May 18, 2017

Vertical of the month: Colonnara Cuprese 2011-1991

In my last blog post I discussed about my love of Verdicchio, that white variety which is capable of producing some of the most spectacular and long-lived white wines in Italy, yet having very little of the respect it deserves. That is why I'm going to extend that previous post a little, just to show a little bit more how long-lived a well-made Verdicchio really can be. To emphasize that point, I've chosen Cuprese Verdicchio by Colonnara to be the subject of this month's monthly vertical.

Co-operatives are often regarded as inferior wine producers compared to small wineries, but every now and then one can come across some really good co-ops that are about quality, not quantity. Marche's own Colonnara is one of such co-operatives – a producer known for interesting, high-quality wines that not only show the classic regional style, but can also age remarkably long in cellars.

Originally Colonnara was a small co-operative that was founded in 1959 by 19 small vinegrowers located in and around Cupramontana, a comune of some 5,000 people in Marche. The name Colonnara did not emerge until 1985 – before that the co-op was simply known as Cantina Sociale di Cupramontana, meaning "the co-operative of Cupramontana". In 1966 the co-op started producing bottled wines in addition to selling the wines in bulk, resulting in rapid growth and wider recognition. This co-op was also one of the key elements in the emergence of sparkling Verdicchio – the first sparkling Verdicchio by Colonnara was produced already back in 1970 and the first metodo classico Verdicchio in 1980. Currently Colonnara consists of more than 110 growers and with its 120 hectares of vineyards it is one biggest producers in the Castelli di Jesi wine region – if not the biggest – yet a winery considered to be among the very best of the region as well.

Colonnara Cuprese is probably the best-known wine by the co-op. The first vintage of Cuprese was made in 1985, the same year the co-op's new name "Colonnara" was introduced. The wine's name means "From Cupra", reflecting its identity perfectly.

These are my tasting notes on the Colonnara Cuprese wines I have tasted.

Colonnara Cuprese
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
  • Colonnara
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
Cuprese is the flagship white of the winery and its appellation DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore means that the grapes are sourced only from the original heartland of the wine region (aka the classico part) and the grapes are of better quality and higher ripeness, resulting in higher-alcohol superiore wine.

The wine is made from the hand-picked, specially selected highest-quality grapes sourced from the Cupramontana area. The must acquired from these grapes is fermented and aged in steel tanks and the wine is bottled in the spring following the harvest. Normally the wine is released after some months after the bottling, but occasionally, in the best vintages, the bottled wines can be aged much longer before the release and labeled as "Riserva" wines to denote the superior quality of these wines.


Colonnara Cuprese 2011
  • Price: ~15,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 20th of March, 2014

Moderately deep yellow-green color tending towards pale yellow.

The nose is slightly restrained, but very sophisticated and attractive despite its lack of overt intensity. The most noticeable aromas are of ripe citrus fruits and delicate spiciness, but even though the nose is quite fruit-forward and rather ripe, there is still a rather dry and savory air to its. Underneath, there are lighter nuances of almonds, mirabelle plums, red apples, lemon curd and even a touch of honey.

On the palate the wine feels rich and full-bodied with a hint of oiliness in the mouthfeel, yet with good, bright and balanced acidity. There are complex flavors of ripe red apple, apricot, some spiciness, a little floral complexity and hints of almonds and honey along with a light touch of fresh pear.

The finish is long, bright and tasty with refreshing flavors of ripe stone fruits, fresh yellow apple, some delicate almond notes and hints of citrus fruits. The aftertaste persists for quite a while, tending towards sweeter tropical notes and ending on a somewhat bitter and very slightly saline note.

Overall Cuprese performs obviously a notch or two above an average Verdicchio with good weight, balance and even some sense of concentration. It is thoroughly enjoyable this young, but it shows good potential to age further for at least five more years.

Summary: This is easily one of my favorite Verdicchios, being full of varietally typical characteristics, yet also being big enough to stand up to some cellaring. A really impressive effort for a co-operative white and at 15€ shows really good value.


Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1997
  • Price: ~30,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Surprisingly youthful, pale yellow color with faint green highlights.

The nose is ripe and juicy, yet quite subtle and restrained with nuanced aromas of dried stone fruits, some almonds and a little hay. With air, the nose starts to exhibit delicate mature aromas of slightly bready oxidation.

On the palate the wine is medium-bodied and lively with rather high acidity and bright minerality. There are flavors of fresh citrus fruits, wet stones, some mature nuttiness, light toasty hints of bread and a hint of tart Granny Smith apple.

The medium-long finish is really long and surprisingly youthful with bright fruit flavors and only very little more developed qualities. There are notes of ripe citrus fruits, ripe apples, some hay, a little mature nuttiness and a hint of dried peach in the aftertaste.

Overall Cuprese Riserva 1997 is surprisingly youthful and definitely not showing its 18 years of age much – although there is some of that developed nuttiness and hints of toasty bread, the fruit is remarkably bright and youthful.

Summary: When some producers say Verdicchio can be more age-worthy than Chardonnay, they really mean it. It is remarkable how very slowly these best Verdicchios can age, when at close to 20 years of age the wine seems somewhat mature, yet still going upwards. The cellaring potential here is enormous. Well worth the 30€ and more.


Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1995
  • Price: ~35,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Very developed, pale orange color.

Powerful, but obviously quite oxidative nose with noticeable nutty aromas with robust notes of syrup, roasted spices and toast crumbs.

The wine feels quite withered on the palate with only medium body and its high-ish acidity sticking out amidst aged notes of crushed nuts, wizened citrus fruits and roasted spices.

The finish is very oxidative with persistent flavors of toasted bread, nuts, some bruised apple and hints of smoke. However, the aftertaste is surprisingly fresh, thanks to the rather high acidity and a nice streak of bright minerality.

This wine was obviously past its prime.

Summary: It is hard to say whether this vintage couldn't handle 20 years of aging or whether the wine was cellared poorly or if the cork had failed. Whatever the case, this wine didn't falter my belief in the aging capabilities of Verdicchio – one bad bottle doesn't ruin the reputation of the whole bunch.


Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1994
  • Price: ~40,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Deep, luminous golden yellow color.

Very rich and unctuous nose with nuanced aromas of succulent yellow fruits, orchard blossoms, some wine gum candies and hints of developed characteristics of sweet peanut butter.

The wine feels rich, full-bodied and quite dry on the palate with moderately high acidity and much sense of concentration brought on by age. There are complex, layered flavors of peach, apricot, noticeable spiciness, some mature nuttiness, a hint of aged bready character and a touch of succulent honeydew melon.

The finish is really complex and feels even a bit younger than the midpalate with lively acidity, stony minerality, fresh citrus fruit notes and light herbal hints with underlying developed nuances of nuttiness and slightly oxidative spiciness.

This vintage of Cuprese is easily one of the most impressive Verdicchios I've had, if not the best – Riserva Vigna delle Oche by San Lorenzo might be the only one that could challenge this wine.

Summary: Not only has this wine survived more than 20 years in a cellar, but it is quite likely to survive a handful of years more – although probably without much further development. It has reached its plateau of maturity, exhibiting some very impressive Burgundian characteristics and incredible depth, showcasing how the best Verdicchios can be some of the most impressive white wines in the world.


Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1991
  • Price: ~60,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Luminous, but surprisingly youthful pale lemon yellow color.

The nose feels rather subdued and restrained with subtle yet somewhat concentrated aromas of white flowers, yellow stone fruits, white peach, some honey and beeswax, a little stony minerality and a slightest hint of petrol tones, reminiscent of aged Riesling.

The wine is remarkably fresh, lively and youthful on the palate with medium body and high, almost bracing acidity. There are complex, somewhat concentrated and slightly mature flavors of juicy, ripe citrus fruits, green apples, some grapefruit and even a little pithy bitterness with hints of almonds and a touch of beeswax.

The finish is really crisp, bright and quite long with remarkably youthful flavors of citrus fruits, green apples, some mature spicy notes and a hint of almonds and light oxidative nuttiness.

It's hard to believe this is a white wine at 24 years of age – it drinks more like a wine no more than 10 years old! Apparently the best Verdicchios age at a glacial pace.

Summary: Although in its current condition this wine is not as impressive and complex as Cuprese Riserva 1994, it still shows potential to not only reach that level, but perhaps even surpass it! Although this wine is starting to show some signs of age, it feels it is still going uphill and its plateau of maturity is at least a decade away. If you happen to have a bottle of this with perfect cellar provenance, you definitely have no hurry whatsoever opening it!

Cuprese Riservas 1997-1991

Every so often you hear Verdicchio producers and Italian wine professionals say how aged Verdicchio can acquire very Burgundian characteristics as it ages – even when aged only in stainless steel – and how the best Verdicchios can be as ageworthy as the best Chardonnays and even more so. I don't blame you if you think that these statements are nothing more than marketing talk – I did, myself, too. However, once you have tasted wonderfully rich, nutty and complex Verdicchio with more than 20 years of age, and still very much alive, you start to think that maybe there is something to those Burgundian talks. And when you get to taste a wine that is over a quarter of century old, yet drinks like a youngster, you can't but agree that yes, Verdicchios can be pretty damn long-lived wines in good vintages.

I hope that by showcasing these remarkable wines I've managed to make you take Verdicchio wines more seriously than before. Although there are millions of liters of simple, mediocre Verdicchio produced every day, the best ones can easily be not only some of the greatest white wines of Italy, but also some of the most remarkable and impressive white wines in the whole world. So next time when you're browsing for white wines to fill your cellar with, remember to keep also Verdicchios in mind!

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