Italy’s Eastern coast doesn’t get nearly enough love. Yes, the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are stunning, but the Eastern Coast, the other side of the Apennines, has its own charm. Other than Venice, on the Northern part of this coast, you won’t find cities with names you are familiar with. That is part of the charm.
If you look at the boot that is Italy, Marche sits where the calf muscle would be and is just North of Abruzzo. You have beautiful high mountain regions not that far from the Adriatic Sea, so you get the best of both worlds.
The region has many National parks, and you will find it less crowded (at least for now) than the other coast.
Marche and Abruzzo, Italy
This month with the #ItalianFWT writers, we explore these regions through wine and food. Linda of My Full Wine Glass leads us. Here is a link to her invitation post.
Each of the writers will share their perspective on one or both of these regions. They may share a specific winery or wine, and perhaps some will even do a pairing and share a recipe!
Prepare yourself. After reading about this region and seeing some of the photos, you will be ready to pack your bags and visit!
I expect to be extra antsy as I am heading to Abruzzo in early June to get an inside look at this region! So while you get some overviews here, expect lots more to come from Crushed Grape Chronicles!
I couldn’t decide between the two, so I found a wine from each region. We will start with Marche (I have this thing about working North to South today, LOL.)
Just south of Emilia Romagna, this Italian region has 180 kilometers of coastline, with stunning cliffs and beaches (Ariel view of the Coastal line in Marche Italy)
From the coast, the land moves west into the Apennine Mountains. It’s from those mountains that over a dozen rivers descend, providing water for the region’s agriculture and vineyards.
Marche has 15 DOCs and 5 DOCs and is well known for its Verdicchio. Alas, we took the road less traveled and tasted a Pecorino.
Saladini Pilastri in southern Marche
About 3 centuries ago, Count Saladini Pilastri began his farm in Ascoli Piceno. The farm, vineyard, and the Saladini Pilastri Villa, built in the 15th century, sit just 2 kilometers from the medieval town of Spinetoli. Spinetoli originated in the 5th century and was named for the “Spineola” hill covered in thorns.
Here in the sub-Apennines, the hills gently roll toward the Adriatic Sea. This 320-hectare farm sits just 8 kilometers from the sea.
These hills of Monte Prandone and Spinetoli are sunny and have limestone soils. They have eliminated all chemical pesticides and fertilizers, allowing the plants to evolve to be less susceptible to disease and parasites.
Saladini Pilastri Offida DOCG Pecorino
In this far southern end of Marche in Ascoli Piceno is where we find the Offida DOCG. Pecorino is perhaps better known as the name of a cheese, but here it is a grape. This grape had fallen off everyone’s radar, but winemaker Guido Cocci Grifoni worked hard to document the origins of this grape.
The DOC was established in 2011 and was elevated to a DOCG in 2011.
I tasted a wine from this region a few years ago from Villa Angela. These wines lean toward pineapple, herbs, lemon, anise, and sage with a delicate note of white flowers. It can be dry and minerally.
The Saladini Pilastri Offida DOCG Pecorino comes from their vineyards in Spinetoli and Montepradone with east-northeast exposure that are about 10 years old.
I got notes of lemon zest, unripe pineapple, tropical fruit, lemon, a touch of lanoline, and spice. The wine was medium-bodied with pronounced flavors and good acidity for pairing with food.
13.5% abv – $13.99 Total Wine
These wines are known to be able to age to almost 20 years. At $13.99 a bottle, it is well worth laying down a couple and seeing for yourself!
Our Pairing with the Pecorino
Olive All’Ascolana (well, sort of)
As I looked for a Marche-style pairing, I came across a recipe for Olive all’Ascolane. This dish of deep-fried stuffed olives sounded perfect.
I was not able to find Ascolane olives. So I substituted Castelvetrano Olives. I found a jar of them pitted at the store, and they were Colossal in size (and according to the label.) I figured this would be easier for stuffing, as it was my first time doing this.
I found several recipes and probably stayed closest to this one from Spruce Eats.
Michael doesn’t typically like olives, so I just wanted to make 10 or so for us to taste with the wine. In retrospect, I wish I had made more.
I riffed on the recipe with carrot, celery, sweet white onion, a splash of the Pecorino wine, chopped pork loin chops, and ground chicken. Once cooked, this all went into the food processor with lemon zest, freshly ground nutmeg, an egg yolk, salt, pepper, and grated parmigiano-reggiano.
Now to get this into the olives! I attempted to use a pastry bag, but the mixture was too thick, and I blew out the bag. I settled on a messier route, spooning the mixture on top of the olive and pressing it in with the large end of a chopstick.
Once filled, these were rolled in flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs and fried in canola oil in a small pot.
These were delicious with the wine. Once fried, the olives seemed less vinegary to Michael, and he enjoyed them. The brightness of the lemon zest really brought the bite together, and these played beautifully with the wine.
(You’ll find a quick video on our Instagram page)
One of my earlier posts on the region of Abruzzo was about Pecorino d’Abruzzo. As I researched the area, I was taken by the images of the “transumanza,” the route shepherds use to bring sheep to the mountains in spring and back toward the sea in the fall. The region is spectacularly beautiful, and I look forward to seeing it in person in June!
You can divide Abruzzo into two main areas. 65% of the region is in the inland mountainous area, with the remaining a vast stretch of hills that lead to the coast.
Over 30% of this region is designated as a National or Regional Park. These parks boast over 2000 different plant varieties and 20 peaks that are over 2,000 meters. The Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga National Park covers 150,000 hectares, most of which are in Abruzzo.
These mountains have some fantastic sites; the Norman-built Rocco Calascio castle sits at 1462 meters and was used in the film “The Name of the Rose.”
Capestrano has the Abbey of San Pietro, which has a stone called the “magical square.” Inserted upside down, it reads SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS. Stack that up, and you will realize you can read this right to left, left to right, bottom to top, and top to bottom. Even more amazing, this was part of the original construction in the ninth century.
Castelli is known for its Maiolica ceramics; there is the Abbey of San Clemente a Casuria a Benedictine Abbey founded in 871 (sit on that for a minute, 871!), and Amiternum near L’Aquila, the only Italic city founded by the Sabines. These ancient Italian people were fierce fighters. Some speculate that they might have come from Sparta. The founding date of this city makes my comment early seem silly. Amiternum was founded in the 10th century BC.
Then you head to the coast, where you find beaches and cliffs. Pescara is in the middle of the Abruzzo coast and north of this city. You find golden sand beaches and plenty of resorts. South of Pescara, the cliff rises, and you see small coves and bays. Then there are the trabocchi, fishing shacks on stilts out in the sea. Many of these shacks have now been converted into small restaurants.
Azienda Agricola Cirelli
Francesco Cirelli grew up visiting the country with his grandparents. Those memories, the feeling of well-being they brought, drew him back to the land. Cirelli Farms is just 8 kilometers from the sea but is nestled in the folds of the hills that roll down from the Apennine mountains. The nearest town of any size is Atri, but woods and national parks surround their 22-hectare certified organic farm.
They do not use chemicals or herbicides but nurture the plant’s defense systems using biodynamic preparations.
In the cellar, they believe that less is more and are using more and more Amphorae for their wines.
He works this land with his family, his wife Michela, and their daughter Stella.
When I first came across Cirelli, it was while writing an article on Italian rosé, and I was tasting their Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.
Cirelli La Collina Biologica Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2019
This wine is 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grown in clay and limestone soil using biodynamic methods. After being harvested by hand, the grapes are destemmed and crushed gently. They ferment with indigenous yeast in stainless steel with gentle punch downs. After a week, they do a soft press. This wine then spends 4 months in Stainless Steel before bottling.
Fresh with rich dark fruit notes of blackberry and plum, this wine has a savoriness that seemed meant for the Arrosticini that we paired it with. There are herbal notes that call to the rosemary in the dish. This pairing just melded beautifully.
13% abv $20 at GaragisteLV
Our Pairing with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
As this beautiful region had us daydreaming of shepherding in the beautiful sub-Apennine hills, lamb seemed an appropriate dish.
Arrosticini All’Abruzzese is a simple rustic dish of just a few ingredients; lamb, olive oil, salt, and rosemary. The cubed lamb marinates for about an hour and then is put on skewers to grill.
I picture this enjoyed by a campfire in the hills at sunset. Well…if I close my eyes… I cooked this right on the stove on a grill pan. When they were done, just a minute or two per side, I wrapped them in aluminum foil to rest while I opened the wine and set the plates. (You can find the recipe video on our Instagram page)
We served this with crusty rosemary bread I had just bought at the local farmers market and the delicious Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
More perspectives on Marche & Abruzzo from the #ItalianFWT writers!
- Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Welcoming Spring with Farinelli Rosé“
- Camilla Mann of Culinary Cam shares “Frecantò di Verdure, the Marche’s Version of Ratatouille, with the 2021 Colleleva Lacrima di Morro d’Alba“
- Andrea Lemieux of The Quirky Cork shares “Pecorino Shines with Creamy Asparagus Pasta“
- Jennifer Gentile Martin of Vino Travels shares “Wines of Le Marche with Il Conte Villa Prandone“
- Susannah Gold of Avvinare shares “Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo, A Perfect Sip for Spring”
- Cindy Lowe Rynning of Grape Experiences shares “Uno Spuntino! Castorani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Casauria Riserva 2015 with Grilled Pecorino Cheese Sandwiches“
- Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator shares “#RoseAllMay! Cerasuolo from Organic Famiglia Febo and Biodynamic Lunaria Paired with Abruzzo Inspired Menu: Mussels and Saffron, Pecorino and Pasta“
- And our host Linda Whipple of My Full Wine Glass Shares “Two Verdicchio stars in the Marche wine firmament”
References and resources
More on Marche and Abruzzo from Crushed Grape Chronicles
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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