All Aboard: Ciù Ciù

The somewhat unfamiliar denominations of (Rosso) Piceno DOC and Marche IGT undoubtedly present a an upstream paddle in terms of consumer recognition for a couple memorable Italian wines I tasted recently.

The producer name Ciù Ciù – yep, like the train sound – on the other hand, may issue enough memory-provoking power to generate eons of consumer recall.

Ciù Ciù, a family run winery located in Italy’s Marche, works with indigenous red varieties Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Lacrima, as well as international grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Ciù Ciù also has a white wine catalog based on the likes of home team white grape varieties such as Passerina, Verdicchio, Pecorino, and Trebbiano, and a couple of the usual white international grape suspects. The estate’s red and white varieties also lend their particular respective talents to Ciù Ciù’s rose and sparkling bottlings.

Interestingly, Ciù Ciù’s press sheet indicates that winery is vegan certified. From the 2014 vintage, the press sheet states, their wines bear the Vegan logo on the back label, indicating that the wines are suitable for vegans. The certification warranties that during the entire production cycle no ingredients, agents, manufacturing related products, etc., of animal origin or tested on animals are used. Nor does the winery use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), according to the press sheet.

Ciù Ciù also carries an organic certification. Again, according to the press sheet, the “…protocol excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and rely on low yield per acre as well as on ripening curves to establish the right harvest time. Through a strong use of the “cold” technology, we manage to keep our grapes healthy and can avoid adding sulfites until the very end bottling process.”

The certifications are good stuff, providing the wines are, well, something to write about.

And they are.

I put a couple of bottles (note: received as samples) through their paces in a technical tasting and at table.

Ciù Ciù’s Bacchus, a bottling under the Piceno DOC, is simply joyous, full of harmony, and performs exceedingly well at table. A blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, the wine is full-bodied enough for cheesy eggplant parmigiana, yet, the wine’s gentle tannins pair well with more delicate food plates as well. Bonus: it’s affordable. The kind of wine one wishes retail shops would make more broadly available.

The winery’s Oppidum, a deep, voluptuous red produced as Marche IGT Rosso, is lush with layers of ripe black cherry, herb, coffee, cigar smoke, and cocoa. Finishes with rich, sweet tannins and a savory lick of salty minerality. 100% Montepulciano, 30% of the wine is aged in barriques, 70% in 10 HL barrels.

The Grandi Marchi Experience: Symphonic

The Grandi Marchi – visionary winemakers from across Italy – are here today at Del Posto Restaurant in New York City to lead attendees through a seminar and guided wine tasting of some of Italy’s best terroirs.

Like the Philharmonic minutes before a concert, the “orchestra” Grandi Marchi, is tuning up.

As Grandi Marchi members take their seats, tasting glasses clink and jangle, papers rustle, polite chatter and excuse me’s whispered one after another.

Audience iPhone camera shutters clllick away.


What follows is to be an immensely informative seminar, with each producer/representative speaking with subject matter expert authority about their respective regions, production methods, and unique terroirs.

I won’t kid you – the tasting segment is ridiculously pleasant. And massively instructive. The elegance, vigor, joy and pleasure of Grandi Marchi wines is remarkable.

But, for anyone who is familiar with the Grandi Marchi – member names that include the likes of Gaja, Masi, and Antinori – icons of fine Italian wine – that much is not unexpected.

What has so impressed me at this Grandi Marchi tasting – more so than any single wine or producer – is that, as a group, the wines braid together 13 different appellations and 15 wineries in a way that speaks so vividly, so sonorously, of Italy’s rich and diverse wine tradition.

To put it another way, perhaps in musical terms, the Italian wine tradition is composed not of a single tone, but from many different tones which, as in good music, allow us to experience the symphony.

There are no short cuts to understanding Italian wine. There are, however, some very good places to begin the Sassicaiajourney. Grandi Marchi wines represent a point of departure that grant you exposure to a highly relevant cross-section of Italy’s most important grape varietals and regions, act as model reference points for what wines ought to be like within their respective categories, and help to communicate the cultural values and traditions that unite them.

For more information about the Grandi Marchi, I recommend you to follow the link to Grandi Marchi Institute of Fine Italian Wines.

Belisario Verdicchio di Matelica Terre di Valbona 2009

Belisario Verdicchio di Matelica Terre di Valbona 2009

What can one say of beautifully simple, delicious wines, except to pity the people who do not appreciate them?

belisario-verdicchio-di-matelica-terre-valbona-2009Belisario’s Verdicchio di Matelica Terre di Valbona is a wine of uncomplicated, delicious dignity, owing to its own honest style.

Founded in the ‘70’s as a cooperative, Belisario has since become the largest producer of Verdicchio di Matelica. Located within the Alta Valle Esina of Italy’s Marche, Belisario vineyards are a maximum of 10 minutes from its cellars.

Belisario’s Verdicchio di Matelica Terre di Valbona is made from 100% Verdicchio grapes selected from its best vineyards.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Pale straw yellow with aromatics of peaches, white flowers and lemon zest. Warm in the mouth with apricot and honey on the palate, notes of lemon zest and sea salt on a flavorful finish. Well structured and refreshing. Great quality / price ratio.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Classic Verdicchio pairings like hot and cold hors d’oeurves, fish, white meats, cheeses, and pasta will all work super well, though we loved this wine with stir fried squid and ginger with the Sichuan pepper spice known as “Hua Jiao”; roast taro with black mushroom, wheat gluten and carrot; baby Chinese broccoli; and “straw vegetable” called Kong Xin Cai (water spinach).


Sartarelli : One Thing Done Very Well

Le Marche producer Sartarelli does one thing and does it well. Very well.

It’s spelled V-E-R-D-I-C-C-H-I-O.

sartarelli-verdicchio-classico-2008-tralivio-balciana-2007Located nearby Poggio San Marcello in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi appellation of Italy’s Marche, the Sartarelli estate – its vineyards planted exclusively to Verdicchio – is run by Donatella Sartarelli and Patrizio Chiacchiarini, with assistance from enologist Alberto Mazzoni.

Sartarelli doesn’t rely upon strategic marketing or advertising campaign to carve out its place in the wine market. Instead, Sartarelli has made its bones by providing high quality product and great value for money.

Preservation of the environment through sustainable farming techniques along with careful timing and attention to detail take on important roles at Sartarelli. Recognizing that high quality grape is fundamental to high quality wine, agricultural treatments are avoided wherever possible. Grapes are allowed to ripen slowly with differently timed harvests to ensure the correct degree of ripeness. And great care is taken to avoid violence and damage to fruit during harvest and the winemaking process.

Three Sartarelli wines below – Verdiccho Classico, Superiore Tralivio and Superiore Balciana – are made of 100% Verdicchio grown in calcareous soil at approximately 325m altitude. Vines producing the Classico and Tralivio are an average age of 15-16 years with south, east, and southwest exposures; vines producing Balciana average 10 years old with northeast exposure.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2008

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Pretty straw-yellow color with faded emerald reflections and a round, delicate character showing pear, apricot, honey and almond with hints of ginger and lime. Sound structure, lively acid and a satisfying finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

FISH SEAFOOD: generally speaking, fish / seafood can’t miss with this wine, but especially consider baked stuffed shrimp or fried “fisherman’s platter”; WHITE MEATS: simply prepared white meats, such as breaded pan-fried chicken cutlets; PASTA: recommend ziti or bucatini with fresh sardine sauce or spaghetti with mussels; EGGS: frittate and omelette dishes; APPETIZERS: zucchini stuffed with bread crumbs, onion, tomato and parmesan, a savory vegetable pie, foccacia bread with olives, cold meats

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Tralivio 2007

Strength and structure provide the background for intoxicating orange blossom, apricot, mango, and honey. Mint and a lick of sea salt on a satisfying finish. Deliciously weighty on the palate, the wine shows warmth, poise and symmetry.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

FISH SEAFOOD: more ambitious preparations of fish or seafood such as bouillabaisse or mussels with poached eggs and cream sauce; MEATS: especially consider “cacciatora” prepared chicken, rabbit, or lamb; PASTA: do consider spaghetti with good caviar and cream; APPETIZERS: roasted red pepper rolled with tuna and olive stuffing; baked and stuffed mushroom caps; CHEESES: medium aged cheeses.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Balciana 2007

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

This exquisite single-vineyard Verdicchio harvested late in small yield is an absolutely luminous, amber color highlighted with impressionistic splashes of golden summer straw. Intense apricot, orange creamsicle, mint and herb. Rich on the palate and a long, pleasant finish with hints of bitter almond and honey. Spectacular.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

FISH / SEAFOOD: skillet crusted scallops with a spicy orange sauce, or almond crusted fish fillet; MEATS: mustard-roasted rabbit with herbs and tomatoes, or slow-cooked lamb shanks with anchovy fillets, tomatoes and carrots; PASTA: ziti with carmelized onions and portobello mushrooms or linguine with scallops and lemon butter sauce; APPETIZERS / SALADS: zucchini or bean salad with lemon, mint and pieces of parmesan cheese, or hot endive / escarole salad with bacon and hard boiled eggs.

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Verdicchio Meets Chun Juan

No, it’s not an Italian–Chinese love story. Well, not exactly 😉

Chinese chun juan or spring rolls – thin dough skins spread with finely minced vegetables, meat, shrimp or oysters and rolled into, well…a roll…evoke an emotional response of home and family for my Chinese wife. Since her parents are currently visiting us, a special request for home town chun juan was speedily attended.

Now, you may think all chun juan are the same…nein! Like pasta in Italy, local interpretation is the rule with chun juan and they can be served either fresh or fried. My in-law’s version is from their local area in southeast China and is known thereabouts as bou bian.

egg-roll-1aLike the Earl of Sandwich who first placed meat between two slices of bread when too busy to eat otherwise, it was an ambitious Chinese too busy with study to eat a proper meal who needed convenient and fast food: vegetables and whatever else was available were rolled up in a thin dough wrapper and, voilà, chun juan!

The fresh wrappers for rolling chun juan are best purchased at your local Asian grocery as there is no good way to make them at home. Finely shredded vegetables – cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots, leeks, snow peas, water chestnuts – are heated in a large pot with some oil and cooked until sauté tender. Finely minced pork, tofu and / or shrimp or oysters are cooked and then combined with vegetables, all mixed well, and salted to taste.

egg-roll-3ajpgThe fun part: a fresh spring roll wrapper is spread out on a plate with some of the vegetable / meat mixture placed in the middle. A pinch or two of each of your preferred condiments is added. Recommended, but optional condiments include chopped fresh parsley, very finely shredded seaweed, sweet peanut crumb, hot sauce. The wrapper sides are folded in just a bit toward the middle, then, rolled from the bottom up, forming a shape reminiscent of a sandwich wrap or egg roll.

TIP: To avoid tearing, don’t allow any juices that may have collected in the vegetable / meat mixture’s bowl onto the wrapper.

Thank you for your attention to this point; I haven’t forgotten about the Verdicchio.

Verdicchio’s clean, bright, fragrant character and lively acidity create a wildly attractive pairing to the fresh and subtlely-exotic texture and flavors of chun juan. And its full body, dryness and good structure are well suited to the delicate, but savory nature of chuan juan’s fundamental ingredients. We chose a delicious and inexpensive Verdicchio Classico from the Castelli di Jesi zone in Italy’s Marche, made by producer Sartarelli, which worked blissfully well.

Verdicchio and chun juan: Enticing. Even romantic. Different. Just plain good.

If you have some time on your hands, more time than had the Earl of Sandwich, make fresh spring rolls at home. Otherwise, order them at the restaurant or do a take-out. Pick up a bottle of good Verdicchio. Get in the mood for a love story…well, kind of 😉