Do you know what I really like when I visit a winery? This:
There it is in all its naked glory. A table set upon white gravel in front of a tractor that reminds you that good regional wine here in Italy is first and foremost an operation that depends upon families and farming. It’s not (often) an occupation dominated by rich men dabbling in international wines and million dollar tasting rooms while immigrant labor hastily slashes bunches of ripe grapes in the field.
There are over three thousand grape varieties in Italy. Some, like Petrignone, are ancient and nearly extinct. Head for Sbaffi winery, and you might be able to taste the results of the hard work required to bring it back to life as a spumante, a sparkling wine.
This too is Sbaffi:
So here we are, parked in front of this formidable bit of advertising. To the left of us is an ancient Alfa Romeo Giulia, shining in the waning sun as if it were screwed together just yesterday. Another classic car approaches and stops. Out jumps Francesco. The tie to traditions and frugality are set. The tasting is about to begin.
Soon we hear about the “new” sparkling wine, the Petrignone that will be released in a couple of weeks. It’s offered to us in front of a plate of salami and Pecorino (sheep) cheese. It’s all fabulous. The wine offers more flavors and sharp aromas than the voguish Prosecco everyone guzzles these days.
Francesco pours the Petrignone into a regular wine glass; a heavy stream whips around the soft contours of the glass and erupts in a frothy hissy-fit. “You never pour like this,” he says, dribbling wine toward a tipped glass, “pouring directly into the bottom of the glass releases the bubbles.”
I always feel a kind of licentious victory when the prissy and pretentious wine advocates have been driven out of the room.
So ok, these guys, Francesco and Lorenzo, didn’t just run out to the Safeway and grab a couple of salamis and some orange cheese product so we could munch on them while we drank the wine. The pecorino is made in this corner of Le Marche; it was young, but not too young. The salamis were also indicative of the territory’s culinary richness. Ciauscolo, the one on the left, uses lots of the “lesser” cuts of the pig, finely ground with some of the fat. When it’s room temperature it’s soft, you can almost spread it. The other looks like a Tuscan salami with the squares of fat and the peppercorns, but it, too, is pure Fabriano, the lean meat derived from the legs and shoulders of a race of pigs that come exclusively from the Marche and Umbria and are finished on acorns like the Belota of Spain and the Cinta Senese of Tuscany—incredible stuff that compliments each of the three spumante we sipped.
The second sparkling wine we taste, made mainly from Chardonnay grapes, is a complex stunner with aromas galore, as one might expect with Chardonnay. It’s a favorite among the four of us.
Like all the wines we tasted, it is made “using the Scacchi method.” Who’s Scacchi? Here’s where the whole idea of sparkling wine in Le marche gets interesting. Scacchi was a physician from nearby Fabriano, a town known for its paper production and an ancient pharmacy. Scacchi happens to have written a book in 1622. This book:
The book includes several medical prescriptions for drinks of the times. Chapter 21 describes sparkling or “nipping” wines and the techniques used to produce them—a full 50 years before Dom Pérignon saw his stars! According to the Sfaffi promotional materials:
From a philological interpretation of what Francesco Scacchi describes, we have come up with an original method of making spumante which we call the Scacchi Method in honour of the Fabriano doctor, a method that brings out the fragrance and intensity of the varietal aromas.
One of the ways in which the Scacchi method is exercised is adding wine must instead of sugar to make the old wines re-ferment.
But if you’ve followed along so far and noticed the devotion to local ingredients and customs, you might be induced to cry out, “what, pray tell, is Chardonnay, a French varietal, doing in Le Marche?”
Fast forward to the 1800s and the reign of Napoleon and the Kingdom of Italy. Le Marche, being a papal state was annexed by the kingdom after a peace agreement with the Vatican was signed. What followed was a very strong French influence on the region, including the introduction of French varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Today, these varieties are all grown very successfully here, side by side with the native varieties, contributing to a healthy, vibrant and diverse wine scene. ~ A Glass of Bubbly
The third bubbly we tasted was a pink spumante made primarily with Sangiovese grapes, the Castellare Rosé. It went best with the meats, the bubbles mitigating the intensity of the lean and the fatty in the salami. This is the one you want for sitting out on the terrace with some bread and your favorite salted pig parts. And if you can manage to get your hands on some Fabriano salami, well then, the bliss you seek comes easily.
And then there’s the music!
It’s not enough for the brothers Francesco and Lorenzo to make their 3000 bottles a year and sit out under the oaks until the next time the grapes needed human intervention.
Azienda Agricola Sbaffi is a family run business that has been passed down from generations with strong ties to the world of wine and music. It was started up by our winemaker ancestor Girolamo Sbaffi and then passed down to us through our father Angelo who was also a winemaker and violin player. The love for the harmony of music and agriculture has lead us to produce our spumante with passion and dedication. To interpret nature as a symphony or a sonata for violin does not allow for compromises and it represents for us not only a work method but rather a life philosophy.
And then there was an earthquake in 2016 that shook the land. So the brothers took the music to the piazze in the towns emptied by the tragedy. Bring your chairs! Hear an opera!
An antique truck was found, fixed and painted, and the itinerant opera company plied the streets from town to town, bringing the joy of music to the unfortunate victims of a restless earth.
Yes, there is always the need for reconstruction funds, we never forget that, but what of the human spirit? Sometimes it needs to be reinvigorated and imbued with the feeling of belonging, of laughing, of being together.
The purpose of “LiricoStruiamo” is not only to offer the populations of the mentioned places of entertainment evenings, but to spread and share a feeling of hope and rebirth through one of the highest expressions of art, the opera.
It’s in the music. It’s in the wine. It’s in the passion for producing both.
We have added Sbaffi to our 6 Italian Wineries Not to Miss
Podere Sbaffi on the Web
V.lo Castrica, 24
60044 Fabriano (AN) Tel/Fax 0732.4714
What to see in the area
Fabriano is a very interesting place to visit, especially if you’re into hand made paper and ancient pharmacies in a very attractive city. See the Paper and Watermark Museum of Fabriano and the the Antica Farmacia Mazzolini Giuseppucci.
Near Genga (another interesting village with castle, there are the famous Frasassi Caves to visit.
A favorite town of mine in Le Marche is Sassoferrato, where you can stay in a fabulous B&B atop an archaeological site and see the wonders inside many churches as well as a tiny prison for wayward priests.
Another place to stay is Il Gelso Agriturismo which is part of Consortium for the production of the Fabriano Salami.
Also see our Map of Le Marche.