Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC is a white wine made from Verdicchio grapes grown in 23 communes (see production zone, below) either side of the Esino river basin in Ancona and Macerata provinces in Le Marche, a region on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Historically the area was called ‘Castelli’ or Castles because each commune became a fortress town, surrounded by high defensive walls. This was when the area came under the political and economic influence of Jesi, the city in which Frederick II of Swabia (Friedrich II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman emperor) was born in 1194 (note that Jesi itself actually lies slightly outside the DOC zone). Further inland and in higher, mountainous country is the smaller Verdicchio di Matelica DOC region whose riserva version is the Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOCG.
Commercial success: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is seeds as the Marche region’s ‘great commercial succes. Straight-forward, dry, clean; one of the earliest Italian whites to taste modern and international, thanks to the skill of its promoters, Fazi-Battaglia [whose] marketing flair produced the distinctive amphora-shaped bottle,’ (Hugh Johnson: Wine Companion: 1991, p.347).
Production zone: The Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi production zone covers 3,000ha of land across the Bassa Vallesina valley and the two provinces of Ancona and Macerata (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p315).
Production zone by province: Ancona: Arcevia. | Barbara. | Belvedere Ostrense. | Castelbellino. | Castelplanio. | Corinaldo. | Cupramontana. | Maiolati Spontini. | Mergo. | Montecarotto. | Monte Roberto. | Morro d’Alba. | Ostra. | Poggio San Marcello. | Rosora. | San Marcello. | San Paolo di Jesi. | Senigallia. | Serra de ‘Conti. | Serra San Quirico. | Staffolo. Macerata: Apiro. | Cingoli. | Poggio San Vicino.
Left Bank, Right Bank: One way of thinking about potential stylistic differences across what is a large production zone is to follow the Esino river which cuts the region evenly in two banks, left and right. The lower-lying left bank is said to give fuller wines, and the higher elevation right bank supposedly gives leaner ones. A more precise metric is to classify individual sites according to soil type, geology, altitude, exposure, mesoclimatic conditions (degree days, precipitation) and so on. Towns on the north or left bank (‘riva sinistra’) of the Esino include Moie, Montecarotto, Serra de’ Conti, Castelplanio and Serra San Quirico, and Arcevia. Towns on the south or right bank (‘riva destra’) of the Esino include San Paolo di Jesi, Staffolo, Cupramontana, Maiolati Spontini, Castelbellino.
Economics: In the 1970s and 1980s Le Marche’s flagship Verdicchio wines were considered cheap and cheerful whites pumped out by big commercial winemakers (eg Fazi-Battaglia) and sold in an amphora-shaped bottle. Also influential was Carlo Pigini Campanari at Colonnara, the Cantina Sociale (co-operative) of Cupramontana. Corrado Dottori of La Distesa told me (on Friday 21st Oct 2016) that in the 1970s and 1980s there was a crisis for Verdicchio–due to bigger producers who controlled the market over-producing and causing price falls. Alessandro Fenino of Pievalta (4th October 2016) told me ‘the price of Verdicchio is still low for the quality. There are six cellars here making more than 1 million bottles annually eg Moncaro, Fazi-Battaglia, Monte Schiavo and Garofoli.’
Zoning: Regarding zoning Corrado Dottori of La Distesa told me (on Friday 21st Oct 2016) that ‘the Left bank-Right bank approach is not the best one. There are some differences between the left bank and the right bank. But the main focus should be about what the terroir is inside each commune. Verdicchio from near the sea from for example in Corinaldo (7-8km from the Adriatic) on recent clay is very different from Verdicchio grown in Apiro at 500 m on much older calcareous soils. In big zones like ours we need to differentiate between the larger producers who buy in grapes from a wide range of vine plots and whose different individual flavour characteristics get subsumed when blended together. Smaller producers making wine from unique single sites with distinct taste characteristics should see that the current trend is very much to make each wine solely about the Verdicchio grape, whereas the focus should be about Verdicchio as it relates to individual sites or terroirs. Jesi is probably harder to map than Burgundy, where vines follow one fairly consistent slope across which are various slices of geology. But in Jesi, Verdicchio vines face to all four points of the compass and various townships including in Cupramonta [where his winery is based] go from 80 metres (feet) above sea level to nearly 600 metres.’
Terroir: Burton Anderson (1990, p.173) points out that although the extensive production zone for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi comes within 6.2 miles (10 kilometres) of the Adriatic at Morro d’Alba (see Lacrima di Moro d’Alba DOC), the classic vineyards for Verdicchio lie west of the town of Jesi, 12-18 miles (20-30 kilometres) from the sea and in two groups of hills. These lie on either the left bank or the right bank of the Esino river, at between 200-500 metres (feet) and between Serra de Conti and Staffolo. The prevailing soil type is calcareous clay, nuanced by the presence of either sand, fossil and/or mineral deposits. As the zone reaches as far as the Apennine foothills to the west hail can be a factor. The terroir allows Verdicchio to ripen slowly whilst retaining its acidity.
Topography: Only 10% of the production zone is on plains or flatland (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p.315). Altitudes range from 96 metres in Jesi (just outside the production zone) to 630 metres at Cingoli (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p315). Most vineyards are planted at between 80-270 metres, with the highest at 700 metres (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p.315).
Climate: Average annual rainfall is 800mm (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p.315). Springs frosts do occur but Verdicchio is usually unscathed thanks to being late to bud (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p.315). See also wine style, below.
Soil: Soils in hilly locations are generally rich in clay and calcium carbonate, whereas flatland vineyards find alluvial soils with more in the way of organic matter and less in the way of permeability compared to on slopes (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p315)
Organics: Alessandro Fenino of Pievalta told me (4th October 2016) ‘we can get wet springs here, so there is a risk of peronospora (‘downy mildew’) until the end of June. Picking can be late so there is a risk of late grey rot. But with the lower yields and thicker skins that organic and Biodynamic growing potentially provide you with, there is better balance in terms of of vine vigour and more natural plant resistance. There is market demand for bio wines too. Climate change and the hotter weather it brings helps re vine health if the air is dry. But if humidity is high then there is more risk of rot. Jesi is a hard soil to work.’
Viticulture: ‘Training is almost entirely vertical, mostly in the doppio capovolto or double arch system that gives Verdicchio space to flourish…[and lowering yields by] short pruning may force excessive foliage and encourage what is known as berry expulsion,’ (Burton Anderson,1990, p.171). Vine density is 2,500-5,000 vines per hectare. Yields can reach 122 hl/ha.
Wine style: Ian d’Agata (2019, p315) makes the point that Verdicchio’s soft and fruity personality is partly due to a warm climate, both the latitude and the tempering influence of the Adriatic sea playing a part, with most vineyards between 20 and 40km (‘at most’) from the Adriatic (12–24 miles). The protective influence of the Apennine Mountains is also a key factor (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p315). Subdued aromas. More flavourful palate. Saline notes. Lemony-citrus, green almond, resin, herbs, slight bitterness, saltiness.
Vintages: 2000 Very hot season. | 2001 A classic season, with hot periods. | 2002 Wet. High acid. Low sugars. Rot an issue (golden coloured wines). | 2003 Hot. Need for acidification. | 2004 A good year. Picking into late autumn. | 2005. Cool. Late ripening with rain too. | 2006 Generally cool, with rain too, with a heat spike in autumn provoking a rush to pick heathly fruit, esp for later varieties. | 2007 Hot summer. Rain in September; but good picking conditions. Some flat white wines lacking acidity. | 2008 Balanced. | 2009 Hot. More obvious wines. Bigger compared to 2010. | 2010 Cool, very good. Long hang time. Refined. Elegant. | 2015 Tough year.
Production: 2018 167.608hl. 17.2 million bottles. 525 producers overall: 448 grape growers, 109 wine producers, 114 bottlers. | 2017 112,000hl. 15 million bottles. | 2016 172,000hl. 16.6 million bottles. | 2010 hl. | 2009 hl. | 2008 hl. | 2007 hl. | 2006 hl.
Burton Anderson, Vino – The Wines and Winemakers of Italy (London, 1982).
Burton Anderson, The Wine Atlas of Italy, Mitchell Beazley, 1990 p.171-179.
Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).
Italian Wine Guide (Touring Club of Italy, 1999), p367.
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo–The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003).
Production data | 2006-2010 Federdoc as reported by I Numeri del Vino. 2016-2018 Valoritalia.