CLOSER enjoys some great Italian wines from Umani Ronchi
“Umani Ronchi is a family winery, third generation. Being a family winery, the idea is to make and promote wines generation after generation. It’s not just making business, it’s more about tradition and culture,” says Giorgio, the export manager for family-owned Italian wine producer Umani Ronchi, when we met with him at Bene Restaurant at Sheraton Grand Macao for a wine pairing lunch to try some of the brand’s delightful varieties.
The vineyards are located in two different regions on the east coast of Italy, Marche and 100km to the south, Abruzzo.
“These areas are becoming more popular in terms of tourism, because they still have the traditional Italian lifestyle, and are very unique,” notes Giorgio. “The idea is to invest in and to promote local appellations and indigenous grapes that you can’t find outside the region.”
In the central-northern part of Marche lies Castelli di Jesi, a strip of land stretching from the Adriatic coast to the slopes of the Apennines. Here, Umani Ronchi focuses on the Verdicchio grape variety, which has ancient roots and a strong, almost visceral, bond with the territory.
“Verdicchio is known as the best Italian white wine for aging,” the export manager explains.
To begin our lunch we have a seared yellow fin tuna carpaccio paired with a Casal di Serra Verdicchio Vecchie Vigne. Giorgio explains that the grapes are harvested when they have reached a perfect ripening stage. The wine is then aged over a long period, first in concrete tanks in contact with the native yeasts and subsequently in bottles, giving this cru its particular fullness and bringing out the typical Verdicchio character.
One of the company’s great successes came in 2012 when Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso named Umani Ronchi’s Verdicchio Vecchie Vigne 2009 ‘White of the Year’.
Umani Ronchi has a total surface area under vine of 210 hectares nestling between the hills and the sea along the Adriatic coast. The 185km of rows are distributed across ten districts, each with its own vocation and terroir. All the vineyards are farmed organically.
“We have been converting all the vineyards into organic for the past 10 years. It’s something that customers are looking for, the demand is growing. In Italy the certification takes six years”.
The winemaker’s approach to environmental sustainability goes beyond just organic production. Light glass bottles are used, which have a lower impact in terms of CO2 emissions, and traditional corks have been replaced with synthetic cane sugar stoppers which are 100 percent recyclable. Power is supplied by a photovoltaic array.
Moving on to the next course, we enjoy house made tagliatelle with porcini and black truffle, paired with Jorio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
“Montepulciano is the most important grape variety in our region,” explains Giorgio.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is grown in a more southern region where energy from the sun is more abundant and the soil is more fertile. The grapes are grown in rows trained to pergola, the most traditional vine training system, producing good yields with excellent quality, powerful, full-bodied wines, and vintage-to-vintage consistency.
At the helm of Umani Ronchi is Michele Bernetti with his father Massimo acting as chair. The company produces three million bottles of 20 different wines every year. It has a presence in more than 60 countries, with particular strength in markets such as Japan, Sweden, Canada, the United States and Germany.
“Seventy percent of sales are exports outside of Italy. Japan is our biggest market. We have been there for 25 years and are in the top 10 Italian wines in Japan,” notes the export manager.
Giorgio goes on to explain that Umani Ronchi has three restaurants in Tokyo, with plans to open more in Kyoto and Osaka, giving the company a unique approach to promoting their wines and region.
“Three years ago we had a very good position in terms of sales and brand identity in Japan. Our importer had a client who had a big group of restaurants including a chain of Italian restaurants, and they wanted to invest in a new concept of trattoria.
“It’s all focused on cuisine from our region. Marche has a nice tradition of seafood, truffles and meats. We are also using local producers from our region for pasta, cheese and Prosciutto, and 80 percent of the wines in the restaurant are ours. But the idea is that first you order the wine and then the chef or the sommelier will recommend what food to pair with it. The opposite of what people usually do.”
Another very unique aspect of their marketing in Asia came when Umani Ronchi wine was featured in a popular Japanese Manga.
“The authors of the Manga realized that our brand is well distributed in Asia, especially in Japan, so wines like Casal di Serra and Jorio are well known in those markets. For this reason they decided to include our wines in the book and after that we had a big success in Asia and this helped us to enter in new markets like South Korea.”
The main course for our lunch was a succulent herb-crusted Australian lamb chop paired with a 2011 Pelago. Pelago became one of the most sought-after Italian wines in the world in 1997, its first year of production, when it won the Best Red Wine trophy at the International Wine Challenge in London. Wine Enthusiast ranked Pelago among 1998’s top wines with a score of 97/100.
It is the result of mating Montepulciano with Cabernet Sauvignon, retaining the style and personality of the indigenous grapes while broadening its aromatic profile and complexity by adding qualities of the Bordeaux style of wine.
In terms of the China market, Giorgio explains: “We are trying to have a very strategic approach focused only on the main markets in first tier cities. We know there is a chance for big volumes, but we started to promote 15 years ago and we want to present as a quality family brand in western restaurants and upscale Chinese restaurants.
“It’s very hard to do a bad wine these days and there’s a very big offering of wines, so it’s important to focus on values like family and terroir and vineyards,” he concludes.
Umani Ronchi is represented by Sino Vantage Asia in Hong Kong. T: +852 2581 9101