Castiglione is not really a wine region – it has multiple other attractions which you can see below. But there is an important group of wineries just inland at Ampio, a village which with the best will in the world nobody has heard of. It is south of Scarlino and Gavoranno, and close to the important Etruscan site at Vetulonia or just 20km from Grosseto. The estates are in the Monteregio di Massa Marittima DOC but most do not use that appellation:
The Antinori wine empire stretches far and wide from its origins in a banking family in medieval Florence. The company makes wine as far south as Puglia and and as far away as California. The Maremma is no stranger to big Tuscan names investing here: Frescobaldi already has a presence at Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia near Scansano, while Antinori has another large operation further south in Tuscany, the Fattoria Aldobrandesca, inland near Pitigliano. His latest venture is at Ampio, near the coast and not far from the beautiful old town, port and seaside resort of Castiglione della Pescaia. The land at Le Mortelle was bought in 1999 and since then a former fruit farm has been largely replanted with vines. This is a large scale undertaking as 160 hectares of vines were planted on the 270 ha estate. A vast, new, ‘low impact’ winery was built in 2006-08. The first commercial vintage was 2009. The winery is suitably contemporary and lives up to the all important ‘p’ word in the Antinori web site address: passione-in-evoluzione.
At Le Mortelle Antinori has gone for the grand if interior statement. Modelled on an Etruscan circular tomb – which you can find for example a bit further up the coast at Baratti – the hill was excavated to a depth of 26 metres and the winery build within it. From the bedrock the winery rises on three floors which are encircled by the latest temperature-controlled vats, with the inner circle being reserved for the most important wine. As you can see from the photos it is visually remarkable with the entrance being via the cat-walk like bridge which goes over the working winery. The entrance hall has been used for fashion shows, concerts and a wide range of cultural events and the tasting rooms has stunning 180° views of the vineyard. More importantly the state-of-the-art air circulation system keeps the winery cool and water usage is kept down by intensive recycling. The agriculture is organic.
After our tour we tasted the wines. They are presently making just three lines, so the emphasis is on large volumes of two mid-priced wines and one top wine. Vivia, IGT Toscana 2011 is an innovative blend of the two local grown varieties Vermentino and Ansonica with a dash of French flair in the shape of Viognier. The blend itself is clever given that local custom is white varietal wines and shows a wine making intelligence. (Compare Michele Sata’s Costa di Giulia.) Fresh and aromatic on the nose, the wine shows its best quality in its concentrated peach and melon palate which presumably is due to the Vermentino and Viognier, the Ansonica contributing the freshness. The best commendation of this wine I can give is that at lunch on the seafront at Castiglione after our visit we chose to drink this wine.
The corresponding red wine is Botrosecco Maremma Toscana IGT 2009, a perfectly made international style wine with a Tuscan finish. Beautiful red and black fruit, coffee, chocolate and some green notes, fruit on the finish with balancing acidity and tannins. The grapes are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc, so a thorough going Super Tuscan. There is Sangiovese planted on the estate but I am not sure what they do with it as it does not appear in either of the two reds. (It could of course be used for any of their Toscana IGT wines.) The wine making is very high tech, as you would expect here: the grapes are chilled on arrival and kept for 4-5 days to intensify the aromas; they are fermented with skins being kept on the must for 15 days with frequent punching down; finally after full malolactic fermentation, the wine is matured in barriques for 12 months. There is also a top red wine, Poggio alle Nane which for whatever reason we did not taste on our visit. On our visit there was a mention of the fashionable Petit Verdot but according to website it is another Cabernet blend – this time with Cabernet Franc in the majority. It spends 14 months in new barriques.
I am not entirely sure what market Le Mortelle is aiming at. The wines are very well made, not expensive, with the Botrosecco being very international in style. It is perhaps aimed as a Super Tuscan for the mid-price Italian and international markets. Poggio alle Nane will no doubt command a much higher price. While Vivia is a name that works in Italian and English, Botrosecco doesn’t really work in English and Poggio alle Nane is a traditional place name. The wine making is high quality, the style international but the marketing seems to send mixed messages. But on past form Antinori will have no trouble selling their wines. Le Mortelle is an architectural marvel and we will watch the progress of its wines with interest.
With many thanks to all at Le Mortelle – it is a beautiful place to work. There is an excellent, more detailed, article on Le Mortelle by Paul Howard on the Organic Wine Journal site.
Visiting Montebelli is a slightly surreal experience. The winery is on the same site as and is a part of a luxurious holiday resort (in the picture below from the hotel’s website) which makes me realise how many different experiences of ‘Tuscany’ there can be today. The experience can range from the simple and rustic to the historic architecture of the medieval hill towns to the endless kilometres of seaside holiday apartments and no doubt much more. Local people’s Tuscany will equally vary from the mundane, sometimes ugly, concrete build you see everywhere, the far from beautiful industrial towns of the Arno valley, functional farms, and country villas… Here is the resort’s (very beautiful) view of itself.
On this occasion we had difficulty finding a mutually convenient time to visit and so Claudio who works the cellar agreed to see us in the absence of the owner, which was kind. But finding the winery is not simple as you might think. In the dry heat of the Tuscan summer we drove into the dazzling green of artificially-watered lawns, car parks full of expensive cars and all the things that go with resort life. There is not a working winery to be seen. Being English we patiently queued at reception to ask for directions while the receptionist dealt with a Swiss couple’s lengthy query in German before dealing with another couple equally expertly in English. While we waited for Claudio, we had a coffee in the bar and admired the expensive souvenirs you could buy – Tuscan herbs, dried tomatoes, textiles, wine of course and much else besides. So here is one ‘Tuscany’, cossetted, air conditioned, where everyone speaks your language and is ready to meet your every need.
As Claudio is in charge we get to taste the young wines which are in the vats which is always instructive. I have long wanted to visit here as I have known the Fabula range for quite a while and have used it, especially the reds, as good examples of the wines of the Maremma on tasting courses.
Aside from the resort, Montebelli has a 100 hectare estate which includes 16 hectares of vineyard, 3600 olive trees and a range of other crops. It has been organic for 20 years and is now farmed biodynamically. The quality of the fruit is clear in the wines which are for the most part bold and gutsy, with more refinement in the top wines.
In Italian there is a technical wine making phrase for wines which will become DOC or DOCG: vino atto a divenire (and then you add the name of the denomination). The wine is not a DOC(G) until it has been bottled and approved and thereby receives the official label which you stick over the capsule. (One should never forget that the DOC system was invented with a primary objective of stopping fraud: the number of DOC(G) labels is strictly limited and they are numbered.) For this purposes of this piece I will just settle for inverted commas around the DOC designation:
Fabula Bianco, ‘Maremma Toscana DOC’, 2011 – being 80% Vermentino, and 20% Malvasia according to the technical specification; some Viognier, and Sangiovese ‘in bianco’ according to my notes. A fairly full bodied white with lots of flavour – melon, apricot and citrus fruit, with jasmine floral notes. It would be good to also try a bottled, finished, example of this wine to see how the aromatic notes and the good level of complexity develops with a year or two of bottle age.
Maremmadiavolo 2010 – 100% Sangiovese, a very good example of a simple, warm-climate Sangiovese aged in tank, not wood: beautifully rounded, soft black plum and sour cherry fruit, highly drinkable
Fabula, ‘Monteregio di Massa Marittima Rosso DOC’, 2010 – the staple product here, 100% organically farmed Sangiovese, in effect the house red. Mostly aged in vats but a small part in wood. Good vibrant fruit supported by lively acidity and tannins; forceful rather than elegant but perfect with the robust food of the region – wild boar ragú, salami, grilled meat and the like.
Fabula Riserva, ‘Monteregio di Massa Marittima Rosso DOC’, 2009 – again 100% Sangiovese, tasted from the vat and had been filtered the day before so could be forgiven if not showing its best: the dark fruits dominate here with plums and prunes to the fore along with tobacco, liquorice and vanilla notes from two years in oak; high acidity and full bodied, cultured, a wine for keeping. We also tasted an unfiltered sample which was much less refined and had the punchiness which is fine in the everyday wine but too obvious at a riserva level.
Acantós ‘Toscano IGT’ 2009 – a top wine made from 80% Sangiovese and 20% Syrah, the same blend as Moris Farms’ Avvoltore. The name Acantós is an anagram of Toscana. Rich fruit and toast on the nose, full bodies, sweet perfumed notes, already is and will be fine and full. The Syrah gives a density to the fruit which Sangiovese on its own would lack, while not overwhelming the Sangiovese’s acidity and tannins. One might say, a sort of luxurious rusticity which is no doubt what the resort is aiming at.
and finally: Fabula Passito ‘Toscano IGT’ 2009, 16%, made from Syrah and Sangiovese and subtitled: ‘red wine obtained from overripe grapes’. This sweet red liquid is made from grapes which have been left to semi-dry for a week on the vine the circulation having been broken to the bunches. This results in a must with potential alcohol of 18%. It is macerated for two to three weeks on the skins which results in rich, plummy fruit, a bold and full palate, and a slug of residual sugar which is well balanced by high acidity. It is unusual for the presence of Syrah in the blend and for being what one might call a fresh fruit passito, Traditionally the wine would either be made with the perfumed Aleatico variety or be made after much longer drying out and long ageing in small barrels, ie red Vin Santo. The quality of the fruit here makes this a good alternative option.
A stone’s throw from Le Mortelle, there is a wine business on a very different scale. Tenute Perini is part winery, part equestrian stables and part agriturismo, smart villa with pool to rent. There are 11.5 hectares of land, with eight under vine. This levels really calls for specialisation though there is a good range of wines. On a hot August day we were shown around by owner Laura Perini (right) and assistant Mary. We taste the dry wines as a sort of extended aperitif before we get to the sweet wines:
Brillantino, Maremma Toscana IGT, Vermentino, 2011 – rich peach and apricot nose, quite weighty with some dried fruit notes on the palate, rich finish. A production of 10,000 bottles with picking early in the morning to preserve freshness in this hot climate.
Vignaviva Maremma Toscana IGT Ciliegiolo 2010 – it is always cheering when growers choose genuinely local varieties and this Ciliegiolo is no exception. Fine dark cherry nose, good sour notes on the palate, cherry, plum and spice; aged for up to six months in stainless steel to keep the freshness which is very attractive.
Trombaia Toscana IGT Merlot Sangiovese 2009 – a totally different experience, made with 50/50 Merlot and Sangiovese. Deep plum and prune fruit, powerful young oak notes, smoke and vanilla. I found it difficult to judge the development potential of this quite potent wine.
A Vermentino, a welcome Ciliegiolo and a Super Tuscan are what you might expect in the coastal Maremma; three sweet wines are something unusual. The very business-like drying trays in the picture on the left show the commitment to this project here. This is not Vin Santo as a domestic hobby:
Campochiaro Vermentino Passito IGT 2010 – the most unusual of the three and perhaps my favourite. I am not aware of other ‘semi-dried grape’ sweet wines made from Vermentino but this shows the potential. The grapes are dried for 30 days in the sun with natural ventilation and aged in larger barrels for up to 18 months. Remarkable crystallised pineapple and tropical fruit on nose and palate, honeyed, some of the purity and intensity of an ice wine, good persistence and 100g of residual sugar. Very good.
Dolcepensiero Aleatico Passito 2010 – the product of drying fully ripe grapes directly in the sun for a week and then making wine which is matured in second and third year oak barriques for up to six months. This made of the traditional coastal and island variety, the perfumed red grape Aleatico. This example however is more notable for its fruitiness along with dried fruit: red berries, figs, prunes. ‘Tender thoughts’ indeed.
Sestosenso Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice Monteregio di Massa Marittima 2007 – a traditional red Vin Santo. This is made by choosing the best fruit in perfect condition, leaving it out to dry for three months, fermenting it and ageing it in sealed caratelli, very small barrels, under the roof so at to be exposed to big swings of temperature from day to night and season to season for four years. Here the blend is 60-70% Sangiovese and the rest Malvasia nera. Oxidative and for my taste a bit oaky on the nose, fine chocolate touch and dried fruits, moderate sweetness, fair.
With many thanks to Laura and Mary – keep on enjoying the Maremman sun and your wines!
You don’t need a lot of words in a post about Castiglione itself. The photographs tell their own story: medieval hill town, port, beaches …
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