Italian wine expert Ian d'Agata says Verdicchio is "arguably Italy's greatest native white grape variety"?
Riccardo farms about 10 HA of vines in the Marche's Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi zone, not far inland from the Adriatic Sea at around 1500 feet elevation. Riccardo's vines grow on uplifted marine sedimentary soils that are around four million years older than most of the region. With their high concentration of calcium carbonate - up to four times other nearby locations - Riccardo's vines have to struggle extra hard and deliver a unique salty sea-shell minerality.
To capture that minerality, Riccardo farms his vines organically and by hand, picks on the early side, and ferments and ages this wine in cool stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine with lovely nectarine and stone fruit flavors and a good dose of Verdicchio's classic lavender, fennel and bitter almond complexity, all supported by crisp acids and salty seashell minerality.
The past year in bottle has seen the wine unwind a bit more with the fruit, fennel and sea shell aspects gaining breadth, the texture picking up weight, and the tangy lime zest acidity keep on going strong I'm sure the wine will keep improving for another year and drink well for 2-3 years after that.
Thirty-year-old Riccardo Baldi grew up in the hilltop town of Staffolo in Italy's Marche region, not far from the Adriatic sea. It's a town where, as he says, "everyone makes wine, because we have 2,000 people and about 20 wineries." His parents established a family winery in 1994, and Riccardo worked harvest and in the winery growing up but left Staffolo to study engineering after high school. He quickly realized that wine was in his blood.
He returned to Staffolo and apprenticed himself to Lucio Canestrari of Fattoria Corncino, the winemaker who was among the first to show that the Marche's Verdicchio grape was worthy of fine wine status (and not just something to be served to tourists in fish-shaped bottles). Eventually, Riccardo asked his parents for 2 HA of vineyards to try his own approach to winegrowing - organic farming, picking just ripe enough, and making wine simply to emphasize Staffolo's uniquely calcium-rich and very old soils.
He was successful, rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the Marche's most exciting young winemakers. Today, he and his parents have expanded La Staffa to cover 10 hectares, all at around 1,500 feet elevation, exposed to breezes from the Adriatic Sea, and lying on Staffolo's uniquely ancient soils.
Despite the growing reputation of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Riccardo's own talent, these are wines that consistently get overlooked by the major wine critics - probably a good thing for us! But the last vintage of this wine did get a little attention from Ian d'Agata at Vinous who rated it 91 points and described it like this:
"Nectarine, dried orange peel, walnut and fresh white flowers are lifted by a minty topnote; a hint of volatile acidity blows off with aeration. Glyceral and fruit-driven on the palate, with flavors of stone fruit nectar and lime framed and lifted by harmonious acidity. Very long and refreshing on the aftertaste." Vinous 91 points (for vintage 2016).
The 2017 edition is better still, with even more drive and intensity to match a richness and complexity that's been building since it first arrived last July. It will certainly shine with shellfish and seafood of all kinds and with ripe cheese and grilled vegetables as well. But it's also fun to drink solo as a refreshing break from a warm summer's day.
At 30 years of age, this is Riccardo Baldi's 12th commercial vintage, and it's pretty clear that practice has very much made perfection. From 100% organic grapes fermented in tank and bottled with minimal sulfur, the wine crackles with green apple, preserved lemon, and green citrus aromas and flavors. It's energetic and fresh, with loads of salty minerality, but not at all harsh or sharp. And both the palate and finish are long and lovely, with lingering apple, lemon and lime flavors that quench the most intense thirst (and call out for fresh shellfish!).
Last spring, the Wall Street Journal dug into Verdicchio in a report titled, ""An Under-the-Radar Italian Wine Made for Summer Drinking." Riccardo's 2017 was one of their top selections: "On the bright, mineral, high-acid end of the spectrum, the 2017 La Staffa Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore ($22) from young winemaker Riccardo Baldi stood out-intensely mineral, almost saline, with an intriguing green olive note."
A year later, the wine has retained all that intense minerality and salinity and added another level of richness of fruit and complexity. Layers of nectarine, stone fruit, and green citrus flavors are framed by notes of lavender and bitter almond and supported by lime zest and salty minerality on the long, mouthwatering, finish. Delicious now, improving over the next year, and giving delight through 2022 or so.