Italy’s Adriatic coast is a long strip of sandy beaches, from Venice to Gargano giving space to thousands of tourists each summer. One exception breaks this pattern: Monte Conero, a huge mountain of 572 meters above sea level, south of Ancona, a rock of intense white chalk, covered with a natural park with woods and wildlife. Recently I had a tour to taste the Conero DOCG wines and I was really surprised by the wonderful quality and potential of these wines: Conero: one of Italy’s oldest DOCs, now DOCG.
The Marche is a region mostly known for its widely distributed Verdicchio wines but Conero DOCG is completely different: its wines are dense with high acidity and the DOCG is for Montepulciano grapes only, Verdicchio and Sangiovese have no role here (15% of Sangiovese is allowed though). It’s the most northern spot for Montepulciano – known from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and also present in south and central Italy. But in this ambiance Montepulciano can create miracles. The reason: a combination of soil and climate creating unique conditions. Climate is softened by the sea-breeze from nearby Adriatic – the sea can be seen from many vineyards but mount Conero protects them against cold winds from the North, as they are positioned mostly southeast of the mountain. The subsoil is a clay of Pleistocene period with a high chalk content: this white soil gives the wine its power and a higher acidity than any other vineyard from the Appenines in Marche and Abruzzo. As a result Montepulciano from these vineyards can age many years: generally a period of 10 years is recommendable, but it is no surprise to find a 25-year old Conero DOCG still fresh and drinkable. There are two versions of Conero: the normal Rosso Conero DOC and the Conero DOCG, which in fact is a riserva which needs a minimum of 24 months aging – partly in wood. It is allowed to add up to 15% of other grapes for the DOCG wine, but most producers choose to make a 100% Montepulciano, especially for the riserva version. The Rosso Conero DOC is a nice and easy drinking red with some floral aromas and easy fruit, not tannic and never aged in wood but here I am focussing on Conero DOCG. The region covers 350 hectares and produces some 13.000 hl, of which some 1,3 million bottles are produced – both versions together.
Montepulciano is an interesting grape, it possesses much color and phenolic content and matures relatively late: that is why it needs a warm climate. But when producers follow modern viticultural practice the wine can be of great prestige and potential, rich in organoleptic qualities. Conero riserva DOCG is totally different than all other Montepulciano wines – due to the special territory of Mount Conero: especially when aged the wine reaches an intensity of mature fruit in combination with much freshness: this is remarkable and it makes Conero DOCG one of Italy’s elite wines.
Photo:  Conero rivera, its white calcareous rocks are clearly visibile

Conero DOCG is always matured in wood, most producers use oak barrels, but sometimes big casks are used. Some wines have even difficulty of showing fruit at a young age and need more time but it is very clear that each Conero DOCG needs a couple of years to fully develop. Montepulciano is rich in phenols and due to grape selection and longer maturation this wine contains a lot of them, so really needs time to develop into a harmonious drinking wine. When young it shows a nice ruby-red color, dense and with time it becomes an elegant shining-red.
The perfume of the wine is sometimes intense floral with roses, cherry and fresh fruit when young, developing with age into plums, tobacco, violet, together with some blackberry, blueberry and dried roses sometimes with hints of licorice, eucalyptus and some balsamic note. Tasting a well-matured Conero shows a rich and full-bodied wine, first with wonderful sensations of intense fruit, freshness and a nice roundness. But when longer open it becomes more complex with balsamic notes, plums and black cherry, together with some alcohol and strong tannins, but not problematic: most older versions I tasted were well-balanced.
This wonderful palet makes it one of my prefered Italian wines. It’s only problem is that the name does not start with a ‘B’ like Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello, otherwise people might remember the wine more easily. I am not saying that Conero DOCG is to compare with Barolo, but it is really a great wine with its own special characteristics and great aging potential. It should be taken serious by all serious winelovers and merits a place in all prestigious cellars – Conero DOCG is one of Italy’s great classic red wines.

Photo: state-of-the-art tasting room at Umani Ronchi winery

TASTING  I just quoted some wines, there are more:
– La Calcinara, Conero DOCG Folle 2012
ruby red color
P nice, intense fruit, some blackberry and some light spicy note
T complex taste, elegant fruit, mature, some spices, length, well-balanced, good tannins, some spices, silky and long finish
– Moroder Conero riserva DOCG 2012 Dorico
organic estate producing good quality
very dark color
P some notes of dried cherries, some light spicy note
T very elegant and long taste, intense fruit and some dry note, strong tannins and very long finish.
Not a wine for easy palates, but a wine that has much aging potential and a strong character
– Serenelli Alberto Conero DOCG Varano 2012
P wonderful intense fruit, some spicyness, elegant
T intens fruit, much length, body, some strong tannins too but balanced, elegant fresh fruit, some blackberry, needs some aging and will become very interesting
– Moncaro Conero DOCG riserva ´Nerone´ 2012
P rich fruit, freshness, some cherry and spicyness
T intense and length some sweet notes and fresh fruit, some blackberry and little sweetness in finish
– Conte Leopardi Conero DOCG Casirano 2010
P quite full body, some spicyness, nice fruit
T intense full-bodied wine, strong tannins and powerful fruit, cherry, berries, some mandles, but very drinkable great length
– Angeli di Varano Conero DOCG riserva Stile Libero 2010
P much expressive fruit, cherry, mint, mediterranean spicyness
T some ‘ fatty’ fruit, intense and strong wine, tannins but very opulent fruit, structure, complex with some oak and great finish
– Umani Ronchi Conero DOCG riserva Campo San Giorgio 2011
P some blackberries, fresh fruit, eucalyptus
T still young wine, concentrated fruit which dominates the still strong tannins, great length
and at the vertical tasting we tasted: Umani Ronchi Conero DOCG riserva Cumaro 2003
P wonderful, elegant aroma, much intense fruit, hints of blackberry., mint, spicynees
T the wine needs some time for opening but then shows wonderful intense fruit, length, and still quite strong tannins, but fruit dominates with hints of cherry, berries, and great finishPhoto: the hills around Osimo, part of Conero DOCG wine territory
Photo: wine hills near Ancona, high on Mount Conero
Photo: very impressive vertical tasting at Fattoria le Terrazze with its Sassi Neri riserva going back to 1988: it shows how well these wines can age. My favorite: the 1988, with mature red fruit, blackberry, some balsamic notes, intense long fruit, soft, mature tannins, and great structure. 2004 was also noticeable but even gave the impression of being still rather ‘young’
Photo: Mr Garofoli, owner of Garofoli company

Estates to mention: Calcinara, Fattoria Le Terrazze, Umani Ronchi, Moroder, Moncaro, Garofoli, Angeli di Varano, Pesaresi, Serenelli, and others