Lesser-Known Wines from Italy
The most appreciated of the region's wines are those composed of Verdicchio, an ancient, indigenous grape variety whose name is derived from its greenish color. Although its popularity traces back to the “fish” amphoras that once contained the wine, sales declined in the late ’70s and early ’80s. With qualitative advances such as late picking, reducing or eliminating secondary varieties, and limited use of barrel fermentation and aging, the wines have rebounded impressively.
Verdicchio yields notable wines in two distinct districts. The better known of the two is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. The name Jesi comes from the Roman colony of Aesis, while Castelli refers to the fortress towns that top the hills in the area. The wine must contain at least 85% Verdicchio, but may also incorporate up to 15% Malvasia or Trebbiano. A riserva is also produced, along with some single-vineyard and special cuvee wines. Dry and crisp with a hint of bitterness, Verdicchio is the wine that prompted Alaric the Goth to load up 40 mule teams' worth of barrels for his advance on Rome in 410 A.D.
Further inland lies Verdicchio di Matelica, a more alpine district featuring hills dotted with 12th–14th-century castles. Gioacchino Rossini, the famous Romantic composer, came from this region and was a staunch advocate of these wines. Generating only a fraction of the output of Castelli di Jesi, this territory is preferred by many wine aficionados over its sister realm. They claim the Verdicchio forged here packs more strength and body, and renders greater depth and length of flavor.
Marches reds are fairly recent arrivals. Although the biggest-volume red is the Sangiovese-based Rosso Piceno, it is the Rosso Conero appellation that creates the more engrossing red. Produced from at least 85% Montepulciano and up to 15% Sangiovese or other local varieties, this wine delivers deep color, fuller body and ripe round flavors. Its name refers to Monte Conero, which overlooks the town of Ancona. It was noted by Roman historians Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as among the best Adriatic wines. Innovative winemakers are now concentrating on improving quality with single-vineyard bottlings and by downplaying the Sangiovese element. International recognition lags behind, and these wines are barely known in the U.S., making Rosso Conero one of ltaly's best wine values.