When one thinks of the Marches, it is always the white Verdicchio that clamours for attention, but the region also produces a number of reds that should not be ignored. ED McCARTHY pushes them to the fore.
VERDICCHIO is undoubtedly the Marches’ best known wine and has recently been better than ever, but a red Marches wine, Rosso Cònero, has emerged from the shadows to become one of Italy’s best reds, and is leading the campaign to revitalise the region’s image.
The Marches lies on the eastern, Adriatic coast of central Italy. The Apennines occupy the entire western two-thirds of the region. Except around the capital, Ancona, the coastland is flat, but vineyards line the hillsides between the coast and mountains. The region boasts a temperate, maritime climate, with summers that are dry and hot enough to ripen red grapes.
The most dramatic point in the Apennines is Monte Cònero, a huge peak southwest of Ancona. The Rosso Cònero DOC zone is on the hillsides of Monte Cònero, with chalky, clay soils rich in lime, other minerals and fossils.
The Marches emerged from obscurity after World War II, when the huge Fazi-Battaglia firm began marketing its very successful Verdicchio around the world. After a decline in quality in the 1970s and early 1980s, due mainly to overproduction, many of the leading wineries, such as Fazi-Battaglia and Umani Ronchi, set out to improve things in the vineyard. Leading oenologists, such as Franco Bernabei, entered the picture.
Over the past decade, the improvement in wines from the Marches has been extraordinary. DOC wine production has doubled during that time and about 30% of all Marches wine is now DOC. Although Verdicchio still dominates, red DOC wines, especially those relying on Montepulciano, are finally gaining recognition. But even Rosso Cònero, undoubtedly the region’s best red, is not yet expensive, because it’s still relatively unknown.
Until recently, Rosso Cònero was often mentioned in the same breath as Rosso Piceno, the Marches’ large-volume red. The Rosso Piceno DOC zone, centred in the south but extending two-thirds of the way up the coast, is the region’s largest red wine zone by far. Rosso Piceno can be a decent wine in the hands of a good producer, but is destined to play second fiddle to the superior Rosso Cònero.
It’s a tale of two grape varieties. In this area the hard-to-grow Montepulciano is clearly a better variety than the ubiquitous Sangiovese, and in the Rosso Cònero zone Montepulciano is king. At least 85% of Rosso Cònero must be Montepulciano, with up to 15% Sangiovese permitted but seldom used. Rosso Piceno, on the other hand, is at least 60% Sangiovese, often more, with up to 40% Montepulciano. Up to 15% of two white varieties, Trebbiano and Passerina, is also permitted.
Rosso Cònero typically has pronounced black cherry and herbal aromas and flavours, is quite tannic and full-bodied and improves with age. Rosso Piceno is generally softer and less powerful and is best within five years of the vintage.
Four other DOC zones produce red wines in the Marches and several excellent IGT wines are also made throughout the region. In the northern part, between coastal Pesaro and inland Urbino (an art and white truffles centre), is the Colli Pesaresi DOC. Sangiovese dei Colli Pesaresi hails from here, along with the more unusual Colli Pesaresi Focara Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese and Pinot Nero. South of Colli Pesaresi, the Esino DOC zone boasts a dry red made from a minimum 60% Sangiovese and/or Montepulciano.
A really different wine, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, comes from a small area along the coast, north of Ancona. This ripe, fruity, purplish-coloured wine from the local red Lacrima variety, with some Montepulciano and/or Verdicchio di Matelica, is an acquired taste.
Perhaps even more different is a red Vernaccia, called Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, from a small, inland area near the Verdicchio di Matelica zone. Unlike dry, white Tuscan Vernaccia, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is a naturally effervescent purplish-red and is usually semi-sweet or sweet. It even comes as a fully sparkling, bottle-fermented red! Admittedly this is another acquired taste, but worthwhile for those who want to try something out of the ordinary.
Ed McCarthy is the author of Italian Wines for Dummies (Hungry Minds Inc; £12.99).
RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS FROM THE REGION
More and more producers in the Marches have been escaping the DOC shackles by using non-traditional red varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Syrah – and making IGT, rather than DOC, wines. On the other hand, quite a few producers are loyal to the DOC regulations but have updated their wines through improved vinification techniques. And, of course, some producers make both DOC and IGT wines.
For Rosso Cònero DOC reds, the quality leaders are Lanari, Moroder and Le Terrazze. Other fine producers specialising in Rosso Cònero are Marchetti, Conte Leopardi and Garofoli. Two top-value Rosso Cònero producers to look for are Umani Ronchi and Fazi-Battaglia. For Rosso Piceno, Velenosi, San Savino and Le Caniette are the three best producers.
Fiorini leads the way in the Colli Pesaresi DOC zone with its Sangiovese. Also in Pesaro, Fattoria Mancini is the top winery for Colli Pesaresi Focara (the Pinot Nero-Sangiovese blend). For the exotic Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC red, look for Mario Lucchetti’s Etichetta Nera wine. Alberto Quacquarini, in Serrapetrona, makes the unique red Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.
Exciting IGT producers include Boccadigabbia, with its 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Akronte and Sangiovese Saltapicchio; La Monacesca, with its 1999 Camerte, an 85%/15% blend of Sangiovese Grosso and Merlot; and Tenuta De Angelis, with its Anghelos from Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Others with good IGT reds are Velenosi, Fiorini, Colonnara, Le Terrazze, Umani Ronchi, Fattoria Mancini and San Savino.
ED McCARTHY’S RED PICKS FROM THE MARCHES
Lanari, Rosso Cònero Fibbio 1999 ***** Concentrated ripe cherry. N/A UK
Lanari, Rosso Cònero 2000 **** Very dark-coloured but easy to drink. N/A UK
Moroder, Rosso Cònero Dorico 1998 **** Complex, firm, but not the five-star 1993. N/A UK (+39 071 898232)
Moroder, Rosso Cònero Dorico 1999 *** Good value. Drink now to enjoy it at its best. N/A UK (+39 071 898232)
Boccadigabbia, Cabernet Sauvignon Akronte 1998 **** Concentrated, soft tannins, vanilla. Needs three years. £21.50; L&S
Boccadigabbia, Sangiovese Saltipicchio 1998 *** Concentrated, ripe. Drink now. N/A UK
Boccadigabbia, Rosso Piceno 2000 *** Easy-drinking; great value £7.95; L&S
LA Monacesca, Camerte 1999 ***** Fine new-style Marches’ wine. Needs five years N/A UK
Le Terrazze, Rosso Cònero Sassi Neri 1999 **** A great wine from a less than great year; balance is the key. N/A UK (+39 071 7390352)
Le Terrazze, Rosso Cònero 2000 *** The standard Rosso Cònero. Good value. Ready to drink. N/A UK (+39 071 7390352)
Le Terrazze, Chaos 1997 **** Powerful and concentrated. Will keep for another few years. N/A UK (+39 071 7390352)
Le Caniette, Rosso Piceno Nero di Vite 1998 **** Complex and lively. Give it two years N/A UK
Le Caniette, Rosso Piceno Morrellone 1998 *** Very fine wine. Needs two years. N/A UK
San Savino, Moggio 1998 ***** A top producer’s great Sangiovese. N/A UK
San Savino, Rosso Piceno Rubbio 1997 **** The less-regarded Rosso Piceno blossoms. N/A UK
Umani Ronchi, Rosso Cònero Cùmaro 1998 **** The special- selection Cùmaro is a steal. £16.86; Evy
Umani Ronchi, Rosso Cònero San Lorenzo 1998 *** The ‘best buy’ in the Marches right now. £16.25; Evy
Umani Ronchi, Pelago 1998 **** Interesting blended IGT, but quite pricey. N/A UK
Written by Ed McCarthy