This page features the cluster of vineyards which run from the sea at Follonica inland towards the beautiful medieval hill towns of Scarlino and Gavorrano. As mining in the area declines it is increasingly dependent on the tourism which the seaside location brings – but wine making continues to be important too.
We have also enjoyed drinking the wine of Montebelli.
La Pierotta sits on the plain under the imposing sight of the town of Scarlino, perched on the hill above the farm. It is close to the sea and so has plenty going for it in terms of tourism – picturesque hill town for the foreign visitors, the seaside for the Italians and sun for everybody. When we arrive for our Saturday morning appointment in August 2011, we first meet Simone Rustici’s father who created the farm back in 1957 and was still working in the winery as we arrived. There were 10 hectares of vines, while cereals have been and continue to play an important part. Nowdays the family has 15 hectares of vines and and further 9 hectares are rented, producing 50-60,000 bottles a year. As you can see from the picture, the grapes are a picture of health.
Back in 1950s and 1960s, the principal activity in the area was mining and you can see the last vestiges of the quarries which used to be worked in the metal-bearing hills (‘colline metallifere’). In turn this led to the local wine being bought by industrialists and taken up to Brescia in northern Italy in demijohns. The first bottling of wine did not happen until 1990. By then tourism was just developing with large scale building of tourist apartment complexes. These ensure a constant supply of Italian and north European visitors during the summer whose cars go back north laden with local wines. La Pierotta sells 50% of its wine from the farmyard door, in bulk for local consumption and in bottles.
Simone Rustici’s mind, however, is not on the past but on the future. The pleasant, traditional tasting room in which we are sitting has to double as temporary storage, with a consignment of wine waiting to be shipped. Meanwhile, outside, the outline of the new winery is there for all to see. The plan is to make the 2012 wine in the new plant. But just as important to Simone is the future of the zone as a whole. He has succeeded Fiorella Lenzi of Serraiola as the president of the strada del vino, the grouping of wineries and local food producers, hotels and tourist attractions which promote Montereggio di Massa Marittima as a wine zone. Simone is full of praise for the initiative which dates from 1998 and for his predecessors. The area’s advantages and disadvantages are clear enough: on the positive side the availability of large areas of land, a climate in which there is little rain, no frost and endless sunshine; and a low cost base but the downside is little profile in the market. As commented on elsewhere in this web site the local DOCs – of which there are no less than eight – do not have any selling power. Nobody goes to a wine merchant in Milan, New York or London and asks for a bottle of Montereggio di Massa Marittima or Montecucco. The only partial exception is Morellino di Scansano which you do see on restaurant wine lists. Because of this, Simone is a keen supporter of the new Maremma Toscana DOC, just agreed by the necessary authorities. It is simple, covers a large area and, crucially, contains the magic word ‘Tuscany’. We conclude by noting the importance of the initiative taken by the Province of Grosseto: Maremma Wine Shire. It has produced a glossy book on the area and is holding tastings in Italy and abroad. Led by Gianni Lamioni, President, the Grosseto Chamber of Province is helping to raise the profile of the Maremma. I hope that this website can also make a small contribution.
Vermentino, Monteregio di Massa Marittima DOC, 2010 – a pale, green-tinted, lemon in colour, on the nose mildly herbaceous with an unripe nut aroma, a quite powerful palate with peach and melon fruit, good acidity and persistence. A substantial wine with 13% alcohol probably more suited to accompanying food than on its own. Good, if not entirely to my taste – it’s quite difficult to get much finesse or liveliness with Vermentino in the Maremma.
Ciliegiolo, Maremma rosso IGT, 2008 – good sour cherry notes on the nose, initial perception of being a light to medium bodied wine but in fact this has 14% alcohol, so that is a testament to a good depth of fruit and refreshing acidity. Reflecting on this, you can taste the relationship between Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese – pale to medium depth of colour, cherry to plum fruit, good astringency and acidity. A decent quality red from a local grape variety for drinking over a couple of years.
Scarilius, Monteregio di Massa Marittima DOC, 2008 – a rich blend of Sangiovese (80%), Cabernet and Merlot (10% each). This is the estate’s top wine, a fairly typical Maremman red with a large element of the paler Sangiovese, bolstered by the deeper hued and flavoured international grapes. Dark fruit on the nose and palate, young oak ageing notes of smoke and leather, not yet integrated. This needs some time to round out and for the various elements to come together but otherwise a wine of some real character and weight.
There is relatively little discussion of soil composition in the Maremma. It does not have one famous type of soil, like Chianti’s galestro, not least because it is a large and diverse region. A great deal of the territory is taken up by the metal-bearing hills (colline metallifere) which meant that in the middle of the last century mining was the main feature of the economy. There is still some mining, for example near Gavorrano, and certainly the soil is rich with minerals especially iron pyrite. The soil at Rigoloccio, a new winery founded in 2003 and named after a former mine, is a visible testament to this mineral heritage. Rosso di ferro is a good name for this soil.
From the point of view of quality grape production, the main issue here is an overly fertile soil. It is no accident that there is also mixed agriculture on the coastal plain of the Maremma. The answer is of course proper preparation. Here at Rigoloccio, they carried out huge works before the vines were planted: in one vineyard they stripped off two metres of top soil.
Soil preparation is just one example of the fact that the standard of work at Rigoloccio is extremely high. They aim for high quality, distinctive wines. Being in the Maremma they have a pretty free hand as to what they plant and the international grapes area well represented along with Alicante Bouschet. The reds are high quality, and they make a white and a rosé. Apart from meticulous standards in the vineyard and the winery, Ezio Puggelli is assisted by consultant Fabrizio Moltard, who is behind many of the new style wines in the Maremma. We tasted the assembled reds from the vats, awaiting bottling:
Merlot/Petit Verdot 2010 – the red at the base of the pyramid, a deep purple-ruby in colour, medium plus fruit – plum and blackberry, good acidity and substantial tannins. No shrinking violet!
Alicante 2010 – similar in colour, but less tannic, rounder, real potential to express the best of this warm climate
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabinet Franc, Alicante 2009 – the extra year of age makes a marked difference. This wine now is highly drinkable, rich, full of blackberry and fruits of the forest, rounded out with the components coming together, very good.
Alicante 2008 – note the year. A small amount has been kept in older barriques (3-5 years) and each time they taste it they decide it is just getting better. Really outstanding blackberry and plums-under-spirit flavours, with excellent acidity as it was picked early. There are only four barriques of this but it will be very special when it eventually gets into bottles.
Il Sorvegliante 2008 – a big-hearted blend of the two Cabernets, Alicante and Petit Verdot. Big blackcurrant nose, very good depth of fruit and acidity, quite drying in the mouth (like a one year old, rather than its three years). Good value for the quality at €15.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – also in barriques; more fruit led than even the Cabernet Franc, high level of tannins, matched by good fruit intensity. And, not quite, finally:
Merlot 2010 – dense, fruity, warm nose, very full on the palate like all these wines, well handled tannins, good length.
We also tried the rosé which is pure Cabernet Franc, in line with the company’s aim to produce distinctive wines. In a similar vein, their white is a blend of Chardonnay and Campania’s Fiano. Rosato, Maremma Toscana IGT 2010 is a medium salmon pink in colour with an orange tint; rather leafy with bubble-gum aromas on the nose, a somewhat indeterminate palate; would be good with food as it has some tannins and acidity; good refreshing finish.
The Rigoloccio winery sets high standards of viticulture and wine making in a new territory. Hopefully it will continue to do this long after the mineral extraction is finished.
By contrast with Rigoloccio where everything is new and very quality conscious, Il Pupillo is an established family farm, founded in 1957 and now in its third generation overseen by Laura Benelli. It has the cheerful air of a working winery and farm, with a warm reception for visitors and holiday makers. There eyes are firmly on local markets – but of course these days ‘local’ can mean many northern Europeans loading up their cars. As with all the Gavoranno properties we are not far from the sea, the great magnet for tourists, Italian and otherwise.
If Il Pupillo is a traditional, family operation, it should not be thought that it is stuck in the past. For the size of the estate, it has a remarkably range of wines – we tasted 11 and that was not exhaustive. They aim for simple, food friendly, good values wines, which reflect the warmth of the climate. With three trained sommelier in the family, it is not surprising that they have a particular interest in matching food and wine, and in hospitality. One of their offers is to pick up a group from a hotel or summer house, give them a tour of neighbouring Scarlino (picture) followed by a tasting with local foods, before returning them safely without the customer having to drive.
The wines can be grouped. They offer both typical Tuscan wines – Trebbiano/Malvasia whites and Sangiovese/Ciliegiolo/Colorino red blends – along with some unusual whites and a rare sweet wine. On point of principle, this being the historic white of Tuscany, we always insist on tasting the Trebbiano blend, even though it is always the cheapest wine and bemuses our hosts. Fior di Pupillo 2010, Trebbiano and Malvasia di Candia, €3.40 in summer 2011, is rounded and lemony on the nose, does have floral notes as its name would suggest, is quite full bodied and subtle. The Vermentino called Malbianco) is pretty standard fare; more exotic are the Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio – not normally found in these parts. The former (Cavolaia 2010) was planted because of the conviction that there is too much Chardonnay around, is rounded, attractive and quite exotic, full again, and with a pleasant tanginess. Aura 2010 – the Tuscan coast being a very unlikely place to grow Pinot Grigio – is reminiscent of fruit salad with pear and banana to the fore.
There is of course real interest in the reds. A non-oaked basic Sangiovese, Il Pupillo 2009, is just that – rather basic. Much better is the blend which has been matured in a mixture of barriques and tonneaux, La Vallineta 2009, and better still is La Vallineta Riserva 2007 (€12) which has spent a year in oak and a further year in a vat and bottles. Deeper in colour, some balsamic notes, good depth of fruit, very rounded and velvety, quality at a very reasonable price. And then if, like me, you want to taste single varietal versions of the classic Tuscan blending grapes, you can try Sorpiero 2009, 100% Ciliegiolo, with its deep plummy fruit, rounded palate and interesting palate – a real winter wine which would be good with long cooked meat dishes. Not to be out done there is also Miraggio 2009, 100% Cannaiolo, a tauter red but still with good red fruit. There is a little fun to be had with the labels too – if it’s a family wine, you can do what you like. The goblin is very popular with younger customers.
Our final wine was La Listrice 2008, made by the passito method, that is by semi-drying the grapes before pressing and fermenting them. It is made from Aleatico grapes and the only legal category is ‘Vino da uve stramatura’, wine made with over-ripe grapes as the sugar level is too high for vino da tavola. As the label shows (picture on the right!), this is named after the Maremman porcupine – but there is nothing spikey about the wine: rich, still young tasting, very sweet but delicious, classic roses note of Aleatico, young fruit and fig jam … rustic and complex.
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