It's been a couple of years since our last vinous visit to Italy's Marches region, so let's settle back in our easy chairs, pull a cork and make another virtual trip to this relatively little-known region on Italy's Adriatic coast across the Apennines from Rome.
Even the name of "The Marches" ("Marche," in Italian) implies its off-the-beaten-path status. In medieval times, the lands on the outer borders of the Holy Roman Empire, governed on the emperor's behalf by a functionary called a margrave, marquis or marchese, depending on the local lingo, were dubbed "Marches," a term perhaps cognate to the English "margin."
Well away from the more touristy Italian regions, The Marches lagged in postwar economic development until recent years, and its wines generally aren't well-known. But blessed with a mild climate and awash with familiar grape varieties that it shares with Tuscany, Marche is a name to watch out for in the bargain bins.
Verdicchio, a crisp white wine, may be the most familiar name from Marche, but I'm partial to the red Rosso Piceno, named for the ancient Picenes who first settled the region. According to legend, the conqueror Hannibal used the hearty red wine of Piceno as a healthy rubdown for his army's horses. (This story fails to mention whether the Carthaginian general offered a similar wine treatment to his famous elephants.)
The Rosso Piceno featured today comes from the 500-member Colli Ripani co-operative. This one is a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, but Rosso Piceno is also permitted to include the local variety Passerina and a touch of the white Trebbiano. In style it's not unlike a good Chianti, with black fruit and spice built on a firm acidic structure. But it seems darker, fruitier and more ripe than all but the most robust of Chiantis. At $10, it's an excellent buy.
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Colli Ripani 2001 "Transone" Rosso Piceno ($9.99)
This is an inky-dark, blackish-purple wine, with appetizing aromas of spicy black cherries that carry over to the palate as tart, juicy black fruit, well balanced with zippy acidity, showing gentle tannins in the finish. Mouth-watering and fresh, fine with food, it's a classic Italian table wine. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports Ltd., NYC. (June 23, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A fine, traditional match with meatballs in a fresh tomato sauce over pasta.
VALUE: Stands out for quality in the $10 range. Good buy.
WHEN TO DRINK: Intended for current consumption, but it should hold up for a few years under careful storage.
WEB LINK: The Colli Ripani Website is available in Italian and English. Click ITA or UK for the language of your choice:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Sales and delivery in much of Europe are available by clicking "Order Products" on the winery Website. The U.S. importer lists wholesale distributors by state, who can be contacted for retail information, at this link:
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Friday, June 25, 2004