Understanding Italy: Marche

Le Marche, Italy.  Located on the central eastern coast of Italy, and home to Cesare Mondavi (Father of Robert and Peter), this is a region sadly somewhat overshadowed on a global stage by its neighbors Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Abruzzo, and Umbria, yet in no short supply of exceptional wines and winemakers.

The geographical makeup of Le Marche can be broken into 2 general climates; The northern half boasts a continental climate while the southern half is more Mediterranean because of the sea’s influence.  The western border of the region is framed by the Apennine Mountains and descending rolling hills as you travel more eastward towards the Adriatic Sea with two main soil types: calcareous and limestone.  The region is also home to 8 different rivers that help define unique terroir for the DOCs and DOCGs found in Le Marche.

The major players in this region are the white wines, namely the Verdicchio grape (which translates to “little green one”) and has been cultivated in the region for hundreds of years, and various forms of one of Italy’s most confusing grape groups – the Trebbiano grape.  Montepulciano (of Abruzzo region fame) and Sangiovese (of Tuscan fame) make up the majority of red plantings in the region.

While there are 15 DOCs and 1 IGT (Simply “Marche” – reserved for wine production covering the whole region with a few production rules winemakers need to adhere to) outside of DOC or DOCG designated areas, we will focus on the DOCG areas in this article as they are a great example of what Le Marche has to offer:

  • Castello di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG: established as a DOC in 1995, the area was upgraded to DOCG in 2010.  Only white wines are permitted with a minimum of 85% required to be Verdicchio and the remaining up to 15% being of white grapes permitted by the Marche region.  The term “classico” can be applied only to the original, oldest growing areas.  The wines must be aged a minimum of 18 months of which 6 months minimum in bottle is required.
  • Cònero DOCG: established as a DOC in 1967, the area was upgraded to DOCG in 2004.  Only red wines are permitted with a minimum of 85% being Montepulciano and the remaining up to 15% being Sangiovese.  The wines must be aged a minimum of 24 months for DOCG status, any less is labeled as Rosso Cònero DOC.
  • Offida DOCG: established as a DOC in 2001, the area was upgraded to DOCG in 2011.  The only DOCG in Marche that permits white and red wine varietals, “Offida Pecorino” must be a minimum of 85% Pecorino and up to 15% of legally permitted non-aromatic grapes allowed in Marche, “Offida Passerina” which must be a minimum of 85% Passerina and up to 15% of legally permitted non-aromatic grapes allowed in Marche, and “Offida Rosso” which must be a minimum of 85% Montepulciano with up to 15% dark-skinned, non-aromatic grapes allowed in Marche.  The “Offida Rosso” wines must be aged 24 months, of which a minimum of 12 months must be in barrel and 3 additional months in bottle.
  • Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOCG: established as a DOC in 1995, the area was upgraded to DOCG in 2010.  Only white wines are permitted with a minimum of 85% required to be Verdicchio and the remaining up to 15% being of white grapes permitted by the Marche region.  The wines must be aged a minimum of 18 months.
  • Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG: established as a DOC in 1971, the area was upgraded to DOCG in 2004.  Here we find a very interesting and unique DOCG – Only sparkling red wines are permitted (“spumante”), from dry to sweet, with at least 40% of the grapes requiring being dried before production.  The wine must be a minimum of 85% Vernaccia Nera and the remaining up to 15% of dark-skinned grapes permitted in the region.

Earlier we mentioned the greater IGT of regional Marche wines.  It is worth noting that a fair amount of wine is produced under this designation blending common European grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay with local grapes with a substantial portion of Marche growths are grown with the intention of producing IGT wine and blends.