Tasting Panels



European wine producers working in denominated wine districts are obliged to submit samples of their wines to tasting panels on a regular basis. These panels are supposed to ensure that all wines bearing the official local designation (“Chianti Classico DOCG”, “Appellation Beaujolais Villages Controlee”, etc) conform to established standards of taste, aroma, color, and general quality. In principal this is a very good thing, as it prevents flawed, faulty, or just plain horrible wine from reaching the market as representative of a distinguished region. Sometimes though, funny / odd things happen on the way to market, as with the great Touraine producer whose famous Sauvignon Blanc was rejected twice because the wine was “lacking typicity”. Allowed 3 tries, the third time was the charm, except that the last sample submitted, while labeled Sauvignon Blanc, was actually Chardonnay. We also like the related story about one of our favorite Beaujolais producers whose wine passed the panel, but when he sent an identical sample a few weeks later it was rejected. A friend who makes biodynamic Chianti was instructed to use an industrial additive in order to bring his wines in line with the 'standard'; another was told that the fruit trees planted in proximity to his vines should be removed, and until they were his wine wouldn’t make the grade. These are just a few of the more amusing reports we’ve heard about tasting panel mishaps, but it’s a serious matter when a designation is denied to a producer, as it can have a significant impact on their sales.  There are also plenty of stories of local politics and minor vendettas playing a role in these certifications, along with clear instances of resentment directed towards those who are actually trying to maintain higher standards of farming and winemaking.

The tasting panels tend to favor standardization, and sometimes seem to be disposed towards wines that are the equivalent of a supermarket tomato. When most wines in a region are produced with selected yeasts and enzymes, and are sterile-filtered, then what’s viewed as typical may be distorted over time, with a homogenization of style gradually taking over.

 In 2011, the Verdicchio dei Castelli dei Jesi Classico Superiore made by La Marca di San Michele was certified by the local tasting panel, and the same wine also received the prestigious 3 Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso. Last year, their 2012 Verdicchio was awarded the “Eccellenza” prize from Italy’s l’Espresso Wine Guide (this is published by the major Italian newspaper of the same name; the guide has a reputation for being quite particular about quality – ‘fussy’, says an Italian friend). However, the 2012 vintage of the same wine was denied certification by the local tasting panel. The wine passed the required technical analysis, but failed the panel because of “undefined alteration of the clearness and shade of color, and undefined anomaly of the smell and taste”.  With that indefinite statement in its entirety, La Marca di San Michele was obliged to forgo the prestigious Castelli dei Jesi denomination, and to label the wine as “Marche Bianco”. We’ve tasted both vintages and we’re damned if we can tell what happened. The two vintages are much the same visually in the bottle – neither vintage was filtered, and the wines show an attractive and bright medium gold color; perhaps because of an extra year of age, the 2011 had some slight but visible deposit in the bottle. Both vintages strike us as ‘typical’ for Verdicchio, with fresh lemony acidity dominating; if anything the 2012 shows more liveliness and cut than the warmer-vintage 2011. In any case, label be damned – we love the wine whatever the label reads, and we think you will too!




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La Marca di San Michele 2012 IGP Marche Bianco Verdicchio Capovolto

La Marca di San Michele has 6 hectares (about 14 acres) of certified organic vines, and their work in the cellar follows the same principles, with very moderate use of sulphur in the vines and in winemaking.

The results are strikingly good, and remind us of the first Verdicchio we tasted (a very long time ago!) when we were in the Marche and were invited to a family meal at a small winemaker’s home. Good Verdicchio means subtle aromatics – a bit of lemon, walnut, hay, stony earth – which carry through on the palate. Good Verdicchio may not be a flamboyant wine, but it offers lots of pleasure, and it’s a great food wine, reminiscent of some of the Loire Valley’s best whites; we all know what a great pairing those make, especially for seafood and salads, and other lighter dishes.

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $16.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

La Marca di San Michele 2010 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jes Il Pigro della Marca

"The lazy one", Il Pigro comes from very old vines and needs some time to develop.The wine ages in large neutral wood, which adds complexity and creates a rich-textured minerality. It's really very fine, a distinguised wine — certainly the best wine from the Marche we've tasted, with great balance, and a lovely electric charge of lime peel and briny, salty notes. Highly recommended with sauteed fish or lighter pasta.

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  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $27.99