Wine warriors of the Marches

After discovering then writing about pecorino from the small Offida DOCG, I’ve been on the lookout for other interesting wines from the Italian region of Marche – the Marches as it used to be known in English,  Les Marches in French.

I had always assumed the name was something to with marshes, not being familiar with the old English term for a region between two territories: the Welsh Marches being the most widely used example.

Rather than being swampy, Marche actually climbs spectacularly from the Adriatic coast into a mountainous interior that 2016 showed to be vulnerable to deadly earthquakes. Arquata del Tronto, one of the key places in the back-from-the-dead story of pecorino, was virtually destroyed by one in October 2016. Lately there has been better news with the luxury shoe company Tod’s announcing plans for a new factory that will bring 100 jobs.

Traditional cobbling skills still provide a living for many in the region, but like neighbouring Abruzzo, the inland areas of Marche have suffered from  depopulation since the end of World War II, a lack of economic opportunities driving young people to the coast and further afield. It was a point made to me by Marlena, daughter of the late Guido Cocci Grifoni, the pioneer whose faith in pecorino’s potential resuscitated a variety now to be found on the shelves of Tesco and Waitrose.  If there was anything her father would have been most proud of, she told me, it would have been creating the potential for young people to once again forge a living from the land of their fathers.

This is an issue we know only too well in Scotland. You can read more about Tenuta Cocci Grifoni on their website.

All of which explains why I was interested to hear about two of  the white wines of the Guerrieri estate, located near Pesaro in the north of Marche, winning a five star rating from an international jury at this year’s Vinitaly, the huge trade fair in Verona which I attended for a second time last month.

The first of their wines I tried was a very drinkable, merlot-rounded Colli Pesaresi Sangiovese.

I liked it a lot but would say it is one of those wines possibly made too  drinkable. It impresses most on first taste: by the end of the bottle I was missing a bit of bite in the predominant jammy fruit. I might give it a go chilled, contrary to the advice on the label.

Bianchello del Metauro is more impressive. With an easier to remember name it would have a good shot on the international stage, I reckon. It’s zesty and light-bodied, also light on alcohol by current standards (12%), and far more interesting than most of the Italian Pinot Grigio that has become so popular around the world.  The wine is also produced in a superiore ‘Celso’ and an IGT oak-aged version, which were the wines recognized by Vinitaly.

That’s not all. The last time bianchello was mentioned in dispatches was when Carthaginian troops got lashed on it on the eve of a crucial battle on the banks of the Metauro river, back in the memorable 207BC vintage.

They were supposed to be backing up Hannibal’s Italian offensive in the wake of his elephant trek across the Alps.

Wine O’SunDial put paid to that and, on the morn, the Romans defeated the hungover hordes with an innings to spare before proceeding to lay the foundations of civilization as we know it in their usual, show-off way.

I wish I could boast, Boris Johnson-style, that I picked this up from my reading of the Roman historian Tacitus. But have to acknowledge my debt to the encyclopedic Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata.

While in Verona for #Vinitaly2017, I  wrote about the concerns on both sides of the Channel about the potential impact of Brexit if, as seems increasingly likely, the negotiations end without a deal to keep trade flowing freely.

Italy has a lot to lose if European wine becomes subject to tariffs on entering the UK – or, possibly more importantly, a new raft of technical obstacles that lead to lorry drivers being held up at Dover etc. with cases cooking in the back.

But the world’s biggest wine producer also has much to gain outside the EU, not least in China, where it is inexplicably lagging badly, which was another subject I addressed in Verona.

To be continued with some Marche pictures from my visits to Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, the lovely town of Ascoli-Piceno and the coast just south of Ancona.