From Napa to Massa

When you are in a wine zone it makes sense to concentrate on the wines of the region itself. But of course there are interesting wines to be tasted or drunk from adjacent zones or indeed from completely different parts of the world.  Here are a few from our stay in Massa Marittima, Southern Tuscany. 

Most of Massa’s numerous restaurants are good or very good if in a typically rustic Tuscan style.  The  town is near enough to the sea to have the benefit of both a fish and a meat-based cuisine, though there is more carne than pesce.  In a holiday and festival town, there is no shortage of places to eat.  However, Era Ora has gone for a much more sophisticated take in its kitchen and its wine list is quite unlike anyone else’s with its multiple choices of Champagne and quality Italian sparkling wines from other regions, the best of the local wines of course and even a few still wines from other parts.  It opened last summer and I can well remember the thrill, even shock, of drinking a glass of Champagne here.  The sharply profiled acidity of this quintessentially northern wine was amazing in the Tuscan Maremma, home of warm climate wines. 


The search for great or even very good white wines in Tuscany is a lot more demanding than finding excellent reds.  There are good if expensive Chardonnays (of course), good Vermentino, and light and highly drinkable Ansonica on the coast. Then there are unique experiments with international grape varieties, for example Elisabetta Geppeti’s Poggio Argentato, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.  The great discovery of this trip has been Villa Capezzana’s barrique-fermented Trebbiano which I have written up elsewhere.  A well known name in Tuscan whites is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano which can be very ordinary but there are some excellent examples.  A new one to me is Isabella, Vernaccia di San Gimignano riserva 2004, stocked by the restaurant, Era Ora. The San Quirico on the label is going to mislead a few, as there is a famous San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany, but of course this wine has to come from the San Gimignano DOCG area. The wine is unusual in that it is fermented and aged for five full years in medium sized botte, in this case 25 hectolitre casks.  That is quite a large container and so the ratio of wood to wine is quite low, resulting in little obvious oak influence.  The wine is a fairly dense mid-yellow in colour (as in the picture), with a dense nose which balances white fleshed fruit, herbs and even olives and a lovely yeastiness. The texture in the mouth is excellent, simultaneously refined and powerful, overall with great intensity.  Definitely one to look out for.

A second, very special bottle indeed was brought to dinner by Fiorella Lenzi, friend, passionate supporter of Fiorentina football club, president of the local wine road and wine producer at Serraiola winery. The bottle was Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon from far away Napa, vintage 1998. This bottle came to Fiorella via the Antinori family who some time ago collaborated with Mondavi at the world famous Ornellaia at Bolgheri.   It was great to have this comparison as we had been to Bolgheri earlier in the day and visited  Angelo Gaja’s fabulous winery, Ca’Marcanda.  His Bolgheri wines are a blend of Merlot and the Cabernets, and while they are impressive on release, the top wine, Ca’Marcanda is certainly also one for the cellar.  The 2006 is very good but a mere baby; it needs time to develop.  After a prolonged struggle with the Mondavi cork, the only solution was to destroy it and then decant.  The 12 year old wine had certainly matured in the intervening years, demonstrating classic cedar box aromas along with lovely mature plummy fruit; altogether a very civilized glass.  Those of us who normally stick to Europe should take note! 


In fact in all this contributed to a memorable occasion.  Our hosts Costanza Soprana and Gianpaolo shared not only their table but their fabulous skyline flat on the top floor of a historic palazzo right in the centre of Massa. It is so central that we had to persuade the people at the ticket barrier for the opera performance that evening that they should let us go to our meal while others went to the second performance that week of Tosca.  Costanza has created a beautiful home, ancient and contemporary by turns, with Travertine marble in every bathroom.  At the same time she has dedicated part of the building to two separate apartments for friends and paying guests, one to note for the future.  We ate Gianpaolo’s excellent celery risotto (typical of the Veneto from which he comes) and then a really fine piece of Cinta Senese, a rare breed pig.   With this we had various bottles from our travels – tropical and lively Chardonnay from Capua and the seriously dense and energetic Syrah from Casavyc.  And, as is so often the case, it turns out there is  a personal and professional connection.  Casavyc and Capua are both advised by the enologist Fabrizio Moltard, who also consults to Fiorella’s Serraiola winery.  Reflecting on this, the particular speciality of all three is making distinctive wines from international grape varieties here in the Maremma. 

Massa in opera week is a simply a great place – the buzz, the people, three operas in this 25th anniversary year, the food, the wine.  This year even the weather has a pleasantly English touch with some cloud and refreshing breeze, alongside brilliant blue skies.  But that’s a subject for another post – wine moments in Massa Marittima’s 2010 opera season! 


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