Montescudaio

IMG_3622.jpgMontescudaio as a quality wine area is mostly inland and in this case runs up the valley of the Cecina river towards the famous Etruscan town of Volterra. The DOC was established back in 1977 on a good old-fashioned Tuscan model: a red based on Sangiovese  (and all the other Tuscan grapes, red and white, like old-style Chianti) and a white based on Trebbiano, Malvasia and Vermentino. The rules call for a minimum of 50% Sangiovese in the red and the same proportion of Trebbiano in the white. When the DOC was revised in 1999, the foreign legion of Cabernet and co were admitted. The ubiquitous ‘monovarietal’ style is available to growers: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc, all at a minimum of 85% of the named varieties. The official consortium is small (13 members) but has some very characterful wineries. We begin with the star winery of the area, not actually a part of the consortium.

Featured wineries:

Castello del Terriccio – power and finesse

Only 30 kilometers south of Pisa, this magnificent estate was described in 1830 by the historian, Lapo de’ Ricci, as being on the Maremma border, as the estate’s website informs us. The estate was turned over to quality wine production by its current owner, the man with one of the best names in the entire Tuscan wine scene, Gian Annibale Rossi di Medelana Serafini Ferri. On a more serious note, once a competitive three-day eventer, his horse riding accident in 1975 led to a new direction and specifically to wine production of the highest standard. The estate is large, 1,700 hectare, with 70 down to vine. The overall message of Terriccio is: close to Bolgheri and just as good!

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If the setting is beautiful and luxurious, so are the wines. There are some Tuscan favourites here, but the emphasis is on French grape varieties with an Italian twist. 60% of the wine is exported, a testament to quality. All the wines tasted 7/08.

Col Vento 2006: Sauvignon Blanc, with an extra year in the bottle, fairly neutral on the nose, then good fruit and acidity. Very enticing. 2007: more characteristic freshness, currant leaf, very good.

Rondinaia 2007: Chardonnay, good apple and pear aromas, rounded palate, bene.

Saluccio 2007: something of an experimental wine, made from Viognier, mild peachy flavours, pleasant, rather modest in character but we will see if this intensifies as the vines get some age.

Capannino 2006: unusually here, 100% Sangiovese, a entry level quality red, excellent warm Sangiovese aromas, good body, dense.

We start the ascent of the top reds:

Tassinia: three equal parts of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in 90% used barriques for 14 months. 2004: a dark red, blackberries and red fruit on the nose, very fruity, dense. Excellent. Treated to an older bottle, 2000: fruit evolved into a deeper register, the balsamic effect of wood ageing in older barrique makes a balanced impact. Very good.

Castello del Terriccio: despite being named after the company, this is not the top of the range and is quite a new wine, made from Syrah (50%), Petit Verdot (25%) and other red varieties (25%). Syrah is the new grape in the Super Tuscan movement. The 2003 was the deepest, darkest red, dense and with some characteristic Italian bitterness. 2004 is somewhat lighter in style, a better year, but still very young when tasted in 2008. Rather like being in some Bolgheri establishments, these wines are not made for the short-term.

Lupicaia: much lauded Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (15%) and Merlot (5%), from the best sites. Aged for 18 months in 90% new Allier oak barriques. The 2003 was still a bit dumb on the nose, but a enormous mouthful of ripe fruit and decent acidity, very long. 2004 was similar (surprisingly given the marked difference between the years, but then they were both pretty young in 7/08): currant leaves, big fruit, marked acidity and tannins, huge promise. Thank you to Bettina, an exemplary host on a very hot day.

Update on new vintages tasted at Vinitaly 2010:

Rondinaia 2008: good bright pears/apples, fiery finish, interesting

Col Vento 2009: nice floral nose, not typically gooseberry of Sauvignon Blanc but pleasant

Tassinia 2006: fully mature fruit, some blackberry notes, persistent, very good indeed

Castello di Terricio 2005: no tasting note. In general I am rarely moved by Tuscan Syrah and that may have been the case here.

Lupicaia 2006: the top wine hidden away from the crowds on the final day of the fair; deep plummy and balsam notes, very well balanced despite its massive palate, following acidity and rasping tannins, excellent and huge potential to soften, knit and age

outside Casale Marittimo

Caiarossa – biodynamic French flair

Caiarossa stands out, not only because of its bright red winery, but also for its commitment to quality and to a different way of thinking. We visited during a rain storm of biblical proportions, so no pictures. The enterprise has been built up through foreign, in this case Dutch, investment and is now owned by Eric Albada Jegersma who also has two Margaux properties, Ch. Giscours and Ch. du Tetre. The wine maker is also French, Dominque Génot. In addition to running the vineyards and winery in on biodynamic principles, the property is unusual for its commitment to feng shui. This governs the colour (red/terracotta, the colour of wine and la fortuna; ochre for the sun and life) and orientation of the winery. Also notable are the very dense planting of vines (9,050 per hectare, the most we have met, planted in tightly packed rows) and an amphitheatre of vineyards with an excellent South-facing aspect. The range of grape varieties is also unusual. Though the majority are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, and Sangiovese, there is also Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, not to mention Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng.

The range of wines has increased recently but in 2007 (tasting note 5/07), it was just two:

Pergolaia 2004: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, this quality red is a sort of homage to the local traditions given the predominance of Sangiovese; wine matured in barriques for 12 months, a big 13.8? alcohol. Great intensity of fruit, oak on the nose, figgy and liquorish. A second bottle of same vintage, tasted Jan 2010, now slightly brown tinge to ruby colour, fruit on the fade but fascinating dried fruit and leather bouquet, decent finish, probably at its peak. Very good. An interesting example of an aged bottle of a simple but good wine, not intended to be aged. Showed its quality.

Caiarossa 2004: into the top wine goes the best grapes, 33% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, 22% Sangiovese, plus five other red varieties mentioned above. It’s difficult to imagine that tiny proportions of Grenache or Mourvèdre can make a difference, but the blend definitely works. Pre-fermentation maceration of 2-3 days and then 20-30 days. This spends 18 months in new French barriques. A big, glorious nose of blackcurrant, oak and red fruits, good texture in the mouth, tame tannins, good persistence.

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Caiarossa Bianco, Viognier (50%) and Chardonnay (50%), whole bunch pressing, matured in 33% new oak.

Oro di Caiarossa, a late harvest, sweet wine, made from Petit Manseng left on the vine to dry out before being vinified and matured in barrels.

The force, biodynamic, feng shui or a combination of these with modern skills and competence, does appear to be with Caiarossa. The 2006 vintage of the top red scored an impressive 18/20 in L’espresso 2010 and gets a warm commendation from Nick Belfrage in The Finest Wines of Tuscany.

Pagani de Marchi – Etruscan heritage

Further south in Montescudaio, just below yet another attractive hill-top town, Casale Marittimo, is the small family firm of Pagani de Marchi, founded in 1996 using a property that used to be a holiday house. I have mixed emotions about Casale, beautiful though it is, as with one wrong turn we found ourselves driving down its minute and steep roads, more like staircases really, feeling that one would never escape. Then to cap it all, six months later (some things don’t move fast in Italy) I got a speeding fine from a speed camera on the stretch just below the town – it was obviously the relief of having escaped the town’s roads.

With a first harvest a year after the millennium, Pagani de Marchi has cleverly positioned itself between the local Etruscan past, picked up in the labelling, and the very contemporary choice of French and Tuscan grape varieties. While the Etruscans may (or now, so it seems, may not) have grown anything resembling Sangiovese, there is certainly no evidence (!) that they also grew the Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon which thrives here on the clay and chalk soils, poor in nutrients but high in minerals.

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Five red wines are produced, tasted in May 2007:

Montaleo 2005: Sangiovese 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%, Merlot 15%, matured for four months in stainless steel only. This quality red is sold as the entry level wine and has lovely fresh berry aromas on the nose, very drinkable.

Olmata 2004: a Sangiovese (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (30%) blend, given 8-12 months in second year barriques and another 8-12 months in the bottle. Lovely rich nose, good acid and tannin, a fair compromise between fruit and some wood ageing.

Casalvecchio 2002: a top red, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in French barrique, a mixture of new and one year old, for 12 months and then a further year in bottles. Named after the Etruscan site near the sea. After a couple of moments in the glass, it opened up with violets and blackberries, a slight whiff of burning, rounded, full and elegant in the mouth, with good persistence.

Principe Guerriero 2002: the top 100% Sangiovese, taking its inspiration from an Etruscan warrior prince. Similar ageing to Casalvecchio. Initially rather dumb on the nose but elegant and with a good concentration of fruit. A second bottle drunk in 2010: good dense mid red, little sign of ageing; modest nose of sour cherries, decent fruit core, after two hours of aeration, much more perfume.

Casa nocera 2004: a top red, this time 100% Merlot, 16 months in French barriques of first and second years of use and twelve months in the bottle. An impressive 14.5? alcohol. A deep red in colour, nose of cooked plums, huge concentration, still very tannic and astringent.

La Regola – down by the sea

IMG_1851Only five kilometres from the sea, close to Cecina, La Regola is now a pretty well established winery with a good range of whites and reds. The enterprise started in 1990 and bottled its first wines in 1997. The wines include Lauro, an interesting mix of Chardonnay and Viognier, the latter’s peachy aromas detectable on the nose and RoséGola, a new rosé from Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah, with a bright fruity nose, which in 2008 was about to go on the market. The two top reds are Beloro (mostly Sangiovese) and La Regola (85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot), treated to 18 months in new oak. Both have a good explosion of fruit on the palate.

Another exceptional wine from Montescudaio comes from L’Aione, far inland on the way to Volterra. Unusually, for the Maremma, the estate, Podere Aione, is at 400m above sea level. We bought an older bottle (1999) of the top wine named after the estate at dinner in Volterra at the excellent del Duca. The blend is Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, made in part from 80 year old vines with 15-18 months of ageing in barriques. It showed a pronounced nose of ripe fresh and dried fruit, tobacco, full and rounded on the palate, soft tannins, balanced, with an after taste of figs and raisons. Wonderful ( 6/07). Tasted again at Vinitaly 2009: the 2004 vintage, ruby with a brownish tinge, elegant rather than powerful, mature fruit, well integrated oak; slightly tannic still as a relatively young wine but velvety.

Next: the wine law in the Maremma

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