Central Italy includes the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Umbria and Lazio. Of course, Tuscany is in Central Italy too, but as its wines are so famous (Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile et al), they are treated separately in most wine articles. By contrast, wines from other parts of Central Italy are nowhere near as sought after. One problem facing Central Italy is that grapes typical of the area are almost unknown outside of Italy’s borders: passerina, pecorino, bellone, and bombino are not exactly household names. This is a shame because Central Italy offers a slew of user-friendly, delicious wines, both reds and whites, and they are often excellent values. This article focuses on the whites.
Look for dry white wines like Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica bottlings from top producers. These wines typically offer aromas and flavors of white stone fruits, white flowers and almond. Pecorino is a recently rediscovered native grape and a rising star in Italy. It makes big white wines that express sage and citrus qualities not unlike those of sauvignon blanc but with a creamier, fuller mouth feel.
Wines made with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo can be much better than anything made with trebbiano Toscano; Valentini makes one of Italy’s ten best white wines with it, and there are signs that other producers are starting to catch on. Bellone and grechetto are two other high-potential grape varieties that we should be hearing a lot more about in the near future. The former takes very well to noble rot, but also produces high-acid, resiny, complex dry whites, while the latter is responsible for the best wines from Orvieto.
Unfortunately, not all central Italian wine producers strive for quality and some just churn out large quantities of simple and ultimately forgettable wines. In the past, some well-meaning estates have called in consulting winemakers with the goal making wines that appeal to international palates, but that development only delayed the establishment of Central Italy as a place to find wines that convey a sense of terroir. So remember the names of the best Central Italian producers: they’re your best bet for finding the good stuff.
From the Marche, a very solid entry-level Verdicchio is the Umani Ronchi 2011 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superieure Casal di Serra ($17; Bedford International), a rich, bigger-bodied wine redolent of quince, pear and even tropical fruit aromas and flavors. It finishes long and minerally and will actually benefit from another year of bottle age. One of Italy’s best wine buys, given its quality and price, is the Collestefano 2012 Verdicchio di Matelica ($18; Oliver McCrum Wines; Polaner Selections). It exudes perfumed white flower and stone fruit notes complemented by intense minerality.
Agricola Tiberio in Abruzzo is best known for its pecorino, but it’s the Tiberio 2012 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($18; Down to Earth Wines) that interests me most, because few producers achieve similar results with this variety. Light and lively, with aromas of white flowers and delicate minerals and herbs, it turns richer and more tropical on the palate. A single-vineyard version called Fonte Canale from 50-year-old vines is better still, with the not-yet-released 2012 vintage very Chablis-like. It’s one of the most impressive young white wines I have tasted from Italy in a long time.
Possibly the best pecorino of all is made by philosophy professor Luigi Cataldi Madonna, who makes a top version simply labeled Pecorino and the entry-level Giulia (named after his daughter): try the Cataldi Madonna 2012 Giulia Pecorino Terre Aquilane ($20; Vias Imports), which offers bright kiwi, passion fruit and sage on the nose and palate. It finishes with zippy acidity and even a lightly tannic bite.
From Lazio, don’t miss out on the Sergio Mottura 2011 Poggio della Costa Grechetto di Civitella ($17; Chambers & Chambers), a wine that ages remarkably well (10+ years, easily). Made without oak, it offers flavors of minerals, chewy orchard fruits and delicate herbs that last and last. Finally, if you’ve given up on Umbria’s Orvieto over the years, do try the Palazzone 2011 Grechetto Grek ($15, a Marc de Grazia Selections), a lovely mouthful of a wine with grechetto-typical chewy peach and apricot aromas and flavors and a lightly tannic finish.