medley of flavors is a wine wonk’s dream come true. I get both redder and bluer berries, some juniper, curiously enough, and allspice. The tannins are well-integrated, pillowy, and the unmistakable rose petal finish lingers.

I’ve only had the varietal on a few occasions, and while I’ve enjoyed Lucchetti’s Lacrima di Morro and Velenosi’s Querci’Antica Lacrima, I’ve grown to enjoy Marotti Campi’s interpretation the most. I find it most compelling. What can it be that makes it so? All come from the Medieval village of Morro d’Alba. Could it be the hand of the enologist, Roberto Potentini and his choice to soft crush the grapes, macerating on the skins for almost 11 days? Or that he ferments in stainless steel and ages the wine for 12 months in second and third passage barriques, and an additional 6 months in bottle before release? Maybe it’s Ivano Belardini’s decision to pick in the last days of September rather than in the first week of October or maybe it’s just the mix of medium-consistency clay and the cordon spur trained vines ranging between 10 and 35 threes old that appeals to me? Do I really taste all that?

What I do know is that when I to peer out at this marvelous 19th century estate, perched 180 meters above sea level between the villages of Senigallia and Jesi, north of the Esino river, the Apennines looming in the distance, I get this incredible sensation, munching on fresh-plucked berries, it might just be what Redbeard had swimming in his noggin before he decided to spare this village and move on to bigger fish.

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