Category Archives: The Wine Guy

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part II

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 2
maremmaLeaving our hotel on a gorgeous early fall morning, we head south on the A1/E80 following the old Roman road to Rome, crossing the flatlands around the provincial capital of Grosetto, and entering the rolling hill country of the Monti dell’Uccelina. From there we branch inland into the rugged wine region around the mountain town of Scansano.

The region around Scansano takes its name from a varietal of the Sangiovese called Morellino. One of the more romantic theories around the name is that it comes from “morello”, which literally means “brown”, the color of the region’s horses. More down to earth observers suspect it derives from the morello cherry, a dark red cherry known for its acidity and tartness. In any case, the local Sangovese has been granted the highly prized DOCG status since 2007 as Morellino di Scansano. A Morellino di Scansano must consist of at least 85% local Morellino, with up to 15% coming from a list of other permitted varietals maintained by the Tuscan wine authorities. This makes it essentially a local version of the wines of Chianti. Morellino can come in two subtypes, the Morellino di Scansano, which does not require any oak aging and is primarily a light, crisp everyday drinking wine, and the Morellino di Scansano Riserva, which must be held for two years after the harvest, with at least one of these years in oak, a much heavier wine with considerable aging potential.

outdoors

Our first goal in the region is Col di Bacche, just outside Montiano in the high hills around Montiano. This relatively new property of 13.5 hectares rises above the surrounding hills and offers a splendid view of the bright blue Mediterrenean in the distance. It was first planted in 1998 with the first release appearing in 2004. It has rapidly advanced, becoming one of the premiere wineries in the area. We are greeted by Cosimo Carnasciale, son of the founder. Before trying the wines, we talked a bit about the intense heat and drought and its probable effect on the vintage. Cosimo was very upbeat, explaining to us that the area around Scansano is considered the hottest part of Tuscany, and that the weather there had been hot, but not drastically so by local standards. He’s expecting lower yields, but the quality is high and there has been no signs of diseases, which seem to worry Tuscan winemakers considerably more than the weather.

We began with the Vermentino, which was an interesting contrast to the Narà which we had tried the day before. Here, the nose was decidely fruity and florid, with very pleasant acidity that did not overpower but promised a good pairing with fish, antipasti and milder salamis.

vermentinoWe followed this with the 2015 Morellino di Scansano, the lighter of the two Morellinos produced here. It’s a ruby red wine meant for relatively early drinking, although it has some aging potential with 40% seeing five months in old French oak while the majority undergoes clarification is stainless steel tanks. This yields a well-structured fruity wine with soft tannins and notes of vanilla and strawberries. It’s lovely now.

scansano

We next turned our attention to the Morellino di Scansano Riserva Rovente Riserva 2013. The flagship. This wine is made from a hand selection of the best grapes with a maceration 18 to 21 days to express the full potential of the harvest and aging in new French oak for 12 months. “Rovente” is Italian for “fiery” or “passionate”, and the wine expresses these sentiments well, with a warm, round nose, mouth-filling, spicy body and a full finish. This wine is built to go the distance, and should reward 10 years or so of aging. It is considered one of the best Morellino di Scansano by many of Italy’s leading wine journals.

sreserva

Factoid: Cosimo remarked that in the future, the wine will be labelled solely Morellino di Scansano Riserva, dropping the word “rovente”, which can also mean “sizzling” or “scorching”. He says the winery has decided this is a bit over the top now that the vineyard has found its place among the top producers.

cosimo

As his final offering, Cosimo brought out his pièce de résistance, the 2014 Poggio alle Viole (Hill of Violets), his version of a Brunello di Montalcino. It is 100% hand selected Sangiovese, as is Brunello from what he considers his best parcel and sees 15 months of aging in small oak barrels. (Brunello actually requires 36 months) Oddly enough, he is not allowed to put the DOCG of Morellino di Scansano on the label: although the DOCG requirements mandate that the wine should be mostly (85%) Sangiovese, it cannot be 100% Sangiovese. It’s an Italian thing–Go figure.

poggio_viole

In any case, the wine is lovely, but a bit young. Dark ruby red with a gingery nose with some peppery hints. Lot’s of body in the mouth and a deep finish. The tannins, not overpowering, but clearly present, hint at a wine that could improve for many years. Cosimo thinks it could go 20 years. This is clearly the masterpiece of the house and Nancy, who usually trusts that I will buy everything in the house, took no chances on this one, insisting we had to have some. This is high praise indeed.

Leaving Col di Bacche heading south, we pass lovely hill town of Manciano in Toscana with its magnificent walls and medieval Fattoria della Campiglio, its stronghold. It’s a lovely day and we’d love to visit, but we want to get to Scansano for lunch and it looks like a bit of a drive. And so it is. The SS323 linking Scansano and Manciano winds it way up 500 meters through brush and pine forests with wonderful views towards the coast and into the mountainous region separating the Maremma from central Tuscany. The top is down and the weather is perfect. A lovely drive.

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part I

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 1
maremmaOn this trip, we’re going to visit the southwest of Tuscany along the Mediterranean coast. Home to surprisingly good, and very reasonably priced, wines you might want to try to find. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll also look into what is probably the most prestigious (and correspondingly expensive) district in Tuscany, which you probably haven’t heard much about as the wines are usually locked away from prying little fingers. More on that later.

Let’s start with our primary goal, the Maremma. We’re in the Porsche, so if I’m driving alone it’s probably about two-plus hours. However, Nancy’s along, so let’s call that two and a half. We drive west into the rolling hills of Tuscany as far as Sienna then swing south on the SS223 towards the principal city of the Maremma, Grosetto. We pass through some rugged, rocky hills that seem to form a natural barrier between this area and Chianti and finally emerge into the green rolling hills of our first target, the wine district of Montecucco clustered around the picturesque hill town of Cinigiano. Our goal is the winery of Leonardo Salustri in the village of Poggi del Sasso, about five mile from Ciniziano.

view

Although Poggi del Sasso is quite small, we had an interesting time finding the place due to the peculiarities of Italian signage, where signs facing the driver and pointing to the left can mean (1) go straight ahead down the road in front of you, (2) turn left here, or, (3) we’re just across the street. After a round trip through the village and several expeditions on foot, we stumbled into the business office at the back of the cantina, where we were cordially greeted at last.

nara_property

The Salustri family has been making wine in this area since the turn of the twentieth century, making it one of the oldest wineries in the Maremma. Their 50 acre property is located on the outskirts of the Amiata, a series of lava domes surrounding the 5,000 foot high Monte Amiata. The property is certified biologic, meaning that no pesticides or other artificial substances are used in production. He limits his production to the three grapes typical to the Montecucco region, Sangiovese, Vermentino and Ciliegiolo.

nara_wineguy

Our first sampling here was the Vermentino, which is the primary white grape of the western Italian coast and Sardenia. Our host explained to us that his vines were unusual in that Vermentino on his property, while excellent in all other dimensions, lacked nose. He is very jealous of the quality of his grapes–he works closely with the Eneological Institute of Pisa and his grapes are registered as specific types of Sangiovese and Vermentino there–and not about to replace anything on his property. Thus, he very reluctantly brings in grapes from another property to round out the wine. Our Vermentino, the 2015 Narà, certainly was not lacking in this department, having a well-defined mineral nose, not at all floral, but very promising. On the tongue, the wine was mildly acidic and medium bodied with a hint of berry and interesting pear notes in the back of the palate. It had a nice dry finish. Impressive.

nara_vermentino

Our second sampling was the 2015 Marleo Montecucco, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Ciliegiolo, a local varietal known for its large, red grapes (ciliegio is italian for cherry) used primarily for blending, which lends color and fruity notes. The wine is fermented with the skins for about 15 days, matured in steel vats and finishes with six months in the bottle, giving it a light, “drink me now” air, but with sufficient body to stand up to salami, aged cheeses and other heavier flavors. It goes for about 12€ here, so the price should be right if you can find it. If your palate inclines to the lighter red wines, this one’s for you.

marleo

Our final tasting was of the Santa Marta Montecucco. This is 100% hand selected sangiovese with 20 days of fermentation and maceration. To achieve what the winemaker considers the proper balance, half the wine spends 24 months in large (700 gallon) oak barrels while the remainder is kept in steel. According to our host, this lends the wine a taste of oak “from afar” sufficient to bring out the flavors. I agree completely. This is a very large wine, for me comparable to some Brunello di Montalcinos. The oak is there, but moderate, balancing out the fruitier notes and resulting in a dense structure. A lively nose, with strong tastes of black cherries and sage in good tannins. A great finish that sticks with you. This one will go a while.

salustri

Now the good news and the bad news: Salustri is known for two award-winning single vineyard bottlings, Grotte Rosse and Santa Maria, which in the 2013 (latest) bottling drew rave reviews. Sadly, both are sold out. That’s the bad news. Now the good news: There were a couple of unsold magnums in the house and I got some. I’m sure that we could deal with a magnum, although it might be unpleasant later, but I’m keeping this for truly wine loving visitors. You get here first and you get to drink it. Something to consider.

wine_tasting

Leaving Poggi del Sasso we make our way towards Cingiano, the center of the Montecucco wine area, for lunch. Cingiano is a small hill town whose various districts sit upon ever smaller hills with even narrower streets. Quite exciting in the Porsche. We spot our restaurant, which sits on a small square, and note with horror that there’s no place to park. Nancy isn’t about to let me go back around these narrow streets, so things look iffy. Luckily, we see a sign which leads us to a miniscule parking lot with just enough room left for us. I’ll leave the details of the restaurant to Nancy in her blog, other than to say that it had a huge slice of old-guys-eating-enormous-plates-of-pasta local color, but I will tell you about the wine. It was Riserva Rigomoro 2013 from Tenuta di Montecucco. It’s a big one, with a fruity nose shot through with a bright note of cherries. Sapid, with moderate tannins that would reward some aging and a satisfying finish. It would really go nice with some strong cheddar cheese. Tenuta di Montecucco is also an Agriturismo, so if you’ve a yen to watch grapes grow in beautiful surroundings, you might want to put it on your list.

rigomoro

Properly fed, we point the Porsche south south west towards Grosseto and then north west into the rolling hills around Massa Marittima. Here, we find ourselves in one of the latest Italian DOCs, Maremma Toscana, created in 2010. Unlike many of the other DOCGs and DOCs, where specific grapes and blends are prescribed, this one, for the most part, satisfies itself with identifying the locality. The allowed grapes and blends reflect the topsy turvy nature of the zone, requiring a minimum of 40% Sangiovese while admitting any combination of red varieties permitted somewhere in Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante (Granache), Merlot, Petit Verdot and a vast number of native varietals. The white must be based on 40% Vermentino or Trebbiano, but after that it’s Katy bar the door, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and others permitted somewhere in Tuscany.

As the sun sets, we approach our hotel for a well earned rest. I’ll refer you again to Nancy’s blog wherein our further adventures there.