- 25 Feb 2019
- Camilla Wood
The Conduit Magazine - March Article
by Camilla Wood, Owner/MD The Somerset Wine Company
The Ides of Marche - The Hidden Gem of Italian Wine
It being March I can’t resist jumping on a pun and highlighting this region in Italy very close to my heart as I’ve owned a home there since 2006 (see www.monasterofavari.com - available for holiday rentals). Translated as The Marches in English, and pronounced ‘Lay Markay’ in Italian, the plural phrase relates to a time when this region was made up of several ‘marca’ or marches, border areas between Papal States and ruled by the Vatican. This bred a contentious, steely, opportunistic spirit amongst its inhabitants who historically were called upon as tax collectors for the Popes, giving rise to the famous Italian phrase “meglio un morto in casa che un marchigiano alla porta” - better a death in the house than someone from Le Marche at your door! Thankfully today, like all good Italians, even the Marchigiani don’t want to pay their taxes.
Le Marche isn’t a huge region, but it is immensely varied, identifiable by the bump on the eastern coast of Italy, or the calf muscle on the boot shape. Abutting the Sibilleni mountains to the South, the Apennines inland and the Adriatic coast, this is a land of mountains, sea and picturesque terracotta-hued hilltop towns letting down vineyards, olive groves and sunflower fields from their beautiful church-capped crowns.
It might be known rather pejoratively as ‘the poor man’s Tuscany’ but here penury seems fortunate as Le Marche is never over-crowded with tourists, nor overly-commercialised nor pretentious, rather it is an honest, modest land of plenty which seems happy not to have the great art cities of Tuscany to swell its numbers. It is under the radar, proud to keep it’s gems hidden, such as the stunning cities of Urbino and Ascoli Piceno, the former the birthplace of Raphael and home of the Ducal Palace. And the same can be said of its vinous offerings. This isn’t a land of 98 Parker pointed Super-Tuscans, famous Amarones or expensive Barolos, but quietly high-achieving whites (Verdicchio, Pecorino) and some stellar, value for money reds (Rosso Piceno, Rosso Conero, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba).
Le Marche’s sea to mountain terrain offers a wealth of produce, making it a food lover’s paradise: from brodetto (fish stew) to porchetta (herb-filled, slow cooked pork) to olive ascolane (stuffed, breaded and fried olives) to ricotta and pecorino cheese, every corner boasts a speciality. I love it that wine follows food in language as well as content - there is even a word for wine and food pairing - ‘abbinamento’. The wines here are as diverse and as beguiling as the land - with the white variety Verdicchio taking centre stage and to thank for most of its vinous fame. Green-tinged (verde, meaning green), citrus and lemon zesty, with a herbal note, hung together with a
seam of minerality, this is Pinot Grigio on steroids, with bags of personality: A perfect foil to the region’s seafood dishes. Unlike most Italian whites, the best Verdicchios also show a sensitivity to their terroir and can boast supreme longevity, developing a lovely honeyed richness with time in bottle, helped along by a natural affinity to oak. Verdicchio can also make fantastic Spumante (sparkling wine) leaving Prosecco in the shade. Pecorino, (the grape not the cheese but named for the sheep ‘pecore’ grazing in it’s hinterland) is the other up-and-coming white of Le Marche. Pecorino is a more rounded, stone-fruited, peachy style redolent of white and yellow flowers finished with a bitter almond lift. This is the perfect match with the rustic, inland dishes of white meats, chicken pastas and porchetta.
Wine production in the region is evenly split between reds and whites with Sangiovese and Montepulciano counting for much of the former’s output. Here however, unlike in Tuscany, the Montepulciano grape is King lending the reds from two main DOC’s, Rossos Piceno and Conero, a soft, plummy, cherry-laded richness. These pair so deliciously with dishes such as wild boar ragù, osso bucco and the regional speciality, Vincisgrassi, a porcini and veal based lasagne. And let’s not forget the monstrously marmite red, Lacrima, from around the town of Morro d’Alba - an incredibly perfumed variety, all roses and parma violets, like Turkish Delight in a glass! A little strange for English palates perhaps but put it with a plate of pappardelle alla’ anatra (pasta with duck sauce) and you are in culinary heaven.
If these wines and dishes whet your appetite and you’d like to try them for size, our next alphabet-themed Supper Club at the Market House in Castle Cary is “M is for Marche” appropriately on Saturday 2 March. Food by the wonderful Lucas Hollweg, ex Sunday Times food writer and critic, and wine chat by yours truly. Tickets £45 per head for a 3 course meal and 5 tasting wines. Booking on 01963 548228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Come and experience for yourself that Le Marche is a savvy alternative to Italy’s more trodden paths.
TEL: 01963 548228
The Deli Castle Cary
Mob: 07717 396635 Shop: 01963 548228
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat 9am - 6pm
All other times by appointment
LUX Guide 2017 'Best West Country Wine & Spirits Purveyor'
Runner Up as 'Newcomer of The Year' in the Drinks Retailing Awards 2016
Finalist in Muddy Stilettos 'Best Somerset Wine Merchant' 2016 & 2017