When traveling through Italy, wherever you may find yourself and however modest the wine may be, the locals are likely to sit with you and tell you how their wine is the real deal and how all other wines are mere approximations. They may quote some obscure count or duke who passed through the area a century or two ago and extolled the virtue of their wine. It is hard not to buy into their enthusiasm as you sit and drink with them. It is the notion of “campanilismo” propped up by the famous Italian hospitality. Such an experience may be had in the Colli Pesaresi, or the hills around the town of Pesaro, Urbino’s coastal neighbor. The sangiovese grown here produces satisfying wines that some cat has probably sung the praise of somewhere along the way through the long history of the area, but in the greater scheme of things aren’t going to wind up on anyone’s top ten list. That said, the DOC Sangiovese Colli Pesaresi wine has a nice tartness and gentle enough tannin that would make it a nice pairing with our Spaghetti with Snails “alla Marchigiana.” Another DOC in the vicinity of Urbino is Bianchello di Metauro, also pleasantly zippy and fresh but overall a modest white.
The Marche region does have some noteworthy appellations, just not in the north around Urbino. In fact, there is dizzying array of wine available in the region, with something to pair with every dish that the regions very varied cuisine has to offer.
For white wine, the verdicchio grape grows in two distinctly different DOC’s. Castelli di Jesi is a region inland from Ancona that is exposed to the warm sea air, and the resulting wine (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi) has a riper feel with soft, nutty fruit. Further south and inland sits the Matelica valley. Unlike most valleys of the Marche, which run toward the sea, the Matelica valley runs parallel to it and is therefore is a cooler climate. Verdicchio di Matelica is leaner and a bit more bracing in its acidity as a result.
There has lately been an influx of wines made from the pecorino grape (nothing to do with the cheese) that can be very interesting. In the past this varietal was difficult to get fully ripe and the wines were therefore bracingly tart. Modern vineyard practices have changed all this and pecorino wines these days show pear-like fruit with beautiful texture, often enhanced with a whisper of oak. Offida is a DOC that this varietal is most associated with.
For red wines, the sangiovese grape is about as ubiquitous here as it is anywhere in the center of Italy, but the real champion of late is the montepulciano grape used for both the Rosso Piceno, around Ascoli Piceno, and the Rosso Cònero (including the new DOCG Cònero), just to the south of the city of Ancona. The Montepulciano grape makes wines that are deep in fruit with nice richness and soft velvety tannins. The Rosso Cònero region is named for the Monte Cònero, a massif along the coast that shields the inland from the warm sea air. While the appellation allows for the inclusion of a small percentage of sangiovese, most producers these days are confident in the potential of the montepulciano and are thus making Rosso Cònero unblended. As opposed to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, Rosso Cònero has a little more structure and acidity, and perhaps a touch more elegance. Rosso Piceno employs a higher percentage of sangiovese in an otherwise similar blend with wines that are slighter more racy.
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG is a real rarity. The vernaccia nera grape is grown to make reds that range from light and fizzy to rich and deep with impressive concentration of flavor. They’re just damned hard to find. Both David and I have been looking for someone to bring in the wines of the Antichi Terren Ottavi winery for years, but their production is so small that no one seems to think that they are worth their while. We would beg to differ.
The dolcetto wines of Piemonte are often called the Beaujolais of Italy, a comparison I have never understood. Much more like Beaujolais is the Lacrima grape grown around the town of Morro d’Alba, which is also one of the Castelli di Jesi. Lacrima di Morro d’Alba is a DOC wine with exotic, fruity aromas and hardly noticeable tannins.
Le Marche is a region of unspoiled beauty from the rugged mountains to the hidden beaches along the coast. It continues to remain so as tourists flock toward the more popular regions like Tuscany or Umbria. The wines, however, are starting to turn heads.