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Varietals of the region continue to grow in popularity

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By Jack Polidori
With the exception of the Verdicchio grape — remember the curvy amphora-shaped bottle? — wines from the Marche region of Italy have struggled to gain widespread recognition. But with the continuing emphasis on biodiversity and perpetual search for something “new,” it now appears that many of them have finally caught the attention of wine lovers elsewhere in Europe, the United States and, increasingly, in Asia.
This is particularly true for its southern Marche provinces of Macerata, Fermo, and Ascoli Piceno. To many Italian-American Herald readers in the tri-state area whose families originate from the Marche and northern Abruzzo, these varietals are quite familiar: Pecorino … Passerina … Vernaccia Nera … Maceratino. And then there are the officially recognized blends: Rosso Piceno, Rosso Piceno Superiore, Offida Rosso, and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.
These are varietals and blends resulting from the climate and unique geography of a region whose 10,000-foot mountains face east and pour clay and mineral-laced soils down across their foothills east to the Adriatic Sea. Whether you are eating the delicate Adriatic seafood, the renowned slow-roasted pork dishes (porchetta) and sausages, grilled poultry of various types, or the hearty red sauces that feature wild boar (cianghale), there is special wine for each dish.
Rosso Piceno Superiore DOCG and Rosso Piceno DOC: These two better-known blends combine two noble Italian varietals, the Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes. Wines with the “Rosso Piceno” or “Piceno” DOC title can be produced only with grapes that are grown in the Marche Region. According to the production standards of the Italian government, the percentages of the two main grape varietals in Rosso Piceno Superiore or Rosso Piceno must fall in the following ranges — Montepulciano between 35 and 85 percent and Sangiovese between 15 and 50 percent. The grapes must be cultivated within an extensive area of the Marche region that includes the provinces of Macerata, Fermo, Ascoli Piceno and Ancona. The production zone of Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC is much smaller and comprises just the 13 southernmost towns of the Ascoli Piceno province.
Offida Rosso DOC and DOCG: This blend has built a reputation for intensity, structure and luscious taste that exhibits the finest qualities of the native local Montepulciano (the majority varietal) enhanced by the fresh fruitiness of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Many local vineyards choose to age the Offida Rosso with as much as 18 to 24 months in French or Slovenian oak. An excellent example of this blend is the Leo Ripano DOCG produced by the Cantina dei Colli Ripani (AP), the 2011 vintage of which earned 90 points from the Wine Spectator. It currently is on sale in select shops or special online order. IAH

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