Its reputation may be founded on its classic reds, but Italy is fast gaining ground for appetising dry whites – and I'm not talking pinot grigio. Halfway between the devilishly good wines of Italy's north and those from the deep blue Mediterranean sea, Le Marche is at the forefront of turning rosso into bianco. The fact that it's in the shadow of neighbouring Tuscany and Umbria makes it all the more intriguing a destination. Le Marche recalls Tuscany with its colourful patchwork of grain, sunflower and olive groves, its wooded hills and valleys bisected by rivers that run from the Apennine backbone to the Adriatic. Yet despite its mile upon mile of beach, its pretty inland cities remain mercifully unspoilt. One such city, the impressive walled city of Jesi, is home to one of Italy's best white wines, verdicchio.
Not forgetting Rosso Conero, the much-improved local red, Le Marche is basically about verdicchio, the white grape variety grown inland of Ancona around Jesi and Matelica. Verdicchio is not just a high-quality grape when it's handled well, but it's also immensely versatile. It's well-known as an everyday thirst-quencher, like Moncaro's crisp, lemony 2008 Verdicchio, £4.99, Waitrose, or Monte Schiavo's 2008 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, £6.99, buy two = £5.99, Majestic. Yet it's capable of producing more stylish dry whites at classico and riserva levels that go wonderfully well with seafood, and then again fuller-bodied and more intensely flavoured wines that have something of the white burgundy or vouvray about them. This is Italy, so there's even a luscious sweet verdicchio made from dried grapes.
Just a tenth of the size of Jesi, Matelica's 300 hectares of clay-soil vineyards in the west close to the Apennines are higher and more mineral than Jesi, and with more of a continental than maritime climate, Matelica tends to produce wines that are more floral, elegant and mineral. Typical of the style is the delicate 2007 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica, £9.99, Waitrose, and fresh, yet opulent 2008 Le Vaglie Verdiccio, £9.99, Booths. In similar vein, Belisario's 2008 Verdicchio di Matelica "Vigneti del Cerro", around £10.99, Fortnum & Mason, Shills of Station Street, Cumbria (01900 826427), Free Run Juice, Newquay (01872 510037), is a delightfully complex style energised by a fine isotonic freshness, while the 2006 Mirum, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, £19.50, Berry Bros (0800 280 2440) is a wonderfully intense and classically minerally dry white.
Back in verdicchio's bigger heartland of Jesi Classico are to be found deliciously dry whites such as the stonefruit and apple-laden 2008 Ca'Ruptae Verdicchio Classico Superiore, £8.99, Sainsbury's, and Pievalta's organic 2008 Verdicchio Classico Superiore, £8.99, Vintage Roots (0800 980 4992). Another favourite is the 2008 Verdicchio Classico Superiore, Casal di Serra, Umani Ronchi, around £10.95-£13.50, slurp.co.uk, Carluccio shops, SWIG (0800 272272), Christopher Piper, Devon (01404 814139) Villeneuve Wines, Scotland (01721 722500), a mouthwatering dry white with a lovely richness of flavour. While for the richer style, the powerfully built 2006 Plenio Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva, £14.05-£16.50, slurp.co.uk, agwines.com, Wine Unearthed (01477 537072), is a highly distinctive style halfway between a dry vouvray and a white burgundy. Why drink pinot grigio when you can get so much more from verdicchio? Why, indeed.