Whether you’re a fan of white, red or rosato, something bubbly, something sweet or something in the throat-clearing digestivo category, Marche has you covered. Italy is blessed with more native grapes than the rest of Europe combined, president of the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers explained to me a few years ago, and Le Marche is no exception. What does that mean? I vini marchigiani are incredibly varied, a taste selection you will experience from region to region, valley to valley even.
Marche has several world-class whites and reds, perfect for a region with such a varied cuisine.
The ABCs of Italian wine
Before I get this giro dei vini marchigiani started I should offer up a few basic tips about what to note when you pick up a bottle of Italian wine. By law, Italian labels, the best of all guides, contain a few helpful key pieces of information, including:Wines of Central Italy
1) Geography – where the grapes were harvested/bottled. When it comes to wine, geography is massively important. For example, a Verdicchio wine from the Jesi area is notably different from a Verdicchio wine from Matelica. Tip: If you stumble across a fantastic Verdicchio at a little trattoria ask the waiter where you can buy it. Chances are it will be available in the local enoteca (or, for sale at that very trattoria), but won’t be in the next town down the road.
2) Uvaggio – the type of grape; either 100% or blend. Unlike French wine labels, the Italian labels usually puts a lot of emphasis on the type of grape used in the production of the wine. This is helpful, I find, as it removes a lot of guesswork. And for the less experienced wine fan, it’s easier to remember the grape than it is the producer of that wine you adored at the memorable meal.
3) Alcohol content – Unlike California wines, Italian wines are a bit mellower, alcohol-wise. Italian whites usually hover around 12.5% and reds are generally in the 13.5% range. 14% and higher can be found, and you’ll certainly taste the difference.
4) Classification/appellation – in Italy there are four official appellations for wine: vino da tavola (table wine quality), DOC, DOCG and IGT. The DOCG designation is highly sought by producers, and usually it’s awarded to a zone of producers (think Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino), rather than a single vineyard. DOCG wines typically are pricier than DOC. But this does not mean DOC is inferior. You may be drinking a future DOCG wine in picking up a very good DOC. IGT wines are a wild card. The designation was born from producers who did not want to follow the red tape associated with obtaining a DOC or DOCG designation (think Super Tuscans). Finally, vino da tavola is what’s commonly known as “house wine.” It isn’t necessarily plonk, and, depending on the region, it can be a local vintage that goes well with the local dishes. It’s perfectly pleasing to most palates, but there probably is something better in stock on the premises. If this wasn’t complicated enough, there are secondary designations too like Classico and Riserva. This is a reference to how the wine is aged. It’s a way for the producer to say that a bit more time and effort went into this bottle of wine than our normal every-day wine.
5) Matching foods – Some, not all, labels will even tell you which foods go best with the wine you’ve chosen. There are reds that go best with beef, but not “white meat” like chicken or rabbit. And there are whites that go best with certain kinds of cheese or fish. This is Italy. The food is always chosen before the wine. Italians rarely have a glass of wine
in hand without something to nibble on close by.
Ok…let’s get to the vino
The best known vino marchigiano is the Verdicchio, a white that’s been exported abroad for decades. You’ll recognize it from the amphora-shaped bottle. The Verdicchio is going through a bit of a Rinascimento. The quality has increased dramatically in the past decade, a far cry from the forgettable Verdicchio plonk that was exported abroad heavily in the 1970s and 80s. Verdicchio comes in two general varieties: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. Both are excellent with fish and Marche’s famous pecorino cheese.
Don’t confuse this little grape with the cheese of the same name. The story of vino pecorino is well followed among Italy’s vinophiles. The grape goes back to ancient Roman time, but then, mysteriously, production faltered. Only recently have wine producers coaxed this wine back to its ancient glory, and then some. The vino pecorino marchigiano comes mainly from southern Le Marche, with its biggest production area near the splendid hilltop town of Offida and the hills that spread eastward toward the sea. There are many excellent Pecorino producers. One that continues to pick up awards is CIPREA.
The workhorse grape that makes up your typical vino rosso marchigiano is the sangiovese. It’s a grape that is remarkably hardy. It amazes me sometimes to walk around our house in Amandola and see it growing wild in the oddest of places: on telephone poles, covering notty tree stumps. But just because the sangiovese is a survivor, doesn’t mean it’s easy to coax a palatable wine out of it. Just ask all those frustrated California vineyards who’ve tried and failed to make a decent line of Chianti-style reds. That said, sangiovese (and it’s very close cousins), in the right hands, is at the heart of some of Italy’s most important reds: the Brunello of Tuscany and Sagrantino of Umbria to name but two. In Marche, the top sangiovese-based reds are the Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. In the production of these two types of wine, the sangiovese is almost always twinned with another robust grape from Central Italy, the inky, smooth Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Rosso Piceno tends to have a higher percentage of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, not surprising as the Piceno region borders Abruzzo. The advice here is to check the label and match either the Rosso Piceno or Rosso Conero with the meal. You cannot go wrong.
Lacrima di Morro d’Alba (red)
Firstly, this wine is not from Alba in Piemonte. It’s from a small wine producing zone near the coast, north of Ancona surrounding the hilltop town of Morro d’Alba. Lacrima is Latin for tears. A wine producer (pictured at left) from the region explained to me that the name comes from a particular physical aspect of the grape. In less modern times, producers could first tell the grape was ripe for harvest when the juice burst through the skin and a ruby tear formed on the outside of the grape. Today, more modern techniques are employed at harvest time. What’s important to note is how distinctive this wine is from the Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. The grape packs a powerful, fruity bouquet, and it’s the first thing you’ll notice. It’s not quite as full-bodied as the sangiovese-dominant reds of the region so it goes well with white meat, but it’s also versatile enough to match hardier dishes.
There are dozens of other grapes and wines varietals worth mentioning. For example, another indigenous grape of note is the Passerina and, for those who like there wine on the sweet side, there is the distinctive Pergola DOC. If you are curious to learn more, check out Belle Marche’s rundown of the vini marchigiani.
Marche wine map created by Cellartours.com.