Thursday, January 30, 2014

Italy's Best-Kept Secrets; Marche and the wines of Il Pollenza


By Dwight Casimere

TOLENTINO, Italy—Rising amidst the gorgeous landscape of the Macerata hills, is the gorgeous 16th century building that is the centerpiece of the estate of Il Pollenza winery, producers of exquisite and elegant wines in Italy’s Marche region.

The history of the estate goes back to the time of Napoleon and beyond. Spread over splendidly picturesque hills in the Marche, the centerpiece is a beautifully restored 16th century building designed by Sangallo.

The site of the winery was the battlefield for the famous Battle of Tolentino, fought in May, 1815 with the Neapolitan army, led by His Royal Highness King Joachim Murat pitted against Austrian troops led by Baron Federico Bianchi. The clash resulted in the demise of the Napoleonic era and the repression of the struggle to establish the great Italian Risorgimento. The land was lost and re-conquered many times over the course of history.

What remains in Tolentino are the gloriously restored buildings of the Il Pollenza estate and its state of the art winery.  Il Pollenza exudes a sincere passion for the land and a commitment to the best cultivation techniques, resulting in wines that reflect the highest in quality and flavor. The real beauty of these wines is that they are not only rich and delicious, but, for most, they also have an average price of $17!

Il Pollenza estate was purchased by Count Brachetti-Peretti more than twenty years ago from the house of Antici Mattei and its principality.  The exceptional wines offered for sampling covered the spectrum, among them a white wine,  Brianello Bianco 2012 , Marche IGT. It is a blend of the native Trebbiano grape combined with the international varietals Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It is a crisp, clean wine, aged in stainless steel to preserve its full fruit flavor. This was my choice with pheasant, roasted with fresh truffles and a hint of fresh sage. Fennel salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing was the first course.  The meal was followed by Mango sorbet with fresh strawberries. It was truly a delightful lunch that brought out the best in this well structured, evenly balanced wine.

Balance is the name of the game with the 90 points plus rated Il Pollenza-Cosmino Marche Rosso IGT 2008 $30. The wine is silky smooth with black cherries and blackberries literally dripping from the corners of your mouth. There’s a distinctive back note of licorice and dark Belgian chocolate with undercurrents of the rich, black mineral soil from whence the grapes came. This is still a young wine, with plenty of room for aging. However, gluttony ruled the day, and I wound up consuming this one in a single sitting with a pound and a half Prime Aged Cowboy Steak with Morel mushrooms and a dark brown sauce made with a splash of the wine.

Il Pollenza DiDi Marche IGT, also $17, proved to be one of the most interesting wines of the sampling collection. A blend of red grapes normally associated with the Burgundy and Rhone regions of France, Pinot Noir and Syrah respectively, it has a delightfully bright pink color and a tantalizing, seductive flavor to match. You wouldn’t expect such a vibrant color from the decidedly heavy, tannic and spicy grapes involved, but, according to the winery, the practice of blending the two grapes has been around for some time.  Prior to the 1920s, when France began to codify its byzantine rules on wine labeling, it was commonplace for producers in Burgundy to strengthen their Pinot wines with a touch of wine from the Rhone Valley. The Syrah was used to deepen the color of the resulting wine and bolster its alcohol content, thus camouflaging a weak vintage.  This is a terrific all purpose wine, great with salads, fruit, cheese and particularly with shellfish. Lobster was my choice, drenched in a white wine sauce infused with a reduction of some of the cooking liquid from the poached lobster and a bit of the wine. Served with a side of linguine topped with chopped sage, a few grinds of Sicilian sea salt and a dollop of olive oil or melted clarified butter, the results were terrific!

Porpora-Marche Rosso IGT 2012 $17 is another full-bodied red with silky tannins. It has a distinctive flavor of dried rose petals, blueberries and a backbone of dark minerals. There’s a hint of Godiva chocolate that gives it a seductive finish. Veal piccata or sautéed Skate with capers, or Dover Sole in lemon and brown butter sauce are my flavor matches with this lovely, violet-colored wine.

 A brief note on the Marche. This is one of the great undiscovered (to those of us here in the US) wine producing regions of Italy. Located on the eastern side of central Italy, it isadjacent to its better- known neighbors Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo and separated from Umbria by only the Apennines mountains. It is ideally situated between the mountains on the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east, which accounts for its exceptional growing conditions for all types of grapes, from the indigenous (and ubiquitous) Trebbiano and Verdicchio grapes to many international varietals. Besides producing spectacular, fruit forward still wines, the region is also becoming known for its delightful sparkling DOCG sparkling wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.

Chief among the reds are the Sangiovese-Montepulciano blends. Other widely planted white grapes include Pinot Bianco, Malvasia Toscana, Pecorino and Bianchello. There’s no end to the blending possibilities and to the exceptional wines from the Marche, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.

1. Il Pollenza estate in the Marche
2-5. The wines of Il Pollenza
6. The winemaking team at Il Pollenza:
 Reference oenologist: Dr. Carlo Ferrini
Internal company oenologist: Dr. Giovanni Campodonico
Agronomist: Dr. Valerio Barbieri
Laboratory Director: Dr. Mauro Giacomini

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