The Unrealized Potential of Marche
BY ERIC GUIDO | NOVEMBER 17, 2022
Marche is best described as a cascading series of foothills and river valleys that begin along
the spine of the Apennines and steadily descend toward the coast of the Adriatic
Sea. However, Marche is also so much more than that. Mountains or
coastlines are visible from nearly any vantage point. In all those locations, hills
are drastically steeper than expected. To the south, we reach Abruzzo and
the higher elevations of Colline Teramane, where we find the likes of Emidio
Pepe and his world-class wines across the border. To the west, the mountains
connect Marche to Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany, while providing cooling air
currents that balance the warm Mediterranean days. Finally, to the north, Romagna
is celebrating a Sangiovese renaissance. That begs the question: What is
holding Marche back from making world-class wines?
Looking east from Le Terrazze with the Adriatic coast in sight.
To this day, with the exception
of a small number of red wine producers, Marche’s renown is sustained by the
continued success of Verdicchio from both the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
Classico and Verdicchio di Matelica DOCs. Considering the mirror image of
mountains to coastlines that the region shares with its neighbor in Tuscany,
the success of Montepulciano to the south and Sangiovese to the north, it’s
easy to assume that Marche should excel with reds. In the Rosso Conero DOC and
Conero Riserva DOCG located on the coast, east of Jesi, we find what many
consider to be the region's best hope of producing high-profile wines. The clay-limestone-rich
soils, higher-elevation vineyards around Monte Conero and the Mediterranean
climate make this a perfect location for the Montepulciano grape, which can be blended up to 15% with Sangiovese. This is also the northernmost
location in Italy that can produce Montepulciano. (It is here that Antonio
and Georgina Terni of Le Terrazze have mastered the production of international
varieties such as Merlot, Syrah and even Chardonnay.) Besides a short list of
standouts, such as Le Terrazze, Umani Ronchi, Garofoli, Malacari and Moroder, there
are very few Rosso Conero wines that warrant readers’ attention. In other
words, the potential is there; producers just need to take advantage of
The same can be said about
much of the larger Rosso Piceno DOC. The growing area for Rosso Piceno extends
from the southern tip of Marche up past Jesi, allowing for 35–70% Montepulciano
and 30–50% Sangiovese (along with 15% other red varieties). While Rosso Piceno
can often be depended on for slurpable, value-oriented wines, it’s also within
this region that we encounter Oasi degli Angeli and their Kurni, one of the
region's top cult reds year after year. Then there is the Offida DOCG which was
separated from the Rosso Piceno DOC in the south of the region just twenty
years ago and has been trying to prove its worth with Montepulciano-based reds,
along with some very interesting Pecorino. Producers CIU' CIU' and Poderi San
Lazzaro are worth checking out. Finally, the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC is
located on the Adriatic coast north of Jesi. While most consumers associate
Lacrima with easy-drinking, violet-tinged and fruit-forward reds, I see considerable
potential in the variety. Check out the old-vine Mariasole from Lucchetti. I
long for the day that a tasting of Marche reds leaves me feeling impressed
instead of just looking to a few producers that really shine amidst a sea of averageness.
Even though Marche’s red
wines have not risen to the occasion as a whole, it would be a shame not to
check out the producers who surpass expectations. The wineries mentioned in the
previous paragraphs have been hard at work to prove the potential of the region.
In many cases, their wines also represent tremendous value for consumers.
Looking out across the hills of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Verdicchio Continues to Exceed Expectations
Verdicchio has never
been more exciting than it is today. Benchmark producers continue to raise the
bar; every year, overall quality increases. As I mentioned previously, it’s
difficult to grasp what the actual landscape of the region is really like, as
the hills of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi are much steeper than one might
expect, the Adriatic Sea is much closer, and the ventilating winds from the
mountains and the north are a constant. When we add in the varied exposures and
sedimentary soils rich in limestone and clay, the result is an ideal location
One of the things
holding Verdicchio back is also what makes it one of Italy’s great wines: its
aging capacity. In their youth, Verdicchios are very appealing up front, full
of energy, a bit wiry and the perfect pairing for just about any kind of
seafood or white meat on a summer day. Still, these attributes don’t always communicate
true potential. As a result, most Verdicchio is consumed long before the real
magic starts to happen, when wines gain in volume and depth over five to eight
years, taking on richer personas as notes of almond paste and ripe,
green-tinged fruits are perfectly offset by the grapes’ inherent high acidity
and minerality. When compared to the short list of other Italian white
varieties that communicate such importance through aging, such as Trebbiano
Abruzzese, Carricante and Fiano, the price for the average bottle of Verdicchio
is often an unbelievable value.
As a rule of thumb, most
producers offer three tiers of Verdicchio. The first is an easy-drinking, young
wine that’s treasured for its piercing acidity mixed with vividly ripe fruit.
The second will be a later-harvest or single-vineyard wine where the grapes
mature slower, communicating more depth and power. Finally, the third, a
late-harvest (but not sweet) Riserva that is sometimes elevated by a healthy
onset of noble rot. As for winemaking, cement and neutral aging vessels are producers'
first choices. That said, there’s still plenty of oak to be found, yet it’s an
ingredient that Verdicchio can handle but doesn't necessarily need. One
producer that has excelled with oak aging is Bucci. Their Verdicchio dei
Castelli di Jesi Riserva Classico Villa Bucci remains a benchmark for
the region. Hardcore Verdicchio fans will want to seek out the Metodo Classico
(Champagne method) wines. I am seeing more and more of these throughout my
travels. A recent visit to Garofoli included tasting several back-vintage
Metodo Classico Verdicchio that was head-turning, to say the least. As for
dessert-style Verdicchio, this is one category that I see as more of a fun
curiosity than a style to hunt for. While the grape’s acidity lends well to
Passito-style or late-harvest wines, its aromatics don’t take the wines to the
The sprawling Verdicchio vineyards in Matelica.
Then There’s Matelica
I think of Matelica and
Jesi the same way I think of Barolo and Barbaresco; they both produce the exact
mono-varietal wine but create two different expressions through differences in
terroir. While driving into Matelica, it becomes apparent quite quickly how
drastically different this region is from all other growing zones of Verdicchio
in Marche. While Jesi spreads out from a spine of mountains and then gently
slopes down toward the Adriatic Sea, Matelica is situated on the other side of
that spine of mountains, sitting in a valley lined with Apennine outcroppings
to the east and west. This geographical situation changes climate
significantly, giving Matelica producers a continental climate with drastic
diurnal shifts and a season lasting from seven to ten days longer than their
neighbors in Jesi. A mix of clay and limestone soils and elevations above 370
meters make it easy to see why a bottle of Matelica Verdicchio is so deep,
characterful, structured and bursting with minerality.
It’s a matter of
preference to decide which of the two growing areas is the more important over
the other or yields better wines. Still, generalizations exist; Jesi is more
fruit- and texture-driven, while Matelica is more linear, mineral and intense.
Within the Balciana vineyard of Sartarelli.
What’s in a Vintage?
released 2021s from Marche are on the edge, with ripe fruit and opulent
textures, yet often lacking acidity to balance. Expect young Verdicchios and
Montepulcianos with immediate appeal, but not the staying power usually
associated with these varieties. The vintage got off to a good start with the
help of accumulated water from the winter months. Unfortunately, a lack of rain
throughout the spring resulted in drought conditions that became a concern.
Coupled with the onset of warmer temperatures from late spring through the summer,
many vines went into hydric stress. The Verdicchio harvest began ten days early
on average. Berries were dehydrated and thick-skinned. As for Montepulciano,
while harvest was early as well, the variety benefitted more from the September
rains and cooler temperatures.
Still, rains in
September helped restore a measure of balance and led to higher yields than
2020. As for Montepulciano, while harvest was early, the variety profited more from the September rains and cooler temperatures. I don’t expect them to
show the depth or have the staying power of better vintages.
The 2020s continue to
impress now that the single-vineyard
selections and Superiores are in the market. Cooler weather and much-needed
rain in March followed a dry winter with above-average temperatures. While the
summer months were warm, there weren’t any significant heat spikes. Coupled
with the region's well-ventilated climate, this created an extremely healthy
environment for the vines and resulted in a long growing season. The risk of
disease was low, and ripening progressed evenly through harvest. The 2020s are
a total pleasure to taste today but also have the balance to evolve beautifully
over the coming five to eight years. As for the 2019s, I’m finding more balance
and depth in the Riserva-level wines than expected. This small vintage, with production
down by as much as 50%, is the result of a turbulent spring that led to uneven
budding and flowering, followed by a hot summer with multiple heat waves and a
warm September. Granted, the saving grace of these late-release wines is likely
the later harvest that allowed them to regain some balance on the vines through
October and even November. The 2019 vintage will remain an odd mix of failures
and successes, even within a single producer's portfolio. The reds continue to
impress, marrying warm vintage character with tremendous energy, concentration
and sweet tannins.
I tasted the wines for
this article in Italy in the summer of 2022 and in our New York offices through
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