Discovery Tasting: Umani Ronchi

The eastern coast of Italy is less well-known than regions on the other side of the country. So this tasting with a star producer represented a fantastic voyage of discovery for Collective members.

Umani Ronchi’s CEO Michele Bernetti admits that the Marche and Abruzzo are somewhat ‘mysterious’ to most people. But fortunately his winery are excellent guides. Not only are they a member of the respected Grandi Marchi di Vini – essentially, Italy’s finest family run wine companies, including the likes of Sassicaia, Antinori and Tasca d’Almerita – they make wine in three different appellations east of the Appennines. No-one knows this area better.

The family started in the wine business in Verdicchio in 1957, later opening a cellar near the coast, in the Conero DO, before branching out into the Abruzzo, 130km further south, in 2001. The vast majority of what they do involves the native grapes Verdicchio and Montepulciano, though in this tasting they also showed us a Pecorino and a ‘super Marche’ red blend.

Michele Bernetti with his father in the family’s organic vineyards Pic: © Francesco Vignali Photography

Over their (almost) 70 years of production, they’ve developed a very environmentally friendly approach.

‘It’s very fashionable to mention sustainability now,’ says Michele. ‘But we’ve been committed to that for a long time.’ All of their 200 hectares of vineyards are farmed organically and certified as such.

Their philosophy (besides sustainability) is simple: ‘grandi vini ma non grossi vini’ – great wines but not big wines.

Our members got to look at wines from all three areas to see just what this meant.

Abruzzo

The Abruzzo is a large area – Italy’s fourth biggest wine region –  most of it is concentrated on Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. But white wine is coming back, particularly driven by a resurgence of local varieties. In the past this would probably have meant the high-yielding Trebbiano, but when the team at Umani Ronchi replanted they decided to concentrate on Pecorino which they thought was more interesting.

‘It’s a very ancient variety and very typical of this part of Italy,’ says Michele. ‘It’s been cultivated here for centuries. It’s authentic, indigenous and really gives some quality with a great personality.’

Umani Ronchi’s Abruzzo vineyards, looking towards the Appennines. Pic: © Francesco Vignali Photography

Centovie Pecorino 2019, IGT Colli Aprunti

In terms of blind tasting, Michele says Pecorino can be hard to pick on the nose. There’s some pear and white flowers, but like many Italian white varieties it’s not a particularly aromatic variety compared to, say Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Bianco.

‘You find the character on the palate,’ says Michele. ‘I don’t like to say minerality, but there’s a definite saltiness and acidity. There’s good body and freshness and it’s capable of ageing.’

£15.40 ex-VAT, Berkmann

The Centovie sees no oak, but is settled for 12 months in concrete tanks and 5 months in bottle before release. A wine with a certain chalkiness it’s pretty versatile and needn’t be limited to fish and seafood but, says Michele, can work well with white meats too – and food with more character generally.

Centovie Organic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015

Montepulciano is the variety that the Abruzzo is best known for. Typically, they are quite deep in colour and polyphenols and fairly rich in style.

But Umani Ronchi have introduced a variety of winemaking techniques – from not over-ripening the grapes and reducing pump-overs to introducing a little whole-bunch into the ferment – to dial this style down a bit and make something more elegant. Generally sandy soils help in this regard too.

Centovie is a 100% organic estate and though the wine is aged 14 months in French oak only 25% of it is new, with the remainder second and third use.

£18.87 ex-VAT, Berkmann

‘It needs some time to soften the wine, but we don’t want too much oak character,’ says Michele, pointing out that the wine still has enough concentration to age for 10-15 years.

Collective Member Daniel Cordero Reis found it ‘intense, warm and fruity with spicy aromas.’

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

This is where Umani Ronchi started and is home to over half of their vineyards – 110 hectares – all organically cultivated. Their vineyards are split between the ‘left bank’ (north of the Misa river) and the right bank opposite, with our members today tasting an example of each.

Verdicchio has changed significantly from the 1970s when it was making big volumes of largely uninspiring wine, to now producing some of Italy’s best whites. It’s a movement that this winery has been at the forefront of driving.

The beautiful sloping vineyards of Verdicchio Pic: © Francesco Vignali Photography

Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2019 

£17.84 ex-VAT, Berkmann

Umani Ronchi were engaged in renewing old, less productive vineyards, when they noticed that the vines in the upper part of this 1960s vineyard gave consistently better quality fruit. So rather than replant them, they renovated them. And this wine is the result.

It’s a very pure expression of Verdicchio – fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete tanks for a year, with no malo and no oak. It’s not unlike unoaked Chablis and, with the latter in short supply for the next two years, could provide a useful alternative.

‘Growers now realise they have a variety that can provide very classy wines,’ says Michele, suggesting that consumers are now often looking for wines such as this, with less obvious aromatic intensity and more character on the palate.

Plenio Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva 2019

£17.07 ex-VAT, Berkmann

First made in 1995 this oaked expression is a deliberately richer, more full-bodied style of Verdicchio (Plenio means ‘full’) which was very much the fashion of the mid-90s. However, over the last 25 years, Umani Ronchi has dialled down the oak use to just 30-40%, with no new oak – just two or three-year-old barrels.

‘Because Verdicchio is not very aromatic, you have to be careful in the oak you use,’ explains Michele. ‘You can’t use a sweet oak that adds those vanilla characters. You need a more grilled character, which works better with the freshness and minerality of Verdicchio. That way the oak brings complexity but it doesn’t make it heavy and you don’t lose the indigenous character.’

The wine comes from a vineyard that’s 400m above sea level, with gives bigger day/night differences. This allows them to leave the grapes on the vine longer without losing acidity, giving a style that’s richer, but still balanced.

All of which means you can push the food matching a bit, from fish and white meats right up to spaghetti Bolognese.

Verdicchio – could it be Italy’s answer to Chablis? Pic: © Francesco Vignali Photography

Conero

This wine region is named after the mountain (and national park) on the promontory south of Ancona. At 600m high, it shields the vineyards from the cool northerly and easterly breezes and is the reason that it’s possible to grow Montepulciano here. Even so, it’s the most northerly region for the grape in Italy.

Conero’s vineyards are protected from the wind by 600m high mountains. Pic: © Francesco Vignali Photography

Cùmaro Rosso Conero Riserva 2017   

The proximity to the sea has a big influence on the character of this wine. Firstly, the intensity of the light helps the polyphenols to ripen, and secondly it moderates the climate. The coast is famous for windsurfing – and the constant wind explains why the ripening is slower and more gentle.

It’s a hilly area of limestone and clay soils and stylistically the Montepulcianos are different as a result: more fruity and elegant in structure, and less powerful and spicy than those from the Abruzzo. A more refined expression.

£19.69 ex-VAT, Berkmann

Pelago 2017, Marche Rosso IGT

Our final wine of the day was first created for Umani Ronchi in the 1990s by Giacomo Tachis – the Italian wine guru famous for inventing Sassicaia, Tignanello et al. Having planted Cabernet and Merlot, with the intention of making a Bordeaux blend, Tachis convinced the family to blend it with Montepulciano to make a kind of ‘Super Marche’.

Typically the latter makes up around half of the blend, with 40-45% Cabernet and a splash of Merlot.

2017 was a warm year, but the maritime climate helped mitigate against that and (along with 2013 and 2015) is one of Michele’s favourite recent vintages.

£25.88 ex-VAT, Berkmann

‘It’s always been about elegance and finesse,’ says Michele. ‘It’s never been a wine looking for a big structure.’

Umani Ronchi’s new barrel cellar. Ageability is a key feature of the Conero wines, particularly Pelago.

Discovery Tasting: Tasca d’Almerita

A riot of lagoons, mountains, islands and volcanoes, this tasting with Tasca showed off Sicily’s incredible geography to the max

Let’s face it, most of the wine trade don’t know anywhere near enough about Sicily. There’s a temptation to assume that because it’s an island it’s not very big, and because until 30 years ago much of what it produced went into bulk wine that it’s devoid of interesting terroir.

In fact, neither of these things is remotely true. Sicily is bigger than Wales. It’s 100,000 hectares of vineyard (just less than Bordeaux) makes it one of the biggest wine regions in Italy, and its scenery is extraordinary – as we discovered in this tasting.

Collective members tried wines from tiny windswept islands, salty lagoons, rocky mountains and Europe’s largest active volcano.

‘Everyone imagines Sicily is a flat island,’ says Alberto Tasca, of our hosts for the day, Tasca d’Almerita. ‘But it isn’t at all.

5 Territories, 5 Estates, 5 stories to tell – Tasca d’Almerita

‘70% of the production comes from hills, and that makes a big difference.’

Alberto Tasca

Tasca d’Almerita have an almost 200-year history of winemaking on the island, and exploring such diverse terroirs has very much become part of their philosophy, with the family-owned company adding small estates the length and breadth of the island.

‘We use as little ego [in the winemaking] as possible,’ explained Alberto. ‘We just want the wines to talk about where they’re from; the age of the vines and what kind of grape varieties they are.’

The Wines

Tenuta Capofaro, Didyme 2021

This comes from the island of Salina, off Sicily’s north-east coast. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, with vineyards overlooking the thundering waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

‘It has a little what we call ‘sapidity’ – a kind of saltiness,’ says Alberto. ‘It could be because of the strong winds blowing salty water everywhere.’

The island used to be best known for making sweet wines from Malvasia di Lipari. But in 2013 – a big year – Tasca had no space to dry all the grapes, so made some dry wine as well – a style that’s become increasingly popular and should get its own DOC soon.

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

‘I see this kind of wine working very well with sushi,’ said Raphael Thierry. ‘The oily texture is perfect with the texture of the fatty fish like tuna and the saltiness of the wine combines well with soy sauce.’

Vines with a view out over the Tyrrenhian Sea. Spray could give the wines a gentle salty finish.

Tenuta Regaleali, Buonsenso Catarratto 2021

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

Tenuta Regaleali is the homeland of Tasca d’Almerita. It’s in the high, mountainous interior of the island. With much cooler nights, grapes ripen one month later here, which was particularly important in the days before temperature control, since it meant fermenting in October rather than much warmer September.

Catarratto is Sicily’s most-planted white variety, characterised by good natural acidity and an inherent ability to age, even without oak. ‘Because of its ability to hold acidity, you can get it ripe without worrying about it losing freshness,’ says Alberto.

It’s defined by apricot flavours. ‘But there’s a little sapidity to the finish of this wine which is just what we’re looking for,’ says Alberto. ‘We don’t want it to be all about primary aromas.’

Tenuta Regaleali in the mountains of the interior. The heartland of Tasca d’Almerita’s operation

Tenuta Whitaker, Grillo di Mozia 2021

Mozia is another extraordinary place: an incredibly low island off Sicily’s west coast, Alberto claims (almost certainly accurately) that these vines are the lowest vineyards in the world, just a couple of metres above sea level.

The sea around the island is so shallow that the grapes need to be transported to the mainland in small numbers of boxes at a time (see main picture), otherwise the boat runs aground.

Grillo is a cross between Moscato and Catarrato, and the vines are trained in the ‘Marsala bow’ – which involves intertwined bush vine branches trained on a wire, to protect them from the strong sea breezes. It’s a naturally rich wine, particularly from 2021 which Alberto says was ‘the warmest, driest vintage of my whole life.’

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars
Mozia: vineyards barely above the water, surrounded by a 50cm-deep sea

Tenuta Sallier de la Tour Madamarose 2021

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

This large estate inland from Palermo is at 450m of altitude and a mixture of sand and clay. ‘It’s the perfect place for Syrah,’ says Alberto. Tasca d’Almerita tried planting the grape at Regaleali, but it was too cool, and the soils too poor. It performed far better on this estate.

‘We think this is the best place for Syrah in Sicily,’ he continues, pointing out that the grape has a long tradition in Sicily, though it’s a different biotype to the examples grown in France and Australia.

This deep-coloured example from the hot 2021 vintage is ‘a step up in richness’ compared to a normal year, but Alberto says that it ‘pairs very well with food. That’s very much part of our culture in Sicily now. It’s great with barbecued meat.’

High, but warmer than the Regaleali estate, Sallier de la Tour is perfect for Syrah

Tenuta Tascante Ghiaia Nera 2019, Etna Rosso

Nerello Mascalese has found its spiritual home on Etna, which is just as well because it’s not an easy grape to grow. Tasca d’Almerita tried to grow it in Regaleali but ended up just using it for rosé. ‘It’s like trying to grow Pinot Noir in a place that isn’t suited to it,’ says Alberto. ‘But in Etna the volcanic soil brings a crazy tension to the wine.’

Pale in colour, John Prime commented that it ‘seemed to tread a fine line between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo’ and Alberto backed this up.

‘It makes crisp, gastronomic wines,’ he explained. ‘They don’t work without food. There’s something nervous about it. You need an educated palate.’

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

This was (just) the most popular wine in the tasting, with our members suggesting it with lamb sweetbreads in miso caramel (Patrick Bostock), ‘red pepper cannelloni and lemon ricotta in our vegetarian tasting menu’ (James Payne) and ‘roast chicken or turkey’ (Jordan Sutton).

Etna’s grey volcanic rocks make for distinctive terracing

Tenuta Regaleali Rosso del Conte 2016, Contea di Sclafani DOC

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

The ‘Conte’ was created by Alberto’s grandfather back in the 1960s. At that time, Chateauneuf du Pape was the most sought-after wine style, and after visiting the region for a month, he decided on blending two varieties together. It’s a mix of Nero d’Avola and Pericone.

‘Typically these two varieties were planted together because they ripen at the same time,’ said Alberto. ‘But they are totally different. Nero d’Avola is rich purple with a high acidity, Pericone is redder, with a rounder body.’

It’s easy to see how they might work well together, and they combine brilliantly here. From the excellent 2016 vintage, this wine was also popular with the Collective members.

Alberto refused to be drawn on whether he prefers the Etna wine or the Conte, but does say that in 2016 the ‘Rosso del Conte was amazing – better than the best wine we produced on Etna.’

Terraces tumble down the hillside on Mount Etna

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Masi Tassi Tour

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Masi, the top Italian producer based in the Veneto, hailed a black cab and invited some of the Capital’s best sommeliers to do The Knowledge and sample the range and diversity of Masi´s wine.

Giacomo Boscaini, export manager and seventh generation member of the family behind Masi, hosted the evening which stopped off at three of London’s great restaurants to showcase the various Masi Estates, paired with some choice dishes.

Masi host a group of top London Sommeliers to showcase its range of wines from the Veneto and Argentina

Giacomo was joined by twelve sommeliers, and Sommelier Collective members, from across London: Stefan Neumann MS; Amedeo Bellini, Sommelier, Petrus by Gordon Ramsay; Antonio Bellochi, Sommelier, City Social; Salvatore Castano, Sommelier, Friarwood’s; Francesco Delfino, Deputy Head Sommelier, Aqua Shard; Roxane Dupuy, Head Sommelier at Sketch; Michela Di Fazzio, Sommelier, Matteo’s at Annabel’s; Matteo Furlan, Head Sommelier at The Ritz; Alexia Gallouët, Head Sommelier, Haugen; Gabriele Galuppo, Head Sommelier, Beast; Jonathan Kleeman, Head Sommelier, Restaurant Story and Daniel Murray, Head Sommelier, A Wong.

Masi Cabs for the Masi Tassi Tour in London, November 2021

The tour started at Piazza Italiana, in the heart of The City, where a number of iconic Venetian wines were tasted with some great Italian dishes. Next up at Sushisamba, Covent Garden, the somms and hosts departed from the European theme; stretching over two continents to pair South American-Eastern fusion with the wines from the Masi Tupungato estate in Argentina. The tour ended at Hide, Piccadilly where guests tasted four Amarones and one Recioto, dating back to 2007, from the family’s cellars chosen specially for the evening by Giacomo.

‘Passo doble’, it’s like the Argentine tango: it’s a dance between Venice and Argentina”

Giacomo Boscaini, 7th generation Masi family

Commenting on the London tour Stefan Neumann MS said, “The evening combined heritage and culture and was a joyful experience – a win win combination. The three different Masi wine ranges, tasted in three different locations, were able to build a bridge between different cuisines.”

Stefan Neumann MS

THE WINES TASTED:

  • Canevel Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry
  • Colbaraca Soave Classico, Masi 2019
  • Toar Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Masi 2018
  • Brolo Campofiorin Oro, Masi 2017
  • Organic Passo Blanco, Masi Tupungato 2020
  • Organic Passo Doble Tierra Soleada, Masi Tupungato 2019
  • Organic Corbec Appassimento, Masi Tupungato 2017
  • Canevel Terre del Faè Prosecco dosaggio zero 2020
  • Costasera Amarone Classico, Masi 2015
  • Riserva Costasera Amarone Classico, Masi 2015
  • Campolongo di Torbe Amarone, Masi 2007
  • Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella, Masi 2007
  • Angelorum Recioto della Valpolicella, Masi 2016

“Campolongo di Torpe” & “Mazzano” for me are respectively the Queen and the King of Amarone. 2007 was an incredible vintage and the wines are showing so well at the moment, still very young but super expressive.

Salvatore Castano, sommelier and fine wine advisor, Friarwood’s

The Masi story began in 1772, when the Boscaini family acquired prestigious vineyards in the small valley called “Vaio dei Masi”, which is the origin of the company’s name. After more than 200 years of passionate winemaking the company is still in family hands, run by the sixth and seventh generations.  

A benchmark in the art of producing Amarone at a world level, Masi constantly innovates and passes on its expertise in the Appassimento method, which has been practised since the time of the Ancient Romans. Use of native grapes and autochthonous methods, and the research and experimentation carried out by the company, make it one of the most famous producers of high-quality Italian wines in the world. Masi is constantly looking to set a new benchmark for the Veneto wines of tomorrow, as they did in 1964 with the launch of Campofiorin and the creation of the Ripasso category. As Giacomo Boscaini said on the evening, “The ‘Masi style’ is always about good balance and good acidity. In my opinion, 2015 was one of the best vintages in the last 50 years. Before 2016, it would have been one of the best ever.”


My favourite wine of the night was the Amarone Riserva Mazzano 2007. The most interesting was probably the Corbec, because of the unusual blend of Corvina and Malbec.

Amedeo Bellini, sommelier, Petrus by Gordon Ramsay

Masi wines are imported into the UK by Berkmann Wine Cellars.

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