Le Marche - Indigenous Grapes
Meet the stars of this month’s show
Friday 22 September 2023
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In the eastern region of Marche, the weather can be hot in summer and snowy in the winter, and it increasingly suffers from flooding. It seems a shame too that the region is more often in the news for its earthquakes than its wine—while the tremors are devastating, Marche has a lot more to offer the world than natural disasters.
For example, its Montepulciano is of world class quality. This grape, well-known as a wine in the Abruzzo region just to the south, is actually indigenous to Marche. Winemakers have long known how to produce exceptional wines from this deep black grape, using its soft tannins and mellow, low acid temperament in blends with Sangiovese or Barbera to create classic, poised wine that ages well in oak.
The deep colour of Montepulciano belies its vibrant, ruby-red wines, that when enjoyed young, have an abundance of ripe red and purple fruit flavours—think juicy plums, black cherries, and blackberries. They are often really good value too, so try them in place of your usual Merlot next time you fancy a glass with dinner—it’s truly a pizza-friendly wine, pairing with basil, tomato and cheese hungrily.
White, underestimated Verdicchio is a jewel in Marche’s tiara. Named for its vivacious green colour, this grape makes fresh, lemony wines with slightly bitter notes of almond. As well as its acidity, Verdicchio has a slight oiliness about its texture that you do find in some Italian wines, that adds a velvety sumptuousness to each mouthful.
More than a decade’s obsession with high-acid wines that strip enamel and pucker mouths means that this beauty of a grape is rarely seen on the average wine list. It’s a shame. There’s a subtle luxury about it that pairs really well with a wide variety of foods, but especially sweet seafood like lobster tails and scallops.
Indigenous to the central regions of Italy including Marche, Pecorino was brought back from the brink of extinction by a passionate oenologist called Guido Cocci Grifoni. Grifoni was looking for indigenous grapes that would survive and thrive in the mountainous southern region of Marche, and came upon one overgrown vineyard—likely the last in existence at that time—in the foothills of the area in the mid 1970s. He took grafts, tended his own vines, and reintroduced the world to Pecorino.
A hardy grape that doesn’t mind cold winters and high altitude, Pecorino grapes have high acidity and high sugar content making them excellent candidates for ageing for up to a decade. Expect to find apricots, golden delicious apples, acacia blossom and jasmine in your glass, along with a lush, soft mouthfeel. It’s a bonus for all of us that Pecorino didn’t die out after all.
Marche is the indigenous and ancient homeland of Passerina, a grape that takes on sharp and juicy citrus flavours when grown here. Passerina lovers get a kick out of the wine’s intense minerality, and its aromas of classic Italian herbs like sage and rosemary. Honey comes through too in good examples, as well as blossom.
The flavour of Passerina is a lot more nuanced than its aromas might suggest. A delicately fresh wine that’s praised for its precise acidity and minerality, it can also have a fairly strong alcohol level, thanks to its high sugar content that can be allowed to convert into alcohol entirely to maintain the wine’s dry, supple character.
Marche’s Ancona region is thought to be where the grape Biancame originated. Also known as Bianchello, this grape covers its vines with lush green leaves, and winemakers have to clear them in order for the grapes to be properly ripened by the sun. In hot summers this is actually really useful, as the leaves act as protection against the hot rays of the Italian sunshine.
The fruity wine Biancame produces is often made into Bianchello del Metauro DOC, which is especially good quality from the hilly northern side of the Metauro valley. This fresh and flinty wine offers a refreshing accompaniment to fish and seafood dishes in the region, and also has notes of cucumber and aloe vera alongside zingy grapefruit.
The name Lacrima literally translates as “a tear” and in fact, it has the connotation of sadness about the romantic word when used in context. Even more romantic is how the grape got this name—when they are fully ripe, the grapes themselves appear to be weeping, as moisture drips from the berries on the vine.
It’s a red-purple grape that’s indigenous to Marche, and with it vignerons create a ruby red wine that whiffs of violets and tastes like cherries and strawberries. It can age well, and these fresh, red fruity flavours develop nicely into blueberry and blackberry. It’s particularly delicious with cured meats and charred vegetables.
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