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.


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


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.
Italian white region

Discovery Tasting: Native Italian Whites

Italian whites are among the most food-friendly wines. And this dip into the portfolio of a family-run importer showed exactly why.

Carson & Carnevale is both a relatively new name on the wine scene and one which has been around for a long time. The company was founded five years ago when the Carnevale family (specialising in Italian food) and the Carson family (specialising in Italian wine) came together in a spectacular gastronomic union. You can only imagine the catering at the Christmas party!

The company imports wines from all over the world – in fact, it’s Californian, Spanish and, particularly, it’s Australian ranges are really interesting. But the heart of its business is Italy.

Their ethos is to find wines that are authentic and full of character, but still offer value for money – and we saw that in this tasting, with a range of wines which (with one exception) were all priced to be highly sellable.

Running from Sicily to the Alps, stopping off at most points in between, this was a fascinating snapshot of the country’s wines – and of Carson & Carnevale’s range.

Steep slopes of the Alto Adige round Nino Negri

The Wines

Tenuta Scuotto Fiano 2019, Campania

£16.01 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Campania, in the south of mainland Italy, is 50% hills, 35% mountains and only 15% plains, and the vines for Fiano di Avellino are planted on slopes ranging from 400-600m above sea level, on a mix of rocks, ash, sands and clay.

Fiano di Avellino can range in style from light to full bodied, easy-going to age-worthy, happily lasting up to 10 years in the bottle, where it moves from grassy characters to smoky iodine-like notes. A late-ripening variety, its thick skins help it to resist autumnal weather.

From an excellent vintage and one of the best areas for Fiano di Avellino it’s had, 12 months ageing on fine lees.

Our tasters found hay notes and floral aromas of blossom. Honey and ripe yellow apples, lemon and pink grapefruits, also a ‘peach and lemon rind’ character. The extended lees ageing made it quite food friendly, combining weight but also freshness.

Food matches included linguine alle vongole.

The perfect wine match. Are you hungry yet?

Nino Negri Ca’Brione Bianco Alpi Retiche IGT 2019

£11.37 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

This part of Lombardy near the Valtellina DOC is a place where winemaker are happy to play around with a bit more freedom, and  locals claim this is where Nebbiolo (known as Chiavennasca) came from originally.

Both elements are visible in this wine which is a blend of international varieties – mostly (70%) Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – plus other indigenous varieties, including Nebbiolo fermented as a white.

Rocky terraced slopes give minerality and elegance to wine, while 12 months in oak adds extra weight and texture.

Our tasters found elderflower and peaches and loved its crunchy saline freshness.

Matches suggested were pork or veal tonnato, Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnuts, iberico and black truffle.

Nino Negri’s winemaker, Danilo Drocco

Sartarelli Tralivio, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOCI, Classico Superiore 2019

£11.38 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

In the Marche, on the eastern side of the Appennines, Verdicchio was described by Peter McCombie MW, who was presenting the wines, as being ‘one of Italy’s greatest white grapes’. It ripens slowly and reliably and retains high levels of tartaric acid, while the best examples can improve in bottle for as long as the average white Burgundy.

There’s been a shift to modern viticulture and lower yields over the last 15 years, which is seen in the fact that in 2006 60% of the region’s wines were produced by co-operatives, but that figure had dropped to 34% by 2017.

‘For us Verdicchio is a staple textured alternative to people who have been priced out of quality white Burgundy,’ said Allegra restaurant’s Max Manning.

This winery has picked up a couple of trophies in the International Wine Challenge down the years, and this wine, from 350m high vineyards in the rolling hills of Castello di Jesi was popular.

Our tasters found hawthorn, fern, elderberry, pear, almond and citrus; textural without lots of weight. A gentle austerity rather than fruitiness made it a real food wine.

Matches included baby spinach salad with goats cheese and walnuts, and rosemary and black olive focaccia. Plus, of course, the classic fritta mista di mare.

The rolling hills and shoreline of the Marche, home to Sartarelli

Le Morette Benedictus Lugana DOC 2018

£14.68 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Officially, Turbiana is the same variety as Verdicchio, though, this being Italy, some feel there might be differences. At the southern end of Lake Garda, it’s quite a small appellation with calcareous clay soils, with the lake creating a mild microclimate.

Le Morette was founded 60 years ago and it’s still family owned and operated. This wine is mostly made in stainless steel, though a small proportion is fermented in small oak, though the latter is sensitively handled.

A Tre Bicchiere winner from Gambero Rosso, it was nuttier and rounder than the previous wine with a little textural grip from the skins.

Our tasters found almonds, jasmine flowers and a hint of peach compote, with Gordon Ramsay’s Emanuel Pesqueira suggesting it was not unlike Pinot Gris in the richness of its mouthfeel.

‘I love that textural peach note,’ said Eden Locke Hotel’s Isobel Salamon. ‘This would be lovely with curried flavours.’ Other tasters agreed, suggesting a coconut shrimp curry.

Lake Garda. Not a bad spot, all things considered. And the wine isn’t bad either.

Assuli Donna Angelica Lucido DOC Sicilia 2017

£11.51 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

From the western end of Sicily, this wine is made from Lucido, which used to be known as Catarrato and is related to Garganega, Soave’s variety. Grown all over Sicily, it’s the most widely planted variety on the island.

This variety is usually citrus and herbal, with a mineral aftertaste and some tasters have noted a resemblance to Viognier. This wine was deep yellow and very rich and stone-fruity.

Our tasters could see where the Viognier parallel might come from but felt it had lost more freshness than it ought to have given it was four years old – possibly a bottling issue.

Jon Carson of Carson & Carnivale said that recent examples have been popular with Michelin-starred restaurants, so it might be worth calling in a different sample bottle.

Plenty of sun in Sicily, tempered by sea breezes and a bit of altitude

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Vecchie Vigne Soave DOC 2017

£12.19 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Back up in the north-east of the country, this came from a small vineyard to the west of the town of Soave from vineyards that are mostly loam over limestone, a terroir which typically gives honey and yellow fruit plus an acidic kick from the limestone.

Founded by four brothers in 1989 the business is still family run today.

‘Soave has a bit of a bad rep with the older guests,’ said Max Manning. ‘It was so mass-produced for so long it’s taking a while to get people willing to try the newer styles.’

The younger generation, though, seem more open to it. ‘If you list any Italian whites, you should have Soave,’ said Wiltons’ Monica Bachiocchi.

From 30 year-old vines, this was still remarkably fresh with tasters finding nuts citrus, mature white stone fruit and refreshing green almond.

Matches included squid ink linguini and onion tart.

The four brothers, who founded the winery over 30 years ago

Kellerei St Pauls Sanctissimus Pinot Bianco Riserva 2016

£47.97 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Surprisingly, the most expensive wine of the tasting a) came from a co-operative – albeit one which was founded in 1907, and b) was a Pinot Blanc.

From the south side of Alps this is a region that gets lots of sun, but also a chilly downdraft from the mountains, giving big diurnal temperature shifts, which help with acidity. This vineyard, planted in 1899, is one of the oldest in the Alto Adige.

The wine is fermented with skins in large amphorae, then matured in large wooden barrels. There’s no evident oak expression at all.

With flavours of toffee apple, herbs and spice, our tasters adored this wine, commenting on its balance, complexity, juicy, creamy texture and persistence.

‘It’s complex with real minerality,’ said Emanuel Pesqueira, while Spry Wines’ Arthur Ng felt it ‘drinks like a Pessac with a few years’.

‘So much texture,’ said Elly Owen from The Old Garage. ‘The finish is so good!’

Matches suggested included turbot Veronique and champagne caviar velouté, cheese, and a high quality burger in a brioche bun.

‘It’s not an everyday drink,’ said Monica Bachiocchi. ‘But I love it!’

Be honest, would you have guessed this was Italy if we hadn’t told you?

Marchese Raggio, “Old Année” Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCG 2015

£13.50 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

A staple of Italian restaurant lists for years Gavi maybe has a reputation like a more upmarket Pinot Grigio. But this wine, from a 500-year-old estate has more ambition than that.

From their best grapes, hand-harvested and softly pressed the wine has no malo (to preserve acidity), and a little batonnage to build in weight. It’s aged for three years in old oak barrels.

‘Gavi is the kind of wine where people tend to think they should have the latest vintage, but if you’ve got a bit of ambition that extra age is interesting,’ said Peter McCombie MW. ‘With time it does pick up a hint of liquorice or fennel – a bit of herbal spice.’

Our tasters found it crisp and clean with good primary flavours backed up by a singing acidity, and a slight austerity that made it perfect for food. The suggested match was crab linguini with a notch of chilli.

Drinking slightly older Italian whites made for a really interesting and unusual range of wines. As Emanuel pointed out, guests might be hesitant about this, but would be OK with it once the sommelier had ‘connected the wine to the vineyard’.

However, Valeriya Toteva from the Conrad Hilton was excited by the possibilities.  ‘As a sommelier, I’m looking for something new and unusual,’ she said. ‘It’s a plus to tell a story to our guests.’

The Marchese’s original document of ownership from 500 years ago

Download the tasting sheets

Watch the video