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May 13, 2016

Marche Wines

Speaking to the drinks business at the London Wine Fair last week, where the well-known UK wine trade figure officially launched Carson Wines – an agency business run with his son, Jonathan – Christopher said that there was a gap in the market for a big volume Italian sparkling in UK retail as the price of Prosecco increases.

Having secured the UK distribution for Rocca dei Forti, which is the best-selling sparkling wine brand in Italian retailers, Carson expressed his belief that this product – which comes from the Marche – could be the next big sparkling phenomenon in Britain’s grocers.

“Italy’s number one sparkling wine in the off-trade is Rocca dei Forti and it has never been brought into the UK… with the price of Prosecco moving up, in my opinion there is a gap in the market, and I think that Prosecco prices will increase again off the next vintage,” he said.

Continuing, he explained that more expensive Glera grapes for DOC and DOCG Prosecco would create a “significant gap in price” between Rocca dei Forti and the famous Italian sparkling.

He explained that Rocca dei Forti Brut Spumante would retail for £7.49 in the UK, and said that even if the brand was promoted down to £5.99, there is enough margin to ensure that the grocers “would be making a lot more profit at that price than they would with Prosecco.”

Furthermore, Rocca dei Forti, which produces sparkling wines from Verdicchio and other grapes grown in the Marche, is also one of the few brands with a dispensation to also produce ‘Prosecco’ outside the officially designated region of Prosecco (which spans Veneto and Friuli), according to Carson.

He also told db that Rocca dei Forti, which is owned by the Togni Group, “produce 15m bottles per year with the capacity to grow.”

Concluding he said that it was important that the UK wine trade “looks for tomorrow’s opportunity if Prosecco prices continue to go up”.

Carson Wines was officially launch on Tuesday 3 May on the first day of the London Wine Fair where the new agency business took a stand promoting its brands, which, along with the Italian sparkling include Australia’s Hentley Farm, Chile’s Siegel Family Wines, California’s Simi and New Zealand’s Soho Wine Company, among others.

Christopher said that the business was designed to “build premium wines with sustainable value”.

Although Christopher told db that he would be the “guiding hand on the tiller” the business would be run by “young legs”, including his son Jonathan – “who has been working like a Trojan” – and Ranulf Sessions, who has joined Carson Wines from Treasury Wine Estates, where he looked after the fine wine division.

“I’m building this business in such a way that I’m behind the scenes; I’m not looking for limelight, I’ve had my day in the spotlight, this is about Ranulf and Jonathan,” he said.

With a portfolio of around 25 producers, Christopher said he wanted to keep Carson Wines “tight”, adding, “I I couldn’t do justice to 200 wineries, or indeed 50.”

In June 2012 Christopher launched an online wine and spirit retailer called, which he said would continue to trade.

CellarVie is moving along and now, after four years, we’ve arrived at a point where it actually makes money, which is a nice relief.”

However, he said that he launched Carson Wines for his son.

“I realised that CellarVie would ever be big enough for Jonathan to have a really good quality of life.”

Wine o’clock added to the Oxford Online Dictionary

August 28, 2015

Wine o'Clock issues quarterly updates on current definitions of English words, with this year’s additions featuring a number of slang worked, which the website said showed “creative” use of language.

Other words to be added to the online database include ‘Manspreading’, the act of a man sitting with legs wide apart on public transport, Grexit, Brexit, and NBD – meaning “no big deal”.


Hangry is another term to gain entry, used to describe someone who is “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger”.

New words and phrases are added to the website only if there is enough evidence to prove their widespread use in English. Such words do not gain entry into the Oxford English Dictionary unless there is a demonstration of continued historical use.

Despite the addition of many slang terms Fiona McPherson, senior editor of Oxford Dictionaries, said it did not represent a dumbing down of English.

“There’s always been new slang words”, she said. “I just think we are more aware of them because of the ways in which we consume and live our lives now. We are bombarded with more and more avenues where those sort of words are used and we just think that there are more of them. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. From my point of view, as a leixcographer, it’s not really about dumbing down, it’s more creative ways that people are using language.”

Notable words to enter the online Oxford Dictionary:-

Weak sauce – anything of a poor or disappointing standard

Bants – short for banter

NBD – abbreviation of no big deal

Pocket dial – to accidentally call someone while your phone is in a pocket

Hangry – adjective used to show feelings of anger or irritability as a result of hunger

Awesomesauce – to describe something as excellent

Bruh – describing a male friend

Mkay – the informal pronunciation of OK

Grexit and Brexit – the potential departure of the UK and Greece from the EU


PS – Its always Wine o”clock at Cancello Est!

Verdicchio wines from Marche the Top 13

April 20, 2015

Sarnano Suite at Cancello EstHere is another good reason to visit Le Marche – bountiful collection of some stunning Verdicchio, many sold direct from the Cantina’s.  Great excuse for any wine lover to explore the Le Marche region.

Verdicchio is a white-wine grape variety that has been cultivated for hundreds of years in the Marche region of central Italy. It is a versatile variety, used both for light, easy-drinking table wines, and for more complex, age-worthy examples. It is commonly lauded by critics as being one of Italy’s best white-wine grape varieties, and is found in vineyards across the country.

It has been documented in the Marche since the 14th Century, but there is suggestion that the variety could have originated in Veneto, where it is known as Trebbiano di Soave. Historians believe that Venetians migrated to the Marche area after the plague, bringing animals and plants, and it is thought that Verdicchio was among these. The variety adapted well to Marche’s terroir and, nowadays, Verdicchio’s spiritual home is in the hills along the Adriatic coast.

Marche has two DOC titles for varietal these wines: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. The grapes may also be used in various blended wines in Marche, usually accompanied by Malvasia and Trebbiano, although these wines usually carry less weight than their varietal counterparts. Verdicchio’s most notable role outside of Marche is in the Garganega-predominant Soave wines alongside Chardonnay: here, it contributes acidity.

Verdicchio No1



Colonnara, Ubaldo Rosi, Brut Metodo Classico, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2008

Verdicchio’s natural acidity makes for a well-structured sparkler; this limited-prodution cuvée offers more richness than most. Arguably the area’s finest.
Price: N/A UK
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 12.5%



Verdicchio No2



Villa Bucci, Riserva, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2009

Easily the most famous and arguably the finest Verdicchio producer, Ampelio Bucci is a great ambassador for the area. Despite its age, this is the current release. The riserva offerings display length on the palate with structure and persistence; the 2009 is even richer than usual.
Price: £25.74-£35.50 Exel, Vini Italiani
Drink 2015-2024
Alc 13.5%



Verdicchio No3




Andrea Felici, Il Cantico della Figura, Riserva, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2011

Leo Felici is a Verdicchio perfectionist and it shows. Cement fermented and aged, this has outstanding varietal purity, lively acidity and exceptional length.
Price: £18.25 Lea & Sandeman
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 13.5%


Verdicchio No4




Sartarelli, Balciana, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore 2012

Made from late harvested grapes from a single site. Delicate hints of tropical fruit in a very subtle style. Great balance and finesse.
Price: £22 Astrum Wine Cellars
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 15%


Verdicchio No5



Umani Ronchi, Plenio, Classico, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva 2009 
One of Jesi’s most visible and consistent producers, this is an underrated gem, with spiced apple and dried pear flavours, subtle wood notes, lively acidity and distinct minerality.
Price: £22 Exel Wines, Great Western Wine, James Nicholson , Roberts & Speight
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 14%




Verdicchio No6




Collestefano, Verdicchio di Matelica 2013

Fabio Marchionni farms his vineyards organically. This has become something of a cult wine. Golden apple and cinnamon aromas lead onto notes of mango on the palate.
Price: £11.49 Les Cave de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 13%


Verdicchio No 7




Stefano Antonucci, Le Vaglie, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2013

Antonucci is one of the area’s most inimitable characters; his wines are flawless, with great intensity. This wine, from the top 2013 vintage, is particularly so.
Price: £14 St Andrews Wine Co, Vinum
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 13%


Verdicchio No8




Bisci, Verdicchio di Matelica 2013

Matelica’s best-known producer; gorgeous aromas of dogwood, spearmint and green apple. The wine glides across the palate – ultra clean and delicious.
Price: £15 (2012) Vini Italiani
Drink 2015-2019
Alc 13.5%


Verdicchio No9


Colonnara, Cuprese, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore 2013 

Made by the best cooperative for Verdicchio, this is a beautifully structured wine that can be appreciated after six months or years; great value.
Price: £9.80 Alvini
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 13.5%

Verdicchio No10




La Staffa, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2013

Impressive varietal focus, but this wine shies away from simple fruit, offering flavours of mint and herbal tea with distinct minerality.
Price: £13-£14 Armit Wines, Exel Wines
Drink 2015-2018
Alc 13.5%


Verdicchio No11



Colonnara, Cuprese, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 1991

Golden yellow; aromas of honey, banana, orange blossom and geranium. Outstanding length and complexity, vibrant acidity; amazing shape at 24 years.
Price: N/A UK
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 13%



Verdicchio No12



Villa Bucci, Riserva, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2004

Expressive aromas of almond pastry and orange peel; excellent depth of fruit. Good acidity, outstanding persistence. A pleasing note of creaminess to finish.
Price: N/A UK
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 13%



Verdicchio No13




Garofoli, La Selezione Gioacchino Garofoli, Riserva, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2008

From a great family estate, this riserva is made from lateharvest grapes. Layers of fruit, beautifully structured – very sexy!
Price: £30-£31 Mondial, Pipai
Drink 2015-2025
Alc 14%


The undiscovered Sangiovese

March 24, 2015

While Tuscany may provide the most evocative illustration of Sangiovese’s prowess, it turns out this talented grape has many other homes too. Richard Baudains finds distinctive alter egos and wallet-friendly prices as he explores beyond its heartland.

The undiscovered SangioveseSangiovese is far and away Italy’s most planted variety. It accounts for a staggering 71,000 hectares of vineyard, equivalent to 11% of the national surface area. It was recently calculated that it is present, either as the principal or as a complementary grape, in no fewer than 243 DOC/Gs across the country. The best known of these are obviously Tuscan. Sangiovese is the grape of the region’s high-profile DOCGs (Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano), of numerous monovarietal SuperTuscans, and of a whole raft of minor local denominations.

Tuscany does not, however, have a monopoly on the cultivar in central Italy. Sangiovese is the principal red grape of Romagna and, a little-known and perhaps unexpected fact, it is also the most planted variety in the neighbouring regions of Umbria and Marche. Sangiovese-based wines from these regions do not get the media exposure of their Tuscan counterparts, but there are excellent reasons for seeking them out. Anyone with nostalgia for the aroma and the juicy vibrancy of young Sangiovese will find great examples in the neighbouring regions of a varietal style that Tuscany has largely forgotten.
On the other hand if you are looking for plush concentrated fruit in the SuperTuscan vein, or the high seriousness of an austere riserva, you will find those too. And because prices have not caught up with continually improving quality, you will also be getting super value for money. Having said that, however, it would be doing Tuscany’s neighbours a gross injustice to present them as simply the source of affordable lookalikes, because the Sangiovese wines of Romagna, Umbria and Marche have distinctive characters all of their own.


Sangiovese: Undiscovered Marche Wine

March 18, 2015

Undiscovered MarcheLeading Sangiovese producers – monovarietal or blend Bucci; Boccadigabbia; Capecci Sasn Savino; Ciù Ciù; Il Conte-Villa Prandone; Murola; Saladini Pilastri; Velenosi
In wine-producing terms, Marche is the sleepiest of the central Italian regions. Less ambitious perhaps than its neighbours, less glamorous certainly. Marche has long been the region with the biggest internal wine consumption in the country and much of its production is geared towards supplying the locals with honest, everyday drinking. However there is much more to discover. Verdicchio is the region’s best known wine outside Italy, but surprisingly Marche grows more red than white grapes, and most of this is Sangiovese.
The vast majority of the production comes under the basic, widely planted Rosso Piceno DOC, while the top-end Rosso Piceno Superiore originates in a restricted area near the beautiful medieval town of Ascoli Piceno, the most southerly outpost of Sangiovese along the Adriatic coast. Clay soils and a warm, maritime climate combine to create hearty reds. The basic DOC is rustic in the best sense. The superiore version on the other hand is capable of the refinement that comes with a minimum of 12 months’ oak ageing and a noticeably superior fruit quality. The typical tasting note reads something like ‘spicy-floral with distinct notes of pepper, full body and big dry tannin’.
The DOC stipulates a blend of 70% of the native Montepulciano and a maximum 30% Sangiovese, relegating the latter very much to the role of complementary variety. Producers tend not to enthuse about Sangiovese, but it has an important function. On its own, Montepulciano can be overpoweringly tannic and one-dimensional.
As Marica Ciccarelli from leading producer Velonesi, says, ‘Sangiovese by itself is not really very expressive, but it softens the Montepulciano, tones down the tannins and gives contrast and elegance.’
The other possible source of Sangiovese is the IGT Marche label. The IGT allows for the bottling of a wide range of monovarietals, among them Sangiovese. Since the denomination is regional, the wines are less identifiably terroir-driven and, as is in the case of IGTs in general, reflect house styles more than soils and climate. Ciù Ciù (pronounced like the train) for example makes deeply coloured Sangiovese with big, juicy fruit in the modern oenological style. If you are looking for less sophisticated winemaking, Murola makes a toothsome artisan wine with bags of character. Boccadigabbia’s Saltapicchio, on the other hand, is more classic and is the wine which more than any other suggests there could be a future for quality monovarietal Sangiovese in Marche. However, the competition from Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah may well prove too strong for the native grape and it is more likely that the new generation of reds in the region will be based on international varieties.


Verdicchio – A Much Needed Ray of Sunshine

January 16, 2015

Undiscovered marcheIf the map of Italy is a thigh-high boot, Marche is the soft leather bit, just behind the knee. Appropriate, perhaps, for the home of Italian leather (shoes and handbags, anyone?). Equally appropriate for its behind-the-knee status on the global wine map.

Framed on one side by the infinity-blue of the Adriatic sea, and on the other by the spine of the Apennines, it’s an unassuming landscape of soft hills, dotted with olive trees that was in early May marked by the heady scent of jasmine. Medieval fortress towns of rose-pink and apricot brick rise steeply up to church steeples, a tumble of terracotta roof tops scattered beneath, warm in spring sunshine. Linden trees line and perfume cobbled streets.

It’s not famous for fine wine, and produces less than 2% of Italy’s total production by volume (still a respectable one million hectolitres, mind you), yet the irony is that the region boasts 15 DOCs and no fewer than five DOCGs (7% of the total DOCGs in Italy). A significant 40% of its production is DOP wine, and another 33% is from the single IGP Marche. This makes the region somewhat unusual in that 73% of production is DOC or IGP compared to the regional average of under 50%. A lot of should-be-good wine is falling into ignominious obscurity.

It is being exported – about €50 million-worth in 2012 – and the most significant markets are to the price-conscious northern Europeans: Norway, Sweden, Germany and the UK. In the UK, the wine we most often see is the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi which sits quietly near the lower shelves, a price tag hovering around the £6 mark. The odd DOCG Riserva makes it up to the £10. It’s not making waves.

With all the right aims in mind, the region has embarked on a ‘Brand Marche’ campaign, linking its heritage of coastal beauty spots, mountain walking (for one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, visit the Frasassi Caves), distinctive cuisine, speciality industries of leather work and papermaking, medieval architecture and of course, wine. An injection of €11 million has, in part, gone towards vineyard restoration, replacing international varieties with autochthonous ones, replanting old vines, introducing new clones, and changing training systems. A wad of money has gone directly into marketing, both traditional export markets and new shiny eastern ones [see my article about the logistics of this to be published on 3 Jan – JR].
It’s all brave and admirable but fraught with obstacles.

Gualdo di Macerata and Cancello EstChange comes awkwardly to a region ingrained in its ways. There is an increasing tension between the old and the new. The generation gap is beginning to make its presence felt as the sons and daughters of traditional winemaking families head back from universities and colleges with oenology and business qualifications under their belts. Their knowledge of social media, 21st-century technology and philosophy, exposure to international wine, and winemaking experience in other regions and countries, has begun to fret against the established paternal way of working. For the current generation of winemakers in their fifties and sixties, modern means eighties-style labels and nineties-style oak. Websites, where they exist, are often clunky. Marketing means paying your annual dues to the Consorzio and hoping for the best. The children are talking about lower yields and organic certification; the parents are talking about their sfuso (bulk wine) customers.

Verdicchio from Le MarcheSales of sfuso – the ‘bring your own demi john and we’ll fill it from the tank’ wine – massively dominates the local market. Literally translated as ‘loose wine’ (loose as in unpackaged rather than of dubious moral origin), it’s sold at jaw-droopingly low prices. Perfectly drinkable DOC Verdicchio clocks in at around €1.65-€2.20 per litre of wine, and vino da tavola at about €1, ensuring a steady stream of local customers, and regular cash in hand with minimal outlay – no bottling lines, no labels, no glass or corks or capsules or boxes, no shipping, no getting to grips with import and export regulations. It might also serve to hobble the dream of Brand Marche. Sfuso wines don’t export well, and without a branded bottle on the table, the image of the wineries and DOCs quickly blurs into anonymity.

With very few wines being bottled, the development of brand image and labelling has remained clumsy and naïve; marketing is haphazard, where it exists at all; clones are selected for high yields, youthful aromatics and disease resistance; old vines are dug up; winemaking is perfunctory. Cheap and clean is the order of the day. Ironically, there are some plus sides to this approach: the Verdicchio often spends slightly longer on its lees in tank and is cold-settled rather than harshly filtered, resulting in – on more than one occasion – wines with more complexity than their limited-edition bottled counterparts which could be raw with acidity and Pinot Grigio-like in their heavily filtered neutrality. The Montepulciano, usually made under the DOCs Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, also sometimes turned out to have brighter, healthier fruit thanks to simple stainless steel élevage, unfrazzled by the irritation of too much oak. From my very brief observations of wineries with a strong sfuso customer base, the quality of the bottled wines tends to suffer quite markedly in comparison. It seemed to me that for the producers who have decided to bottle their wines and sell further afield, their sfuso market had to be sacrificed, and to good effect.

Italian Cooking School in Italy

Italian Cooking School in Italy – Food and Wine Paring

The biggest surprise for me, and perhaps another one of the challenges that the region faces in getting its message out to the rest of the world, is that to a certain extent the Marche grapes turn accepted wine-drinking conventions on their heads. Verdicchio, averaging about £6 a bottle on supermarket shelves and drunk within a year of being made, is a white wine that benefits greatly from some bottle age. Montepulciano from the Marche, on the other hand, often sold with a couple of years of bottle age, actually seems to be a red wine that benefits greatly from being drunk young – and the younger the better! Unfortunately this problem is exacerbated at source: even though many Verdicchio producers will tell you that their whites age beautifully, they are not only selling it young and drinking it straight from the tank, but even local restaurants are putting overly young bottles of their own ageworthy whites on the tables of their customers. It frustrated me no end that we sat down to eat glorious platters of fish straight from the sea accompanied by the depressingly ubiquitous banana and pineapple fermentation-ester smells and flavours of very young wine that could have come from anywhere. On the other hand, producers earnestly plied us with verticals of Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, eager to show us the ageing potential of Montepulciano, keen for the dismissal of its image as a rustic wine. Over and over, we applied ourselves to the task, and every time, I went back to the youngest, breathed in its rowdy fruit and friendly tannins, and pulled the glass towards me. Montepulciano from this particular region ages like a peat man – all the colour and structure is there, but it becomes leathery, dried out, and withered.

Verdicchio on the other hand is extraordinary. Throughout our trip, we encountered a wine that had an electric acidity – mouthwatering, racy, vibrantly refreshing. Even in its simplest form, it provides a wonderful foil to the seafood of the region, and is delicious with one of the best snacks in the world – a local speciality called olive all’Ascolana from Ascoli Piceno. (The large mild green Ascolana olive is a regional variety, which is stuffed with minced veal, pork and seasoning and then dipped in parmesan and breadcrumbs and deep fried. [Old regulars of The Walnut Tree near Abergavenny may remember this staple from Marche chef Franco Taruschio – JR]) Much like Chenin, Verdicchio also comes in an array of different styles: deliciously fresh sparkling wines; simple young bright quaffers; serious oaked Riservas; rich passito and late harvest sweeties, all of which work very well.

Verdicchio Undiscovered Le March There are two DOCs producing Verdicchio, both in the Ancona province. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is the bigger zone in both area and production. It lies to the west of Ancona, right on the Adriatic coast, and the wines are marked by their close proximity to the sea. Verdicchio di Matelica is much further inland – closer to Umbria – and the vines are planted at higher altitudes. Without the moderating influence of the sea, daily and seasonal temperature variations are more extreme, and the wines tend to be more powerful, more complex and more characterful.

In the right hands, Verdicchio takes on the aristocracy of Riesling, and the rich dimensions of Chenin. It is a grape of considerable power and palate weight, quite easily reaching 14% without being picked too ripe and without losing any of its piercing acidity. The DOC yield limitations are generously high, so for those who have the courage and vision to come in well below them, the rewards are palpable in terms of complexity.

Clone choice has a tangible effect on the finished wine: many producers have, in the last 15 years or so, switched to clones developed by the dominant Italian vine nursery Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo in northern Italy, producing a greater number of much looser bunches of smaller grapes which reduces the risk of rot and mildew, increases primary aromatics, and increases yield. Old vines of the old traditional clones have been pulled out everywhere, but some young winemakers are returning to these clones, prepared to put the work in the vineyard and battle with nature in order to benefit from the longer ageing potential and more interesting flavour profile of the old clones.

Like Riesling, Verdicchio seems to be at its best made in neutral tanks – whether concrete, stainless steel or very old wood. The modern winemaking trends of the last 15 years – cold fermentation, inoculated commercial yeasts, racking off the lees very quickly, tight filtration and zero air contact – have not done the wine any favours. There is very little point, I would have thought, in producing a Pinot Grigio lookalike with such a multi-dimensional grape. Fairly inexpressive when young, with just three years in bottle Verdicchio starts to take on an intriguing complexity: starting with a distinct nuttiness that becomes more creamy and toasted with age. The years give it the patina of wild honey, a herbal streak, quince fruit and flavours that unfold and dance and weave in the glass. It’s a wine that lends itself to slow drinking, re-examination, perhaps even decanting to allow it to unfold. It marries effortlessly with the salty sweetness of prosciutto and the local chiauscolo salami, the gentle tang of pecorino cheese, richly meaty snails in lobster sauce, wild fennel dishes, and the stunning seafood that comes from the equally stunning Adriatic coastline.

Sarnano Suite at Cancello EstAny serious wine lover ought to have a stash of Marche wines in the cellar – dusty bottles of Verdicchio quietly gathering honeyed savour in a dark corner, and then a bottle or two of young Rosso Conero by the door, ready to grab for that quick throw-together supper of fennel salami, tomato salad and crusty bread.

Below are the best producers I encountered.

Garofoli – some seriously ageworthy Verdicchios and good sparkling wines.

Moroder – making mostly reds, good robust Montepulciano.

La Staffa – young winemaker making stunning Verdicchio.

Umani Ronchi – trendsetter who put modern Marche on the map, international polish.

Italian Wines

January 6, 2015

This local winery’s commitment to Italian wines and tradition, along with the conviction that wine should be the most authentic expression of the land, provide the basis of a vast range of wines: from the Passerina and Pecorino grape varieties indigenous to the Marche region – rediscovered thanks to the efforts of just a small number of winemakers – to the more well known Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet, Barbera, Pinot and Chardonnay. Another reason to love Le Marche.

There are different kinds of Italian Holidays.

August 14, 2014

Magical Gualdo perched on a hilltop overlooking the Sibillini National Park

Italian Holidays. Most people who take trips to Italy, tend to travel to the places where everyone else flocks and end up in villages along with too many other tourists. Maryke Roberts explored eastern Italy and found herself gently trapped in Gualdo di Macerata in Le Marche.

Landing in Rome at last, a friend collects us from the airport. We are bone-weary after a day and night of flying and waiting in airports – our brains are a tad foggy but ready to enjoy our Italian Holidays.

As we drive along fields of sunflowers, eyes at times sorely pressed by their bright yellow faces, I am reminded of the jigsaw puzzle I received as a gift one birthday. Greens almost too green, blue skies appealing loudly to one’s senses and golden yellow sunflowers swaying in the breeze. A little further on, the onslaught of the heat wave that raked Italy over the last few days left some fields scorched, with black flowers and hanging heads.  “Is there anything more woebegone than a scorched sunflower?” I wonder out loud. Their gigantic heads, the size of large dinner plates, no longer give their faces to the sun, heads heavy with seed and oil, and have keeled over.

Farmers on tractors plough through the bleak fields leaving russet sods patterned in thick rows. The rich soil and the rhythmic drone of the engines remind of days gone by when folk still turned, hoed and toiled, and had to turn in early in the evening for sleep , solace and rest if they wished to reach the yield their souls and bodies yearned for.

With the friendly smiles that greet us on our arrival at the guest house, tiredness is soon forgotten.  Cancello Est in Via Borga is built into the city wall of the historical Gauldo and one can almost see Rapunzel high up on the stone walls. Our shower and bathroom has a fairytale view over the valleys and ridges of the Sibilini Peaks in the near distance. Our room fronts the street where only a narrow cobbled alley separates us from a tiny restaurant nestled a little higher up. Two small tables angle together comfortably on the sidewalk and allow for festive confidentialities to carry on into the slanted hours of the night.

Sunflowers everywhere in Le marche

Sunflowers everywhere in Le marche

In the morning we take a few leisurely steps to the family restaurant, Carletti’s where we sit and sip our cappuccinos at the counter, personally served by Maria Carletti. The restaurant has the family name since it opened its doors in 1959, but is endearingly known by locals as Maria’s after the inimitable owner who brews your coffee herself. The porch overlooking the piazza is where you will meet the old gents a-drinking, a-smoking and sharing sophistries in the morning and playing cards into the soporific hours.

Il Forna gives us our daily bread, and should we venture out for the day to a neighbouring village some freshly baked seductions too, such as a loaf of foccacia or slices of pizza to gobble up as we go.

Beautiful bread from the Forno in the Square in Gualdo di Macerata

Beautiful bread from the Forno in the Square in Gualdo di Macerata

One evening, after much exploring in beautiful places such as Belforto del Chienti, Fermo and San Benedetto del Tronto a saintly rains softly starts falling and we find our hungry, tired selves at the other restaurant in the village. As I open the door of Da Cicco, owned for yonks by Patrizio and Teresa Isidori, we are enfolded into the warmth of their hearth.  Gigantic framed jigsaw puzzles deck the walls, huge laughter and tall tales are shared by an array of tourists at the tables. Being foreign to the country and its fares, our waitress, Michelle Roibu, the soul of the space, repeatedly has to explain the meaning of each course on the menu.

I overhear, from a table of fourteen English tourists next  to us, a husband confiding in his wife: “I don’t quite understand, but I really do not want pasta with each and every course, but she keeps saying pasti this and pasti that..” His wife answers him equally sotto voce: “Let’s just hush and follow the others, I am sure we will find our way through just fine.”

I order  their Roman version of a mixed grill, the plate laden with chicken, pork and lamb. At first glance all the cuts look alike but with our very first bite wafts of rosemary, pinches of Maldon salt and pepper, tango with the tangy grilled flavour on our taste buds, and we tuck away like hungry pilgrims.

From our bedroom window, we can gaze at life being lived or laze in the big marble bath and look out into the distance; tiny blocks of coloured earth quilted together in smaller and smaller pieces until they merge with the mountains in the distance.  Special Italian holidays.

We see sheep trail down the verdant hills in neat little rows and I am told they are not farmed for their meat – rather for their milk that makes the wonderful flavour-rich pecorino cheese. In the quiet early morning, the bells around their necks gently jingle and wake the valley, and sometimes when the wind is courteous, it may carry the clear sound of a shepherd singing to his herd as they graze.


Typical Local Cuisine

One evening, the managers of our guest house, Marc Spendlove and Ivan Kruger invite us to share supper with them.  Over a glass of perfectly chilled white Verdicchio and encouraged by tables heavily laden with a hearty fare of cold meats and cheeses we get to know our hosts. Laughing at our inability to pronounce the names of marinated artichokes, olives, tomatoes and capers we learn how they came to co-own this luxurious guest house.  Although they can laugh now, fourteen months ago the house was a ruin and they were challenged by frustrating building processes, bureaucratic stumbling blocks all in a language they did not understand. Ivan is a born and bred South African and Marc of bold Welsh stock.

They used to live further down in the valley, Ivan recounts, where the snow can pile up to a meter deep and on one occasion were unable to use their motorcar for six weeks.  “I told Marc we should move into the village and initially considered something like an attic or roomy loft space.” One fine morning when shopping at the local hardware outlet, they spotted the Vendesi – (For Sale) sign in the window of the ramshackle house next door. Upon telling the agent, Monika Brunni, that they wished to downsize and that they wanted to view the inside of the house, she jokingly wondered if they were sure about that, as the house had ten bedrooms!

They went to have a look. Some rooms were in such a bad state of disrepair that it wasn’t safe to enter. They discussed the options with a partner, Mirella Corsetti, and decided to buy and restore the house, and to incorporate a guest house and a cooking school. “We are still laughing about the multiple misunderstandings we had when viewing several other places about the meaning of the ‘3 Pianos’ that were on sale with the roof units. It took us a good while to find out they were not pianos, but referred to the Italian word for ‘storeys’,” Marc shares.

Architect Pierro Perogio, who specialises in historic buildings, told them that the top floor was built in 1625 and that the other levels were even older! When they bought the house, the walls, floors and beams were a real mess of plastering, thick cement and layers of paint. The lower levels revealed deserted pig pens and chicken coops. As a result of the all added weight over the years the original wooden beams were either broken or so badly bent that they could no longer be used. Initial alterations revealed frescoes on the ceiling and the original quarry tiles on the floors – their age estimated at over five hundred years. These were lifted, restored and deftly laid again.

Ivan relates how the outer wall, dating from the eighteenth century and built on the boundary wall of the village, was taken down stone by stone and rebuilt, complete with steel columns to allow for sufficient reinforcement in the possible event of an earthquake. “Three seismic engineers assisted the decision to anchor the wall with a swimming pool, which now basically keeps the whole guesthouse standing.”

Italian Holidays

The Pool at Cancello Est

One evening, we drive to Da Pippo e Gabriella Restaurant in Sant Angelo in Pontano, a stone’s throw away from Cancello Est. This restaurant has repeatedly made it into the Michelin Guide for their excellent cuisine. My choice is their spaghetti with Amatriciana sauce, swimming with meaty flavours of pork cheek and bacon together with some piquant pecorino cheese. I find space to treat my taste buds to a scrumptious serving of their homemade tiramisu. As we leave, Pippo bids us farewell with what I sense is the same warm gratitude I am sure he has been showing for the past forty years. Italian Holidays are made of this.


During our stay in Gualdo, we follow the doings of a farmer in the field below our window as he slowly but surely negotiates the plough through the tawny coloured stubbles, leaving shaven strips of land for the eyes to stroke. At sunset around seven, the sun still softly kissing the last few hillocks, the drone of the tractor engine ceases and I imagine a short, plump wife waiting at home with freshly baked bread, chunks of pecorino and slices of carefully cured cold meats.

Nurtured by the people and the place, I understand how Marc and Ivan found renewed contentment and purpose here, making time to cook jams, taking long walks in the valley with their dogs, Mayling and Darling, and gazing at the starry still life of the valley till the wee hours of the night.

Tips for Different Kinds of Italian Holidays

–        Italian Holidays for skiing, should you wish to, Gualdo is a comfortable distance from ski resorts (of which there are many in the area) such as Sassotetto. We used Cancello Est as our base in summer and explored the whole region in short daily excursions. Bookings can be done online at or send an e-mail to – check out the reviews on Trip Advisor

–        Sylvia Gould is the friendly source of information in the tourist office and speaks pukka English! E-mail her at for more information regarding the village and region. Or you will usually find her at the ProLoco Offices in the Village Square

–        When looking for villages for Italian Holidays, take care to add the region or province in which it is situated in your search, as many places across the land takes their name from the very same persons. Gualdo where we stayed is known as Gualdo MC, referring to the region Macerata.

–        Should you hire a vehicle and wish to use GPS, type in the postal code of the relevant village you wish to travel to. That will ensure accurate directions.

–        It is best not to start your journey before doing some thorough research, and wise practise to keep a travel guide of good repute handy. Some useful words, phrases and correct pronunciation may prove its weight in perfectly cooked pasta at the very least. Every village has its own little tourist info bureau for specific local information, but being able to greet or thank someone when you have asked them for directions, even in broken Italian, may fix your early morning coffee order just a little more pronto together with a sunflower smile!

Maryke Roberts article first appeared in the South Africa’s Vrouekeur Magazine 

Accommodation Deals Italy

July 30, 2014

Accommodation Deals ItalyWedged  between the verdant Apennines and a turquoise Adriatic, Le Marche is a varied region, and one you could enjoy weeks of slow travel exploring. Sparsely populated inland areas are unspoilt and untouristed, particularly in the southwest, where stone hill-villages make atmospheric bases for hikes into the spectacular Monti Sibillini range. Ancona the region’s capital, is a gritty but engaging port town which gives way heading southwards to the dramatic Cornero Riviera with its natural white-pebble beaches backed by milky Dover-esque cliffs. In contrast north and south of the Ancona area the coastline is hemmed with boxy new-build resorts and mechanically pruned beaches of coarse sand.

Of Le Marche’s old-fashioned and slightly forgotten seaside resorts, Pesaro is the largest, with a Renaissance centre maintaining its dignity behind the package-tour seafront, and lesser-known Fano to the south offers a similar experience. Away from the scorching seaside fun, most appealing – and best known – of Le Marche’s sights are the small hilltop town of Urbino  with its spectacular Renaissance palace, and the dramatic fortress of  San Leo just across the border from San Marino. Further south, architecturally fascinating Macerata is a sleepy university town surrounded by lovely countryside, and, right on the regional border, the fascinating city of Ascoli  is a worthy stopoff on the way into Abruzzo. Loreto just south of Ancona is one of Italy’s top pilgrimage sites, the basilica providing shelter for what Catholics claim is Jesus’ childhood house, air freighted to Le Marche by a band of angels.

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Accommodation Deals Italy

We have put together a range of special accommodation deals Italy , all with different focuses so that you are able to get the most out of the Marche area. Many of the suggested attractions form part of “Undiscovered Marche”, known mainly to the locals. We feel sure that these specials will give you a wonderful taste of the area and leave you with memories of a wonderful holiday in a part of Italy that so many have not discovered.