It can be difficult, at times, to decide what exactly constitutes a "fringe wine." There are definitely no-brainers on each side of the line: it's highly unlikely that Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay will ever find a home on this site, while grapes like Rkatsiteli and Grignolino are obvious candidates. Verdicchio falls into a grey zone for me. It is geographically limited to a small region, but that region is able to pump out a relatively high volume of wine. In that respect, it resembles Garganega (Soave), a grape I probably will not write about due to its high production volume and ubiquity. I was leaning towards excluding it until I came across a sparkling version.
Verdicchio is widely grown in the Marche region of Italy on the eastern coast (we've paid a brief visit to Marche here before). The most prolific zone for Verdicchio production is the DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi which is responsible for one-half of all DOC production in the Marche region. For many years, Verdicchio from the Marche was a mass-market item, creating thin, oxidized wines due to over-cropping and poor winery management. Several decades ago, Verdicchio had much the same reputation as modern day Pinot Grigio or mass market Soave wines. There has been more of a concentration on quality from many producers, though, and as a result, the wines from this region have been steadily improving.
The grape itself is thought to be native to the Marche region. As you can see from the picture above, the grapes are very green, or verde in Italian, and this coloration provides the root for the name Verdicchio. It appears to be related to Greco and also several different subtypes of Trebbiano. It is late-ripening and a prolific yielder, requiring a diligent, heavy hand in the vineyards to prune excess grapes during the summer months. It is also naturally very high in acidity, a trait that lends itself very well to sparkling wine production.
Sparkling wine production in the Marche dates back to the 19th century where spumanti made from Verdicchio grapes were among the first sparkling wines produced in all of Italy. Sparkling Verdicchio is not uncommon within the Marche region, but it is unusual to find a bottle landing stateside, as very little of the production is exported to the US. I was able to find a bottle from Fontezoppa called Voile Blanche Brut for about $12 from my friends at Bin Ends (like many sparkling wines, this was a non-vintage bottling though their website indicates the most recent bottling is a 2009). In the glass the wine was a pale, silvery straw color with a steady bead. The nose was fairly neutral with some crisp apple and baked pear notes. This wine was vinified using the Charmat method, so there wasn't any of that toasty yeastiness like you might get in a Champagne. In the mouth, the wine was medium bodied high acid and a soft and creamy mousse. There were green apples, bitter almonds and a kind of herbaceousness lingering around. The finish is clean and a little minerally. This is more Cava than Champagne and makes for a nice refreshing drink either as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to lighter seafood dishes.