Updated: Dec 5, 2020
It has been a while since we wrote last blog and it is taking longer than I originally anticipated to cover the Italian regions. In March we traveled to Sicily , I will go back and describe some of the exciting wineries we visited. But just few days ago on May 16th we visited Marche Region. So I will take advantage of the recent memory and will cover this quite exciting region and also emerging in the global wine markets.
Historically, Le Marche (as it is called in Italian) was a frontier, a buffer zone of sorts between the Papal States of Rome and their various enemies farther north. As a wine zone, too, it seems caught in the middle, with one eye on the fragrant white wines of the north and the other on the plump reds of the south. It is a difficult region to characterize, despite being the source of one of the more enduring images in Italian wine: the fish-shaped bottles of the Fazi-Battaglia winery, whose Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi was (and is) the Marche’s mass-market answer to the Soave of Veneto.
But things have changed since the above description from Joseph Bastianich and a David Lynch in their “ Vino Italiano”. The incredible quality reached by the Verdicchio wines have abandoned the amphora shaped bottles .. symbol of the past and embraced an austere and more professional quality oriented brand. The same way the Chianti has abandoned the straw “fiasco” symbol of the past.
Marche is also home of beautiful medieval hamlets, small towns where the time seems frozen. Jesi, Offida , Matelica and finally Ascoli Piceno.
Like its more famous neighbors Tuscany and Umbria, Le Marche boasts Mediterranean flora like Cyprus trees, olive trees, and vines spread across a hilly landscape, and dotted with medieval villages. The calcareous soils here, like those to the west, have proven excellent for varieties like Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Montepulciano. Even with enviable growing conditions, the region has just 20,000 hectares of vineyards spread throughout 11 DOCs in the provinces of Ancona, Ascoli Piceno, Macerata and Pesaro; and it ranks 12th among Italy’s wine regions.
The best red wines coming from the region are Sangiovese and Montepulciano, the indigenous black grape varietal that reaches its optimum point in the area’s dry maritime climate and limestone-rich soils. The Montepulciano grape is not related to the Tuscan wine region of Montepulciano where Vino Nobile is made, rather is a separate noble varietal. Both Sangiovese and Montepulciano are used by the two most prolific appellations for red wine- Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno- to make firm, tannic and easily recognizable wines. Moroder is an excellent producer of Rosso Conero. We visited this winery and will describe that visit in more details.
Star White, Verdiccho Grape
Beyond these two up-and-coming regions, most of the wine made in Le Marche is white, with the crisp and fresh Verdicchio varietal being the star. Although Verdicchio had long been seen as a lesser variety, the work being done by producers like Sartarelli and Pievalta are bringing a newfound depth and personality to the region’s most popular white wine. There are different types of Verdicchio- Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica, Castelli di Jesi being more prevalent. The Pecorino grape is gaining popularity in Marche and many producers are making stellar white wines with this trendy varietal.
Of all the DOC-classified wine produced in the Marche, more than half is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, an appellation that refers to the verdicchio grape grown on either side of the Esino River west of Jesi, a striking medieval hill town. Jesi isn’t actually part of the DOC zone but is more of a gateway to it, looking out over rolling hills comprised mainly of crumbly limestone-and mineral-rich clay—a good soil for both whites and reds, but especially good for whites because it delays ripening and helps preserve acidity. Most of the vineyards in the zone are within twenty miles of the Adriatic, which moderates the climate. The positioning of Jesi’s vineyards is not unlike that of some of the vineyards of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, which also sit at a midpoint between mountains and sea.
Thexperts believe that it is somehow related to the greco of Campania and in turn the trebbiano of Tuscany and elsewhere.
Greco may well be the grandaddy of nearly all of Italy’s indigenous white grapes.
Genetic studies have more specifically linked the verdicchio of Marche to the trebbiano of Lugana (Lombardy) and Soave (Veneto); if you placed inexpensive versions of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Lugana, and Soave side by side, they might well be difficult to tell apart. Chances are, though, that the verdicchio would stand out. Although it is not typically a full-bodied white, it has a distinctive aroma and flavor. It has what vintners call varietal character, in that you can tell what it is when you smell and taste it, even if you can’t precisely define what those smells and tastes are.
Visiting the Wineries near Jesi - Vigna Amato
As we traveled through the Ascoli country side around Jesi the weather didn’t seem to cooperate, dark threatening clouds were warning us of imminent thunderstorms. Definitely an unusual weather for the middle of May. Jesi was a very attractive medieval town with the walls almost intact. We called Vigna Amato to make an appointment to visit the winery. We were welcomed by Maurizio Ceci, he spent few minutes narrating us their history and their production. One of the sons and the daughter were taking over the day to day management of the winery bringing their young dynamic energy to the place. You could see the pride in his eyes. The winery produce around 150,000 bottles. Mostly Verdicchio of the Classico zone. After all outside were the Gran Cru vineyards of Verdicchio. The white wines were very aromatic with floral notes and perfectly balanced acidity and almost an unctuous body. A truly great representation of the Verdicchio wines .. which are considered among the best white wines in Italy. As we left the big rain drops reminded us that the next stop in Matelica wasn’t going to be a fun drive.
The Conero and the Montepulciano grape
Rosso Conero is considered in a sense the dark berry alter ego of the most famous wine of the Marches: the white Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Montepulciano of Marche creates completely different wines from the nearby Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The difference has originated from territory, the type of soil, the microclimate, the winemakers who work the vines. From Montepulciano grapes grown on light hills outside of Mount Conero born style of wines: a more immediate and ready drinkability, Rosso Conero Doc; the other more elegant who bet in refinement and aging, Conero Riserva DOCG. Therefore are as the two sides of the same coin, two different options to work on the same grape, Montepulciano, who have impressed me. Although the specification allows the use at least 85% of Montepulciano grapes, but most producers choose to make wines only from Montepulciano grapes. This is the best choice for my opinion!
So I like to define the Red Conero “Montepulciano of Sea”, that’s really different type from its “cousin” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo”. In fact, you can drink two completely different wines.
About the climate in Conero area is characterized by sea breezes while the type of soil is calcareous, poor but well-structured: they are the basic elements that upgrade the Montepulciano variety to express then in the Conero wine with a unique and unrepeatable typicality elsewhere.
Appellations Rosso Conero and Conero DOCG Riserva consists of more than 350 hectares of vineyards and more than 13 000 hectoliters of wine bottled as Red and Reserve: total 1,300,000 bottles produced. There are 54 winegrowers in Conero area.
But how are these two kind of wine? Wanting compare wine to some athlete, Conero Reserve DOCG is like a middle-distance runner: not allowed now, it has to breathe, but then extends to the distance, showing at its best with still fresh aromas in younger vintages and with more evolved flavours in oldest vintages. Good technique both in the vineyard and in the cellar of the winegrowers allows not marked the use of new woods: the result is a wine-grape variety correspondence integrates favored by the freshness of the Conero Montepulciano. That’s why even after 20-25 years you can taste great drinkability in Conero Reserve.
Totally different is Rosso Conero Doc, wich shows immediate and simple fruit aromas and red flowers. Usually this wine don’t know wood (winegrowers prefer vinification in stainless steel or vats of cement), and that – through no abrupt tannins – become a good match with seafood. The classic “Red Marine Wine”! And then the Rosso Conero Doc is a sprinter: goes and comes in few seconds.
Excellent wine estates for Rosso Conero are Fattoria Le Terrazze, Moroder, Garofoli, Umani Ronchi, Moncaro, La Calcinara, Angeli di Varano.
As we drove through the Conero area , the visit to the Garofoli Winery was a must. Unfortunately we needed a reservation to be able to visit the full winery so we were content to enjoy the guest area. The tasting room was beautiful with a large fireplace and finally the shop was inviting enough to purchase few of the wines we tasted.
Before us a couple from Scotland was enjoying the wines and I could hear the positive feedbacks. Garofoli produces over a million bottles per year, therefore is a large reality in the Marche region. By owning land in most of the DOCG areas they produce most of the Marche wines , from the Verdicchio to Lacrima di Morro D’Alba to the Conero. I will publish a detailed tasting notes when I will taste the wines I purchased.
As we continued through Conero area fascinated by the beautiful white beaches and the turquoise water we approached the Moroder winery.
The winding roads through the beautiful country side of the Ancona Provence were just breathtaking. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and the winery we found was beautiful, a bed and breakfast and a restaurant were on top of the cellar itself.
We were welcomed by one of the executive of the winery, she was kind to show us around. It produces roughly over 100,000 bottles of a biological wine, without the use of sulfites. Their best wines were Rosso di Conero and Conero Riserva DOCG ( I will write the detailed tasting notes, when I will proper taste their wines in the near future ). We walked down to their old cellar , it was like a tunnel excavated in the calcareous rocks.
Their red wines were aged in barrique or Tonneau. After the visit we decided to have dinner at the beautiful restaurant overlooking the valley .. the breeze from the sea was intensifying as the sun was setting stretching our shadows and providing the perfect light for some pictures. At dinner we tasted their excellent wines with great fruits and body. ( proper notes to follow as soon as I taste the bottles I purchased ). The night was a full moon night as we drove back to Recanati .. through the winding roads .. however at night they were not as friendly as when we arrived earlier.
Offida town is located in the province of Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region of central Italy. Its vineyards were once covered by the Rosso Piceno DOC but finally received their own classification in 2001, bringing the little-known wines out of hiding and into the limelight. These were further promoted to full DOCG status in June 2011.
Varietal Passerina (also made as a foaming spumante, dried-grape passito and dessert vin santo) and Pecorino wines lead the way for Offida's white wines, while the reds are dominated by Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Unlike other DOC zones in Marches, Offida is divided into various production zones depending on the kind of wine. For instance, both the single-variety white Pecorinos and Passerinas may come from any one of 22 communes, but the production area for the blended red rosso is limited to just 17. The sweet vin santo is produced exclusively in the municipalities of Offida and Ripatransone.
The DOC regulations require Offida varietals to contain a minimum 85% of the stated variety with up to 15% of other permitted varieties of the same color. The reds must be at least 50% Montepulciano and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the remainder can be made up of a maximum 15% of other authorized red varieties from the province of Ascoli Piceno. As with most Italian wines, they are made to accompany the local cuisine. The Offida whites are perfect with olive ascolane (deep-fried breaded olives stuffed with meat) and fish, while the reds are an ideal match with vincisgrassi (a type of lasagne) and stuffed pigeon
As we left the wine producing region behind and we drove to Recanati, the gorgeous town of Giacomo Leopardi where poetry and history merge and you are left with an uplifted soul. Good Bye Marches.. land of great wines... Follow us on the wine voyager for the tasting notes of their wines.