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Rosso Conero: Wine of the Adriatic Riviera

Rosso Conero comes from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast: the “calf” of the Italian boot. The area is as famous for its beautiful beaches as for its wines, both red and white, but the natural feature that gives Rosso Conero its character (and its name) is Mount Conero, which juts into the sea just south of the port of Ancona. 

Many of the producers are in the Natural Park surrounding the mountain itself, others in an arc down its western foothills. The vineyards are protected from the sea by the mountain and most of them face away from the sea, more to the south and south-west than the east, so they get sunshine throughout the afternoon and evening.

Rosso Conero received its DOC in 1967, with an upgrade to DOCG in 2004. It is made mainly from the Montepulciano grape, with up to 15% Sangiovese permitted (but often included in smaller amounts, or not at all). It’s been made here since at least the 16th century and probably rather longer. 

A Papal medic called Andrea Bacci (like so many doctors, he was also a wine-lover) wrote about Rosso Conero in 1596, and claimed that Hannibal gave the wine to his troops while marching from the Alps towards Rome; he obviously took the scenic route. The great 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi, who came from the Marche, wrote about the wine and its effects on him – he wasn’t coy about getting drunk on it!

When young, Rosso Conero can be very tannic. After a year or two the tannins soften and the deep ruby colour starts to develop bricky hints; the wine ages well for ten years or so, depending on the vintage and maker. A full-bodied, well-structured dry wine, with complex character thanks to the low yields allowed by the regulations, it has plenty of flavour (black cherries and herbs) and even sometimes a touch of jamminess in a very hot year.

If you’re looking for something to go with venison or wild boar, Rosso Conero is a terrific match. It’s highly recommended with steak and other grilled meat too. Vegetarians need big, rich dishes to accompany the wine: foods based on aubergines, root veg or beans work well, as will anything tomato-based.

If the wine is young but you can’t wait, decanting can help soften it. It also removes any deposits that may be left in the wine; some producers prefer not to filter their wines completely as they feel it loses character. Decanting needn’t involve any ceremony, or even special glassware – just find a clean bottle the same size as the one your wine is packaged in, or bigger, and use an ordinary funnel, with a clean cloth (a cotton hankie is ideal) if you want to remove sediment.