Italy's Adriatic Coast (Part 2): Marche and Abruzzo

Marche and Abruzzo

Verdicchio, Castelli di Jesi and Matelica

Driving south from Verona along the Adriatic Coast, the land flattens as we pass through the fertile plains of Emilia-Romagna only to rise up again, jutting and carving upwards into the sky.  The coastal areas in Veneto and Emilia-Romagna are unremarkably level, but in the Marche the land becomes mountainous and hilly; the central Apennines push out toward the sea before the chain veers westward in southern Italy.  We arrived in Ancona, the regional capital of Marche, some four hours after departing Verona.  Founded by Greeks—“Ancona” is derived from the Greek word for “elbow”, a reference to the shape of its curved coastline—the city and its harbor served as an important Mediterranean port under Imperial Roman rule.  After the fall of Rome, Ancona fell to barbarians prior to the arrival of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, who conquered the region in the last decades of the eighth century.  During the Carolingian period, the term marca—a frontier region—appears, and the region’s modern name derives from the “Marches” of Ancona, Fermo and Camerino.  Ancona today is a leading port for Italy’s fishing fleet, and many types of pesce arrive at its docks daily: branzino, red mullet, scampi, turbot, monkfish, clams, sea bream, sardines, cod, hake, and more.  It is fitting that, so near to such an abundant catch, one of Italy’s most distinctive white grapes grows.          

The Castelli di Jesi, a series of fortified medieval hilltop towns (rather than castles) connected by wheat fields, olive trees and the Verdicchio vine, are a 30-minute drive south and inland from Ancona.  The DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi requires a minimum 85% Verdicchio for the wines—the better producers tend to make pure varietal wines—and with lowered yields and a minimum eighteen months of aging the wines may qualify for DOCG Riserva status from the 2009 harvest onward.  DOCG wines are bianco tranquillo, but DOC wines may be still, spumante, or passito in style.  Classico and Classico Superiore wines are produced in towns along the southern bank of the Misa River, which cuts through the appellation on its path toward the sea.  There are about 2500 ha of vineyards and 200 producers in the DOC, but ten large houses make nearly 80% of the wine.  Contrast this to the Verdicchio di Matelica, a DOC (DOCG for Riserva) zone further inland, near the Umbrian border.  There are 323 ha of vines in the appellation, and only fourteen total producers, including Belisario (the co-operative) and Bisci, the largest private estate in Matelica and the standard-bearer for quality.  Matelica experiences a more continental climate than the Castelli di Jesi, and it inhabits the only valley—the Esino—in the Marche that runs parallel to the coast, protected from maritime influence.  The vineyards in Matelica are generally higher in elevation (320-400 meters versus 200-350 meters in the Castelli di Jesi) and they experience a greater diurnal temperature variation.  In the hottest days of August, daytime temperatures can reach 40° C (104° F), but they plummet down to 20° C (68° F) at night.  In the vineyards of the Castelli di Jesi, August temperatures are more consistent from day to night, rarely extending beyond the 30-35° C (86-95° F) range.  Harvests in Matelica often begin ten days or more after workers start picking Verdicchio in the Castelli di Jesi.  In general, Verdicchio harvests in the Marche begin in late August but may continue through mid-November, as producers look to coax added weight, intensity, and ripeness from the grape. 

A strong argument exists for the inclusion of Verdicchio as a classic white wine grape of Italy, and it is without question the leading wine of the Marche.  Despite the recent revelation that Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio are one in the same, the grape displays more aromatic definition and mineral precision in the Marche than in Veneto.  The wines can be brilliantly green in color, even with age, and they have an elevated level of viscosity and weight underpinned by razor-sharp acidity.  Alcohol levels can reach 14% with ease, particularly in the more serious bottlings. Good renditions show sour citrus and stone fruit aromas, and signature secondary aromas of watercress, romaine nibs, aniseed and bitter almond.  The impression of minerality is high, especially in wines grown in the highly calcareous soils of Matelica.  Common wisdom holds that Verdicchio di Matelica is fuller, tauter and more intense, whereas Castelli di Jesi offers softer, creamier, earlier-maturing wines; however, good Verdicchio from both appellations shows real potential for longevity—an attribute that sets it apart from many of the other autochthonous white grapes of Italy.  In recognition of its distinction and qualities, Verdicchio enjoys increasing commercial success both in Italy and abroad, and one can expect to see and hear more about these wines in the future.  Verdicchio will probably never experience the skyrocketing commercial success of 1970s Soave or 1980s Pinot Grigio, but one can expect that it will remain a mainstay of trendy Italian restaurants in major American markets for some time to come.

In the Castelli di Jesi, we visited the estates of Sartarelli and Bucci, both of whom are located in the Classico zone.  Sartarelli, situated near the cooperative Moncaro between the townships of Poggio San Marcello and Montecarotto, has 60 ha of Verdicchio vineyards planted on a higher ridge in the appellation (300-350 meters above sea level).  The estate produces approximately 300,000 bottles of Verdicchio annually, in four interpretations: the base Classico bottling, “Tralivio”, “Balciana”, and a passito dessert selection.  The best and most classic expression is the “Tralivio” Classico Superiore—superiore requires a minimum 12% abv, rather than 11.5%—a powerful yet razor-sharp wine, nearly pea-green in color.  The high amount of dry extract, coupled with over 14% alcohol, gives the wine a full body, but the persistent acidity cuts through any heaviness and leaves the wine feeling fresh, almost aloof.  “Balciana” Classico Superiore, harvested as late as mid-November—when some of the grapes are likely affected by botrytis—pushes past 15% abv and has a spicier, rounder, slightly sweeter impression with intense aromas of licorice.  In the weight, spice, and texture of the wine comparisons to Alsace might not be misplaced.  Bucci’s wines, on the other hand, land with a softer and more elegant approach.  Villa Bucci, in the commune of Ostra Vetere, is a working family farm with 30 ha of vineyards, and produces an almost Chablisienne style of Verdicchio.  The “Villa Bucci” Riserva, aged for two years in large old botti, is the flagship wine of the estate: an understated yet high acidity and saline mouthfeel meet finely etched aromatics of tart green grape and green plum, almond and lemon balm.  From 2010 forward, the wine will carry the DOCG seal.  We tasted the 2007 at the estate, and the wine (while on point now) has a decade ahead of it, lending endorsement to the argument for the grape’s ageworthiness.  So does Bisci’s “Vigneti Fogliano” 2007, a cru Verdicchio di Matelica we tasted out of magnum over lunch at Il Colle del Sole, a traditional agriturismo-ristorante in the hills above the appellation’s namesake commune.  Bisci produces about 13,000 bottles of this heady yet precise wine.  The wine is taut and modest in comparison to the 2008, a more expansive and almond-toned wine, but it is poised to deliver over the long run.  Irregularly, Bisci produces “Senex”, a riserva bottling from the Fogliano vineyard, but unlike the “Vigneti Fogliano” 30% of the wine is aged in two- and three-year-old barriques for eight months.  1998, 2003, and the unreleased 2009—with the latter set to carry a DOCG seal—are the only vintages the estate has produced.  Bisci intends to produce the “Senex” in the future without any wood, and at both Bucci and Sartarelli there was a noticeable—and refreshing—absence of new barrique.  So many producers of white wines in Italy seem to succumb to the general temptation of adding new wood as a means of adding complexity and “reserve” price points for grapes that do perfectly well without; thankfully, estates in both the Castelli di Jesi and Matelica seem to be moving in the other direction, releasing reserve wines as vineyard selections that focus on the intrinsic quality, concentration, and transparency of the fruit itself.

Montepulciano in Conero, Piceno, and the Teramo Hills

Just a few minutes south of Ancona, the massive limestone promontory of Monte Conero rises high above the surrounding coastline, protruding 572 meters upward from the azure waters of the Adriatic.  Monte Conero creates the “elbow” shape that gives its name to Ancona.  The promontory’s steep, verdant flanks are dotted with corbezzoli, a type of strawberry tree known as the komaròs to ancient Greeks, who named the mountain in deference to its emblematic flora.  Viewed from the seaside square of nearby Sirolo, a small coastal town and vacation destination that had emptied out for the winter, the state-protected parklands of Conero provide sharp contrast to much of the Adriatic Coast of Italy: Monte Conero, along with the Gargano Promontory in northern Puglia, is one of the highest points on this otherwise low-lying, sandy coastline.  While producers throughout much of the eastern Marche can produce DOC Rosso Piceno—a Montepulciano-Sangiovese blend, and the red DOC wine offered by Verdicchio producers like Bucci and Bisci—here in the proximity of Monte Conero winemakers are fiercely proud of their varietal Montepulciano wines, and one hears time and again passionate (if slightly rehearsed) pleas for its inclusion among the great red grapes of Italy.  Rosso Conero DOC and Rosso Conero Riserva DOCG wines are produced from a minimum 85% Montepulciano, grown within the confines of Conero’s national park—where viticulture is limited to smaller producers farming a few hectares here and there—or further inland in the communes of Offagna, Castelfidardo, and Osimo.  In total, the Conero appellation includes about 400 hectares.  We visited two estates within the nature reserve, Lanari and Fattoria le Terrazze.  Both are members of the I Vignaioli del Monte Conero, an association of thirteen producers committed to the production of estate-grown and bottled wines.  On the eve of the 2008 American presidential election, the association rolled out their “Yes, we Conero” marketing campaign.  Hope springs eternal, I guess.

The comfortably disheveled Antonio Terni, proprietor of Fattoria le Terrazze in Numana, has about twenty hectares of vines in the shadow of the mountain, about half a mile from the coast.  Montepulciano is the primary grape and the sole component for his DOCG Rosso Conero Riserva “Sassi Neri”, but the estate also farms Syrah, Merlot, and even a bit of Chardonnay—additions, Antonio assures us, prompted in the 1990s by the marketplace success of the “Super Tuscan” phenomenon.  His base Conero DOC “Praelludium” is a rustic, softer style produced from 85% Montepulciano and 15% Syrah; at the DOC level any non-aromatic red grape suitable for production in the area may be incorporated for blending, but at the DOCG level the only authorized blending grape is Sangiovese.  Le Terraze’s DOCG “Sassi Neri”, aged for one year in a mixture of new and used barriques and for an additional year in bottle, displays earthiness and bitterness in addition to sweet fruit and spicy oak.  In general, the wines lie somewhere between rusticity and the modern.  Perhaps this is a reflection of his own personal façade: one cannot help imagining him, probably unfairly, as that aging hippie embracing the commercialization of once-unimpeachable ideals.  Terni confesses to having attended over 100 Bob Dylan shows in his life, and gained some publicity with his 2002, 2003, and 2004 releases of “Planet Waves”, a supple and fruit-forward Montepulciano-Merlot blend produced in conjunction with the musician.  He wears Bob Dylan T-Shirts.  In certain vintages he releases a second DOCG wine, “Visions of J”.  The estate’s website plays Bob Dylan audio tracks.  This is a total superfan.  He might even give Self Portrait a pass.  Or the Traveling Wilburys.  Alas.  Back on target.    

Chardonnay vines at Fattoria le Terrazze, with Monte Conero in the background 

Montepulciano is a highly tannic grape, with sweet fruit flavors tending toward the red, blue and dried end of the spectrum.  Balsamic, blue plum, mulberry, cherry, purple flowers, game and bitter roots (chicory) are classic aromas for the wines, and the grape, which is naturally high in anthocyanins, can produce a densely colored, purple wine.  In the color and fruit character, riper examples of Montepulciano can be misleadingly similar to Malbec.  Acidity is moderate, with alcohol levels rarely retreating below 13.5%, and often reaching 14.5-15%.  The high level of tannin, mid-palate bitterness, and a tendency toward reduction lead many producers to embrace modern winemaking techniques and new oak to sculpt a rounder shape to the wines.  New barrique is de rigueur in Conero and for serious Montepulciano in general, and the ripe, polished wines at the top of the range are squarely aimed at three glasses from Tre Bicchiere and 90+ points in American publications.  The top wines of Luca Lanari, who bottled his first commercial vintage in 1993, are exemplars of the modern style: classy and polished Montepulciano emphasizing chocolate, plum, spice and licorice notes—but the personality of the wine risks being lost under the weight of the oenological team.  Lanari’s top two DOCG Conero Riserva efforts, “Fibbio” (a single vineyard wine) and “Aretè” (a barrel selection), see 30% and 100% new French oak, respectively, and are awash in sweet fruit and powdery tannin.  The 12 ha estate follows a fairly traditional model of post-fermentation maceration—nearly 20 days—extracting what it can from the grape.  But even with a decade of age, when the aromatics of Montepulciano really shine—we tasted the “Fibbio” 2003 at the winery—the tannins remain unresolved.  This was a recurring theme: good Montepulciano can take a pretty long time to come around, and with an unformed reputation for quality, is anyone willing to wait?  On the other side, is there any producer who is willing to hold back even a small portion of stock until the wines are ready to drink? 

In the cellars of Emidio Pepe, the famed Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vigneron holds a stock of every single vintage the winery has produced, dating back to his first commercial release in 1964.  In those days, very little Montepulciano in Abruzzo was even put into bottle, and Emidio’s commitment—and foresight—to holding back the wines for sale later is laudable and all the more astonishing.  He, alongside his friend and contemporary, the late Edoardo Valentini, was one of the first to bottle Montepulciano and sell it to the outside world; Pepe remains a benchmark for quality—and for revealing the inherent possibility—in Abruzzo.  Pepe’s winery is located just south of the Tronto River, which marks the region’s northern border with Marche, in the small commune of Torano Nuovo.  The area is known as the Teramo Hills, and it is home to Abruzzo’s sole DOCG, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane.  Emidio, clad in an old Yankees jacket, is of now of venerable age; two daughters, Daniele and Sofia, manage the business and winemaking at the storied estate.  The family took us in: we tasted vintages of Montepulciano dating back to my birth year (1977), we sat down to supper with Pepe’s extended family while the eldest granddaughter, Chiara, graciously translated throughout the meal, and we stayed overnight in the family’s agriturismo.  “Are my wines the best in Italy?” Pepe asks, with a seriousness that could be mistaken for grave hubris from anyone else.  But these are successful, world-class wines at the highest level.  They are also, in every current sense of the word, “natural” wines.  The estate’s twelve hectares are farmed organically, without any use of chemicals.  The oldest Montepulciano vines date to 1970.  After the harvest, the Montepulciano is gently de-stemmed by hand, and it undergoes whole berry fermentation in glass-lined cement tanks.  There is no temperature control, nor does the estate use any cultured yeasts.  The normale wine ages for two years in these tanks prior to bottling, and the riserva ages for four.  “Glass is the ideal habitat for wine,” Pepe intones, while Sofia explains that the affect of wood on the flavor is undesirable, and that stainless steel creates static electricity, which causes movement in the tank and prevents natural settling and clarification.  Wines are neither fined nor filtered; instead, Emidio’s wife, Rosa, decants each and every bottle to eliminate sediment prior to sale.  This is the only point during the wine’s life thus far in which it is exposed to oxygen.  Furthermore, the winery has never used SO2 during any part of the winemaking process—over dinner, Sofia firmly rebuked wines produced with added sulfur as indigestible.  Of course, not all of the vintages we tasted were exemplary; some were a little long in the tooth and one in particular was downright flawed with serious brettanomyces issues.  The riper vintages—1983, 2001—seem to fare better over time, maintaining more integrity than the cooler vintages, like 1984.  As the back vintages releases fetch top dollar in the American market, knowledge of vintage character can be key in making good buying decisions.  In general, however, Pepe provides the rare example of an ageworthy “natural” wine—perhaps due to the fact that the wines often remain in the estate’s cellar for many years, or decades, prior to release—and must be considered as one of the great winemaking estates of Italy.  What about that DOCG?  Requirements state that the wine must be aged for at least one year in oak, prohibiting Abruzzo’s greatest Montepulciano estate from getting a pink seal.       

Emidio Pepe: A Tasting Retrospective

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
2005: ripe blueberries, purple flowers, sweet earth, meaty, concentrated, a touch of brett; still very much a baby, but the wine is developing an awkward combination of ripeness and funk
2003: ripe and soft with miso-like umami flavors; round and ready to drink in the medium term
2001: tannic, with dried fruits and a savory palate, soy and balsamic; shy now but demonstrating incredible aging potential (drawing comparisons from Emidio to his favorite vintage, 1975)
2000: really bretty, with sour pickling spices, sage, animal and meat aromas; the brett inhibits the finish and leaves the wine bitter 
1984: a leaner style that is probably on the downward trajectory; gritty underripe fruits, sour cherries, watermelon gum, slightly sour and faded in color
1983: the best wine of the flight; a riper style with highly expressive porcini mushroom and truffle character on the nose, richly tannic but impeccably balanced; this wine is in its prime
1977: after one hour, the shy and faded wine started to express itself with delicate aromas of tomato leaf, strawberry, and dill; a lighter style with the sweetness of old Burgundy and a slight sour note detaching from the wine; good but past its prime

Pepe’s wines are powerful, but they have a moody feel of restraint and elegance in place of the sheer tannin and weight on display in most other Montepulciano wines we tried in both Marche and Abruzzo.  Given Pepe’s status, it is perhaps surprising that other producers are not following his model—of course, Pepe is not about to allow outside philosophies to change his estate’s style, either.  The Pepe estate is fiercely committed to Emidio’s methods, and they only turn inward for inspiration.  At dinner, as we discussed with Chiara the virtues of working a harvest elsewhere in the world to gain perspective, her mother Daniele passionately disagreed.  Had we reopened an old wound?  A third daughter, Stefania, returned to the estate after training in Bordeaux with the mindset of an oenologist, but now operates a separate, smaller azienda agricola down the road.

Emidio Pepe’s neighbor, Dino Illuminati, has about 130 hectares under vine and produces over one million bottles each year.  Dino—an honorary Texan—was one of the Colline Teramane DOCG’s most outspoken proponents, and the estate releases two reds, “Pieluni” and “Zanna” under its banner.  “Pieluni” spends two years in 50% new Vosges oak, and shows an incredible intensity of dry extract.  Aromas of iodine, sassafras, balsamic, tomato paste and celery seed arise in the 2000—produced prior to the elevation of the region to DOC—and the palate is candied, jammy and rich at about 3.5 grams per liter of residual sugar and nearly 15% abv.  The 2007 “Zanna” is a more classic—but still ripe—interpretation, undergoing two years of aging in 25 hl Slavonian botti and an additional year in bottle.  We traverse the estate’s Montepulciano vineyards, framed by the majestic mountain Gran Sasso and the Adriatic Sea, as our host, Stefano Illuminati, relates a favorite saying amongst the Abruzzi: one can ski the slopes of the Apennines in the morning while gazing out at the sea, and swim in its currents by midday.  The “Zanna” vineyard is among the winery’s oldest, and the Montepulciano vines are trained in the low-density tendone system, wherein canes grow overhead along a pergola, and grape clusters hang high off the ground, shaded by greenery.  This is the traditional vine-training technique for the grape, favored by producers like Pepe.  In this system, grapes can struggle in cooler years.  For “Pieluni”, the estate uses younger, low-trained cordon vines planted at a much higher density, a common move for producers of lush styles of Montepulciano.  In general, Illuminati’s reds will appeal to fans of bolder, intense, rich reds; but they maintain the grape’s astringent tannic bite.  Texans will be proud.     

Montepulciano vines trained in a pergola system at the Illuminati estate 

Illuminati produces a whole line of wines—white, red, sparkling, and passito—as Controguerra DOC, which overlaps with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG in northern Abruzzo.  However, one of the most unexpectedly delicious wines we tried at the estate was a lowly rosato: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC “Campirosa” 2011.  Il Feuduccio, an estate located further south in Orsogna, also produces a refreshing, bright Cerasuolo brimming with stony, strawberry yogurt flavors.  Both wines undergo short macerations on the skins—never more than 16 hours—but the heavily pigmented Montepulciano still acquires a robust color.  “Cerasuolo”, Italian for “cherry”, received DOC status in 2010: it is the only DOC in Italy that solely mandates rosato production.  Both wines clock in at 12.5% alcohol, and they wear it well.

We left Abruzzo, the Green Heart of Italy, venturing back into the southern Marche to visit one final Montepulciano producer.  We met Marco Casolanetti of Oasi degli Angeli just after dusk, cramped around his small dining table and crowded in by the consumed trophies of days gone by: Selosse, Dagueneau, Soldera, DRC, Montevertine, and other old, empty bottles cluttered every available shelf and space in the room.  Oasi degli Angeli is an old family property but a newcomer to wine production.  The estate first produced its flagship wine, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT, in 1997.  An immediate hit with Tre Bicchieri, the wine is 100% Montepulciano, and is a hypermodern, highly polished example of the grape.  We tasted the 2009 and the 2004 at the estate, and both wines are stylish, extracted, concentrated, liqueur-like, sweet—Casolanetti swears that both have no more than 2 g/l of residual sugar—and thoroughly international.  With the added age, the 2004 starts to show soy, coffee and more complex notes of spice and dried fruit.  If this were Spain, this man would have a DO Pago and a dispensation to plant whatever he wants.  In fact, the estate makes a Garnacha—known as “Bordo” in the Marche and “Tocai Rosso”, or “Tai Rosso” in the Veneto—under the nome di fantasia “Kupra”.  For fans of modern Grenache styles, the wine is full of minty, eucalyptus, stewed plum, and strawberry jam notes; it is as well made as anything in the style from Spain or Australia.  Both wines clock in at over 15% abv and Casolanetti treats them to a luxurious couple of years in 200% new French oak.  Around 500 bottles of “Kupra” are released each year, and the estate produces less than 5,000 bottles overall from 1.4 hectares of vines.  Fans of Dal Forno, cult Napa Cabernet and modern “prestige cuvée” styles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape will find a lot to admire in the wines of this address.        

Other Red and White Grapes of the Marche

Vernaccia Nera, the grape of Marche’s other red wine DOCG, the spumante Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, can be exciting in still versions as well.  Antico Terren Ottavi, one of two producers making I Terreni di Sanseverino DOC wines, offers a varietal version labeled as “Pianetta di Càgnore” with spicy, plummy dark fruit, rustic tannins, and piquant acidity.  This is great salume wine.  Unlike the sparkling wines of Serrapetrona, Ottavi’s Vernaccia Nera does not undergo any drying prior to fermentation.  “Pianetta di Càgnore” ages in used barrels for about 20 months and offers more quality than most Montepulciano wines we tasted within the same inexpensive price range.  Vernaccia, like Trebbiano, is a name loosely meaning “local”, and covers a set of dissimilar grapes.  For its part, the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is actually the Puglian grape Bombino Bianco, not Verdicchio (Trebbiano di Soave) or Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano).

Much of the current interest in Italian wines among sommeliers lies in the discovery of new, indigenous, unique varieties.  As genetic research into the origins and identities of grapes moves forward, we may discover that there are actually far fewer unique varieties and many more synonyms for the same grapes.  Regardless, “international varieties” like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot are often the last thing to elicit excitement, but these grapes have a long history in the Veneto.  We found excellent examples of the latter two at the small Selvagrossa estate near Pesaro in the northern Marche.  Alberto and Alessandro Taddei grow Sangiovese in addition to Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the cool clay soils of his 4 ha vineyard near the sea.  The standout wine here is the Marche Rosso IGT “Poveriano”, a 100% Cabernet Franc effort aged in new Allier and Tronçais oak barrels for fourteen months prior to bottling.  The wine is ripe and generous—yet refined—and it retains hints of Cabernet Franc’s herbal wildness.  Fans of Le Macchiole’s “Paleo Rosso” might look further east.  This may have been the most surprising find in the Marche, particularly as the estate is located north of Ancona, where there is very little in the way of DOC wine, and no DOCG zones.  In addition to three reds, Selvagrossa makes one white wine, a Bianchello del Metauro, from purchased Biancame grapes.  The wine, like most from the appellation, is simple and quaffable.

One favorite DOC north of Ancona is Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.  Lacrima is an intensely aromatic red grape, like Sicily’s Frappato or Piemonte’s Ruchè, and produces a singular style of soft, medium-bodied, floral, and utterly delicious red wine.  The DOC zone overlaps the northern area of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, and stipulates a minimum 85% Lacrima.  Passito and superiore versions are authorized.  Although we were unable to visit any producers while in the Marche, we enjoyed a bottle of Luccheti 2010 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba over dinner on our last night in the country.  Mario Luccheti, alongside other quality estates like Badiali and Luigi Giusti, is making a pleasant, perfumed, and feminine style of wine that could win a lot of fans over with overt aromatics and an appealing, easygoing structure.

Finally, two native white grapes of the southern Marche have received DOCG status.  Pecorino and Passerina—the latter means “little sparrow”—may be produced as varietal wines in the new Offida DOCG.  The commune of Offida, a stone’s throw from the Adriatic, is located in the provinces of Ascoli Piceno and Fermo; the DOC and DOCG zones of Offida are entirely contained within the larger Rosso Piceno DOC.  Both white varietal wines tend toward heaviness and alcohol, but Pecorino retains more acidity.  Pecorino can fumble with oxidation, and shows creamy apricot and apple notes.  Passerina is rarely produced in any compelling fashion, and even the DOCG’s own producers may scoff at its mention, and its inclusion in the legislation.  We visited one estate producing Offida whites, Poderi San Lazzaro, a new winemaking project dating to 2003.  Winemaker and proprietor Paolo Capriotti showed us his white wines, but clearly the focus was on his Rosso Piceno.  Why, when the Rosso Piceno Montepulciano-Sangiovese blends are the serious efforts, did Offida achieve DOCG status and Piceno did not?  There was simply too much resistance to more stringent quality controls among the larger, more commercial enterprises of Rosso Piceno; for Offida, on the other hand, there was no one to complain about heightened restrictions.  Go figure.