Most lovers of Italian wine are familiar with the more famous wine areas of Italy: Piedmont, Tuscany and to a lesser extent Umbria, Campania and Sicily. All of these are on the Mediterranean side of Italy. However, on the Adriatic side of the mountains you will find some really excellent wines that, though somewhat unknown in the States, are well worth tasting. It is now my pleasure to introduce you to these, along with the names of some of my favorite producers of these wines.
Over the past ten years my wife and I have visited Le Marche – or Marche, as the natives call it – a number of times. Marche is a long, thin region stretching from Emilia-Romagna in the north down to Abruzzo in the south. All of Marche is along the Adriatic Sea, paralleling the mountains, with much of it close to the foothills. Grapes are grown both in the foothill regions and occasionally more inland. As in most of Italy, there are a number of different grape types found in Marche, but I will concentrate on the most common types grown.
Perhaps the best known white wine from Marche comes from the Verdicchio grape. Two different varieties are grown. The predominant one is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, which is found in the vineyards around the city of Jesi. This Verdicchio produces a pleasant, dry white wine that is fresh and light, excellent with seafood or as an appetizer. I like the Verdicchios dei Castelli di Jesi from Umani Ronchi and Sartarelli, but there are many more good ones.
The second type of Verdicchio is called Verdicchio di Metalica. It is different because it is made from grapes grown in a different micro climate. Verdicchio dei Castelli’s grapes are grown in vineyards by the Adriatic and are affected by the sea air and temperatures. Verdicchio di Metalica’s grapes are grown in vineyards much farther inland and are not subjected to the influence of the sea. The result is grapes that produce a dry white wine that is more robust and crisper with a higher alcohol level. Collestefano is an excellent example of Verdicchio di Metalica.
Other Marche whites that are gaining popularity in Italy and other parts of Europe are Pecorino and Passerina. Most wineries in both the Offida and Ripatransone areas produce both of these wines, with Pecorino the most popular. Passerina is the lighter of the two. Both are excellent with seafood or as appetizers. Among my favorites are the CiuCiu wines from the Offida area and the La Fontursia winery in Ripatransone. CiuCiu’s Merlettaie Offida Pecorino and La Fontursia’s Crivellino Pecorino are both excellent examples of this wine. Also, I include the Passerina and Pecorino from Santa Liberata Winery in Lido di Fermo where winemaker Martina Savini continues to produce excellent wines.
Another white grape is Ribona, also known as Maceratino Bianco. The wine made from this grape is lighter than the Verdicchio di Metalica, but interesting to drink. I like this wine and would like to see it enjoy more widespread acceptance. The Ribonna from Murola Winery is an excellent example.
There are more different white wines produced in Marche, but these are the types you will probably see most.
Red grapes in Marche are not as numerous as white ones. The predominant red grapes are Montepulciano and Sangiovese. A third indigenous red grape is Lacrima.
The red wine found the most is Rosso Piceno, normally a blend of 60-70% Montepulciano and 40-30% Sangiovese. Rosso Piceno is a very smooth and full-bodied wine and one of my favorite Italian blends. Two of my favorites come from the aforementioned wineries. They are CiuCiu’s Gotica and La Fontursia’s Crivellino Rosso Piceno.
Made from the same grapes but with different percentages (0-100% Montepulciano, the balance Sangiovese) is Rosso Conero, sometimes called simply Conero. To be called a Rosso Conero, all of the grapes used must be grown in the Monte Conero reserve area. I really like the Conte Leopardi Pigmento Conero Riserva, a 100% Montepulciano grape wine, big but elegant and smooth.
Another somewhat unique Marche wine is Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a very aromatic wine that must be made from a minimum of 85% Lacrima grapes. It is not related to the Campanian wine Lacryma Christi. It is a wine you either love or hate.
As in many other regions of Italy, you will find French varietals grown in Marche as well. Le Senate winery in Altidona produces a number of Bordeaux-inspired wines. My favorite is their Blu Velluto Spento, a 100% Cabernet Franc wine. Also, Murola’s Brunforte, a 100% Merlot wine, is excellent.
I have mentioned some of my favorite wineries, but there are a number of other good producers of all of these wines in Marche. And if you are looking for good seafood, I recommend Trattoria Trentesette in Porto Sant’Elpidio, where owner and wine lover Stefano Alessandrini will gladly help you with a reasonably-priced wine from his collection.