Modernists in Morellino country
After the success of the Super Tuscans in Bolgheri, two developments were pretty much inevitable. Firstly that suitable land in that small zone would soon run out with the result that people began to look for other areas to make wine with international grape varieties. The southern Maremma, with its success with Morellino, was an obvious area to look. It has a similar warm, reliable climate like Bolgheri, there is lots of land at much lower prices and it is a new frontier without restrictive wine styles already defined. The second inevitable development was that the enterprising would experiment with international grape varieties in other parts of Tuscany, building on Bolgheri’s success. This page outlines some of the successful ventures trialling the Cabernets, Merlot, Syrah and other Rhône rangers around Scansano. Of course, many of these wineries also make Morellino, the better established Sangiovese-based wine.
Links to featured wineries:
- Poggio Argentiera – a contemporary take
- Capua Winery – Moltard magic 1
- Casavyc – Moltard magic 2
- La Mozza – the land first
- Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia – the latest cathedral
Poggio Argentiera is south of Grosseto within the Uccellina nature reserve/park. You do take your life in your hands slowing down to make the turn off the old Aurelia trunk road, annoying any number of lorry drivers.
Gianpaolo Paglia runs this winery with contemporary labels and marketing overseen by his wife, English woman, Justine Keeling. These wines stand out in the glass and on the shelf. But some things are very simple, for example, making the top wines in small open barrels which can be stirred regularly to create fast fermentation but gentle handling – not surprisingly the wines show outstanding aroma qualities and less bitterness.
One of the whites, Guazza, is a blend of 80% Ansonica and then Vermentino, a lovely fruity nose, Vermentino bringing some floral notes, very good; Principio is a young take on Ciliegiolo, attractive purple tinge, distinctive nose of cherry and perhaps almonds, good tannins and acid, very refreshing; maremante, 50% Syrah, 50% Alicante, a very fruity unoaked wine but with notes of spices even coffee. According to Giampaolo, Alicante is very typical of the Maremma where it is called ’the Spanish grape’ or the dark Spaniard – it a localised form of Grenache. It is celebrated in one of his top wines, Finistere, with some Syrah. There is also sweet passito version – yes, sweet red Alicante. However, we focused on the Morellino, first the quality DOCG wine, BellamarsiliA, (85% Morellino, 10% Ciliegiolo, 5% Alicante) – macerated for 14 days, aged in inert containers for 4 months. Very fresh and fruity, good fruit on the nose. More serious is CapatostA, this Morellino being 95% Morellino and just 5% Alicante. Like all the others, it has a name with impact to go with the wine: a terrific nose of red fruit, balanced oak, lovely in the mouth, very good indeed. There is now also a white, macerated Ansonica called Bucce (= skins, peel), well received in I vini d’Italia 2010.
If you think it is always hot and sunny in Tuscany in the summer, read on … in the first two weeks of August 2010, the weather was perfect for the English visitors who didn’t want only to sit by the pool or the sea – warm by our standards but not oppressively hot, with some refreshing rain and some spectacular thunderstorms, mostly at night. And here is the picture to prove it. And the winemakers were keen on the rain too, given the long hot dry spell in early summer, though a few vineyards may have been damaged by hail.
At the Capua winery, we had the particular pleasure of meeting Fabrizio Moltard, the consultant enologist who advises Capua. It turned out that he also works for Casavyc (see next entry) and Serraiola, the winery between Suvereto and Massa Marittima which we know well. Thinking about this, it struck me that all three have a particular strength in wines made from international varieties This is certainly the case at Capua with its excellent wines made from Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, though there is also very good Alicante and Sangiovese.
But the experimentation doesn’t stop with the usual varieties at Capua. Mio Sogno (‘my dream’) is a three-way mix of Alicante (70%), 15% Colorino (old Tuscan favourite) and 15% Touriga Nacional, the principal grape of Port. This was therefore definitely a first! But it makes sense – Touriga thrives in hot, dry conditions and the aromas and flavours conveyed by its tough skins do produce a wine of real individuality and presence. The comparison between the finished wine and the barrel samples showed that the period in wood does a lot to tame this big, fruity beast! By contrast, Fiammante is a Bordeaux blend, a genuine blend dominated by Cabernet Franc (70%), but helped along by significant amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot (10% each). I am a great fan of Cabernet Franc, here and elsewhere, and in this example its gloriously rustic fruit is given a bit more structure and some further richness by the blend. Again, a superb, full-on, quality wine. I haven’t tasted the Sangiovese yet, Tutto Cuore, ‘all heart’, which should be fruit led. Whereas the Super Tuscan get the new wood treatment, this is aged in larger, more nuetral botti. Finally, the Chardonnay (Dolce Amore, nice name, though some might take the dolce literally), is rich, full of quite exotic fruit, substantial, very good.
This relative newcomer, founded in 2004, is a good example of people who have made a success of other businesses following a dream and using all their existing skills to succeed in a crowded market place. Viviana Filocamo clearly did well in the timber industry, as you can see from the beautiful wooden structures which support the roof of the new winery she runs with her husband, Claudio. The name of the company is a contraction of their names, ie Casvyc = house of Viviana and Claudio. They have already made a mark in the wine world by a combination of a distinctive strategy, hiring a very good consultant (Fabrizio Moltard, pictured above), choosing an unusual location and, no doubt, a great deal of hard work.
To begin with the location. Nearly all the vineyards in the Scansano area are relatively low level. To make a comparison, good Chianti is made inland between 250-450 metres above sea level. This height affects the climate, with cooler nights, greater day-night temperature difference and more wind, all of which produce fresher, edgier, wines. By contrast, the characteristic style of the southern Maremma is warm and rounded with vineyards at much lower levels, up to 200 metres above sea level. Casavyc with vineyards between 400 and 500 metres above sea level gets a bit of both styles. Whether there is any effect from the sulfur springs of nearby Saturnia no one knows. All in all this is quite a remote and wild area, heavily wooded, if close to the crowds attracted by the thermal springs.
Viviana is quite clear that Casavyc aims high. Her goal is to produce wine which will be served in Michelin-starred restaurants and will compete with the best around the world. If you think about the history of wine in the Maremma, this is a remarkable goal: from peasant nutrition to world-class wines in roughly two generations. But Casvyc is showing all the signs of succeeding, with good reviews from the Gambero Rosso and Luca Maroni.
Experimentation goes hand in hand with conservation of an older heritage here. They have planted a lot of new vineyards with a wide range of French grape varieties but they have also restored the old Sangiovese vineyards. The whole estate is large, 57 hectares, though much of this is woodland and macchia. There are currently 8 hectares of vines, with more to come. This is the background to their unusual range of wines – both top-end new style wines and two levels of Morellino.
The grape varieties planted here are very adventurous indeed. The first we tasted was Sauvignon Blanc. This rather ‘northern climate’ grape does remarkably well here – it does have a moderately grassy nose but this is followed by rather exotic, even tropical, fruit. All the wines here have a fantasy name, this one being one of the best: piano piano poco poco (2009). It’s a tiny production but a more than worthwhile effort. I held my breath over the next wine which is called P.No’ (2008), 100% Pinot Noir no less, I think the first I have tasted in the Maremma. This a genuinely good example, quite a pronounced, rich nose without being coarse, good fruit, substantial in the mouth, not the most refined but good in a warm climate style. Moving to the Rhône, Up&Down (2008) is a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre, designed to be a quality everyday red, lightly oaked with good fruit. As noted, there are two levels of Sangiovese in the Morellino, the unoaked normale, sappy fruit to the fore, and 070707 (the date of the proprietors’ wedding – you are beginning to get the idea!), in effect the riserva. The latter is the product of selection from a single vineyard and is aged in 600-litre tonneaux, to round off the wine but not to cloud the fruit with new wood aromas.
The top wine is the Syrah, unocinquantasei (2007). I am not sure about this name (= ‘156’ in Italian), based on the Syrah clone number; non-Italian speakers are going to stumble over it. Syrah is all the rage in the Maremma at the moment – it is productive, enjoys the heat, and there is a range of possible styles from the sharp elegance and power of the Rhône to the full-on power and density of Barossa, with Tuscany somewhere in the middle. It is not my favourite grape here as I am not sure that it has really found a genuinely Italian or Maremman style. But if you want a deeply coloured, substantial wine with lots of fruit and punch, then unocinquantasei is a good, possibly very good, example. We tasted it a second time with another grower in Tuscany and she was impressed by the colour and concentration. I have no doubt it will sell despite its 60 euro plus price tag, because it will be a fashionable, sought after, wine, but I would always go for (a couple of bottles) of the Morellino Riserva.
Many thanks to Viviana and Claudio, and all the very best for the future as you approach 10 years in production. If anyone doubts the value of transferable skills, they ought to study your success.
Joseph Bastianich is obviously multi-talented chef and entrepreneur. He has a string of restaurants in New York, a winery in Friuli, NE Italy and has co-authored an important guide to the regional wines of Italy. La Mozza is his new venture in the Scansano area. As yet there are no new wines but we had the pleasure of seeing the vineyards and the site of the new winery with enologist Gabriele Gadenz. Gabriele – it turns out – works closely with the adjacent Podere 414, whose old facilities La Mozza are currently using before they build their own. The idea is to make Mediterranean style wines and to that end the plantings include Syrah, Carignan and Alicante. This is entry is a photo essay while we look forward to the wines in due course.Grape varieties: middle row: Syrah turning colour; Carignan, bottom row: Grenache, Alicante with its red pulp
Finally, at La Mozza, we witnessed a fine example of the art of tractor driving. The work being done is breaking up the land between the rows with the tractor driver going within inches of the line of vines. Don’t try this at home!
Thank you to Gabriele who told all about his frightening flight in from Sardinia to Rome, through the tuoni e lampi, thunder and lightning, which we experienced safely on land. We loved your passion for the land and for the vine. We learned so much on our tour of the vineyards. It all promises well for the future.
Most of the ventures featured on this page are family wineries and relatively small concerns. However, the other sort of investor in the Maremma in recent years has been the big names already in the business, Italian or foreign, who have quite literally put down roots here. These include Gaja, among many, at Bolgheri and Castellare/Rothschild at Rocca di Frassinello. They have now been joined by Frescobaldi at Ammiraglia. At the moment the large winery is tucked away down a white road with little signage – one can’t imagine this level of anonymity is going to last. As you drive up you can see the scale of the investment and ambition. It is one of the new wine cathedrals – see Petra and the above mentioned Rocca for other Maremman examples.
The design of the vineyard with its ‘sail’ theme evokes the sea half an hour away at Argentario. The publicity leaflet clearly wants to tempt the thirsty tourist away from the beach and there is a very pleasant shop – featuring wines from all the Frescobaldi properties – and hospitality area. And of course, they do know how to look after you here, as elsewhere.
The winery itself is unusual. It’s huge – 132 giant fermentation vessels, sheltering under an enormous canopy but otherwise open to the elements. This is a style common in Australia, so dealing with the heat can obviously be managed. We worried about how many birds might like to nest under the structure as well. The visual fireworks are not confined to the outside. Clever lighting has turned the storage for wine maturing in barrique into a work of art. All in all, it’s spectacular.
When wineries are new and impressive, it’s difficult for the wine to live up to the architecture. The first vintage here was 2006. The vines will inevitably be young and it can take time for the winemaker to learn how to get the best out of these particular plantings. Ammiraglia has one advantage in that in addition to all the new vineyards, they took over an existing planting of Sangiovese at nearby Santa Maria. So at least the Morellino di Scansano, named Pietra Regia dell’Ammiraglia, has a head start. It’s a good example of Morellino, without being outstanding. The top wine, Ammiraglia, is Syrah, the grape of the moment. I don’t have a strong memory of it (see A small loss), but of course it is very competent and may get better in time. The other key difference is scale. Whereas Casavyc (above) is producing 2-3,000 super-premium bottles, Frescobaldi is aiming for … well a huge number.
With thanks to Sabina and Lorenzo who did a great job of showing us around.