Marco received his degree in enology in Marsala in 1970, and then worked at Pellegrino for five years, followed by four years at Mirabella, another Marsala producer. He also got involved in racing high performance cars.
He also got involved in racing high performance cars. In 1978, Marco retired to the family farm, Baglio Samperi. He purchased, in barrel, private stocks of fine, old Marsala, made from Grillo grapes, and blended them with younger Grillo wines using the solera system. Through this process he succeeded in taking Marsala back to its pre-Woodhouse roots, creating an unfortified but concentrated “Marsala” that naturally achieved an alcohol percentage of 18%. Since the DOC rules required Marsalas to be fortified, Marco could not label this wine Marsala, and instead called it Vecchio Samperi, after the name of the family farm. He released the first Vecchio Samperi in 1980, and promoted it throughout Italy, angering the Marsala trade by calling it the “real Marsala.” This new wine garnered critical acclaim, but did not initially sell very well, as consumers had lost interest in fortified wines like Sherry, Port and Marsala. I have not yet had the pleasure of trying a Vecchio Samperi, as they’re rarely seen in the U.S. I did, as a result of these two tastings, however, have a chance to sample three other Marsalas that Marco created. I’ll give more background on them along with my tasting notes on those wines, and other wines from the tasting, below. Marco’s next Marsala creation was the Vigna La Miccia. It was first produced in 1985. It was his effort to produced a wine “with all the personality of a Marsala in a more subtle and elegant form.” He used modern vinification methods, including refrigeration. The grapes are soft pressed, and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel 50 hectolitre tanks, and then barrel aged for five years. It is classified as a Marsala Superiore Oro, and retains a lot of the perfume of the Grillo grapes that is missing from other types of Marsala. I found it quite appealing, rich but poised, with a mixture of fruit and salty caramel and nutty flavors. In 1986, Marco produced his first traditional Marsala. This is the Marsala Superiore Samperi 1986 Riserva. He used his Vecchio Samperi 20-year Riserva as the basis for this wine. To this dry wine aged by the Solera method, he added his own “mistella” made from acquavite and the must of Grillo grapes. This transformed the flavorful dry wine into a sweeter, more alcoholic wine, as required by tradition and DOC regulations. This vintage continues to age in barrels today. For me, this was the most extraordinary wine of both tastings (and I’ve tried it again in the past week, with the same notes). It reminds me very much of an excellent vintage Verdelho Madeira with at least 35 to 40 years of age on it. It seems to me that Marco’s work was reaching a convergence of the greatest Marsala tradition with the nearly lost art of making great, long-barrel-aged vintage Madeiras. I’m hopeful that his sons, including Renato, who himself obtained an enology degree and had been making his own wines at Samperi under the Terzavia label before his father’s passing, will find a way to keep Marco’s admirable efforts in this direction going. The last type of Marsala Marco created, in 1987, was another personal interpretation of traditional Marsala Superiore. Again derived from the Vecchio Samperi Solera, but aged for a shorter 10-year period, Marco felt it offered a taste of what “authentic, old fashioned Marsala” was like. It is also a very impressive wine, rich and complex, with an oily texture and very long finish. More