If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider The Marche region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
The Marche is located in the central western area of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. This hilly, often mountainous area has been inhabited for about six thousand years. It belonged to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Over the centuries, it was occupied by many different peoples. Its population is a little less than 1.5 million people.
Because of its rough terrain and unproductive soil, The Marche is not one of the most agriculturally advanced regions of Italy. Wheat, olives, corn, and fodder are abundant. The Marche is known for Vitellone Bianco dell'Appennino Centrale, highly prized white veal. And what a selection of fish and seafood is available, including lobster, relatively rare in Italy. There is some industry, in particular paper, chemicals, petro-chemicals, and pharmecuticals.
If you are interested in off-the-beaten track touring, The Marche has a lot to offer. One of its cities, Urbino, is a World Heritage Site. It’s a medieval town, with a magnificent palace dating back to the mid-fifteenth Century. Its National Gallery (of The Marche) has an excellent collection of Renaissance art. After all, this was the birthplace of Raphael. The administrative capital, Anacona, is an important port on the Adriatic Sea with an interesting old city. Most of all, the entire region gives you an idea of traditional Italy, relatively untouched by 21st Century lifestyle. People in The Marche consume the most wine per capita of any region in Italy.
The Marche devotes about sixty thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 12th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 48 million gallons, giving it a 10th place. About 38% of the wine production is red, leaving 62% for white. The region produces 13 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Conero and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona are DOCG wines, in which the G stands for Garantita, but there is no guarantee that these wines are truly superior. About 20% of wine from The Marche carries the DOC or DOCG designation. The Marche is home to about two and a half dozen major and secondary grape varieties, with a few more white varieties than red ones.
International white grape varieties include Trebbiano, and to a lesser extent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The best known strictly Italian white variety is Verdicchio. The Veernaccia variety is found in one of the DOCG wines.
Widely grown somewhat international red grape varieties include Sangiovese, an Italian variety grown elsewhere, including California. The international red grape varieties grown to a lesser extent include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The best-known strictly Italian red variety is Montepulciano. Another red variety is Lacrima, whose name means tears.
Before reviewing the wine from The Marche and Italian cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Brodetto; Fish Soup (containing over a dozen types of fish).
Then enjoy Vincigrassi; Lasagna with Truffles, Prosciutto, and Cream.
And for dessert, indulge yourself with a Crostata di Ricotta; Ricotta Tart.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Velenosi ‘Il Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno Superiore’ 2002 13.5% alcohol about $14
Let’s start with by quoting the marketing materials. “This marvelous blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano would be great with steaks or venison. The aromas suggest cherry, allspice, oak, and cinnamon. It is dry, supple, smooth, medium-bodied, international in style.”
I read somewhere “A softer version of Chianti.” You can’t believe everything that you read, I felt the opposite.
The first quote should have said Montepulciano and Sangiovese, as this wine contains more of the first variety than the second, as indicated by the back label (and the taste).
The initial pairing was with whole wheat spaghetti in a spicy tomato and meat sauce. The wine was tannic and acidic, with a plumy flavor. It held up well. I next tried it with a slow-cooked beef stew and potatoes. When it didn’t have the strong spices to bail it out, this wine was harsh. But as it breathed it became somewhat softer. It probably should have been decanted.
I next tried the Rosso Piceno with beef ribs, potatoes, and green beans in tomato sauce. The harshness was confirmed, as was its plumy flavor. The last meat meal was with slow-cooked meat balls, potatoes, and eggplant in tomato sauce. The wine tasted of dark fruit, but was not really pleasant. I was able to pair it with more meals than usual, precisely because I didn’t have any desire for refilling my glass.
The best-known cheese in The Marches is Casciotta d’Urbino, made from a combination of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk. None is available in my part of the world, so I settled for two cheeses, Pecorino Toscano from neighboring Tuscany, and Isola from relatively faraway Sicily. My Pecorino Toscano was getting a bit strong but went well with the wine. It nutty, sharp flavor was a fine match for the wine’s fruit. Isola is a Sicilian fresh cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is powerful, strong smelling, and strong tasting. In its presence, the wine was nice and fruity.
Final verdict. This wine is too expensive for an accompaniment to strong cheeses, and spaghetti in a spicy sauce. I don’t plan on buying it again.
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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .
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