Morellino di Scansano

This quality designation refers to the large area around the town of Scansano which has had real success with its red wine based on the Sangiovese grape.  The area includes Magliano-in-Toscana with its magnificent walls (picture).  It perhaps doesn’t help the marketing of the wines that Morellino is merely the local name for Sangiovese, or perhaps it does, as Morellino di Scansano is normally a relatively rich, full-bodied wine, easily appreciated wine,  very different from Chianti or Brunello.  (On this whole subject, see the page on Sangiovese.)  Certainly in Italy and to some extent in America, the name has stuck and those in the know will order this wine from a wine list.   The free publicity from Frances Mayes’ hugely successful potboiler, Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), certainly helped:

‘Morellino di Scansano, black like Cahors: a discovery … what a wine .. soft and full and only costs $1.70 a bottle’

Dark, soft and full is certainly a good start in describing this wine.  Some of it is still cheap, though some also has a claim to be a serious wine with prices to match, though never really wallet-bashing.

Links to featured wineries:

Page created in 2007 with updates noted below

Mantellassi – the heartland of Morellino

Ripening figsFounded in 1972, Mantellasi is the sort of winery every area needs – well established, reliable, good value, a beacon for the ordinary wine drinker. Its standard Morellino ‘Mentore’ still costs €7 and it produces 180,000 bottles of it. Tucked away in a pretty remote spot between Magliano-in-Toscana and Scansano itself, the buildings, even the new winery of 2002, are work-a-day and highly functional. It’s a bit like visiting a rather overgrown family farm, which is exactly what it is and all the better for it. In 2007 we had the privilege of being shown around by the widow of the much-missed Ezio Mantellassi, while around her the business was continuing to be modernised and to develop.

We tasted a good range of the wines, from the fresh Mentore, a simple but highly drinkable Morellino (if with a bit of Cabernet in it), to the San Giuseppe (the same blend of Morellino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo Nero, but matured in barriques) to the Sentinella riserva (here Morellino is accompanied by Alicante and gets the top red treatment of 20 months in barriques). The other top wine is the 100% Alicante, Querciolaia, which would have been good to try. There is also a Ciliegiolo novello wine, Maestrale, not to mention a young Sangiovese, Il Canneto, which must come from outside the DOCG boundary as it is classified as IGT Maremma.

I think our host must have just assumed we preferred red wine and who is to argue – but they do also make a Trebbiano-based white blend and a 100% Vermentino Lucumone. Without being of industrial proportions, there is a good range of wines, all competent or better. And the Sentinella has a lovely complex nose and full and subtle flavours of frutti di bosco – ‘smoky aromatics and floral notes, offset by a certain earthiness’ said Gambero Rosso 2009 of the 2005.

Le Pupille – star performer

The star winery of the area, and indeed of the Southern Maremma, is to be found at the very northwestern edge of the Morellino di Scansano area, in fact just outside the provincial capital Grosseto. It is a beautiful property with immaculate gardens and a very civilised tasting room, all tucked around a compact winery. My memory is of a number of proper old fashioned Tuscan botti (large barrels), but maybe wrong – or they are there for holding wine from time to time. You pay for tasting – quite unusual here in the south of the Maremma – but that’s because they have to employ a person to show the visitors around. My general impression was that the wines are impeccable – more sophisticated than many in the area and this is reflected in the guides. I vini d’Italia 2010 regards it as the reference point for Maremman oenology. Nick Belfrage also pays homage to Elisabetta Geppetti who has reshaped this family business for the last 25 years and brought it – and the Maremma – international recognition (Finest Wines of Tuscany p 194).

The bulk of production is, reasonably enough, our old friend Morellino. The quality red is Morellino di Scansano, here 90% Sangiovese and 10% Alicante and Malvasia Nera. It’s unoaked but a lovely deep colour with a bright cherry nose, rounded and fruity, with some persistence. Very unusually we were able to taste an aged example of this basic wine in 2008 at the excellent La Cantina, Scansano, who still had the 1998 on the shelves – with ten years it had a lovely sweet nose, liquorice, mulberry and dried fruit, still with decent acidity. A ten-year-old wine for €10! The top Morellino wine is the single-vineyard Poggio Valente. We tasted the 2004 with a glorious nose of balanced oak and fruit, very smooth in the mouth, black fruits to the fore, great smooth tannins and acidity, excellent persistence. You can read Jancis Robinson’s tasting notes of vintages down the last two decades on the Le Pupille website. A second top wine is the Super Tuscan Saffredi, also single vineyard, but now 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 10% Alicante – black fruit and violets, silky tannins, dense, very good. Richard Baudains in his review of the exceptional 2004 vintage in Decanter August 2008 gave both Saffredi and Poggio Valente a maximum 5-star rating. (Jancis Robinson wrote up a tasting of a Saffredi vertical, 1987-2004 here, paid subscribers only.) There is now also a four-way red blend, Pelofino, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, introduced in 2006, a ‘deliciously flavoursome little masterpiece’ according to the Gambero Rosso of 2009.

The white Poggio Argentato is very unusual – 60% Traminer (=Gewurztraminer) and 40% Sauvignon – and quite refined – a powerful nose with floral and some mineral notes plus the grassiness of the Sauvignon, pleasant in the mouth with a good structure. The theme of innovation continues with the dessert wine, SolAlto. Not only is this a rare mix of Traminer, Sauvignon and Semillon (30, 30, 40%) but it is made by late picking super-ripe, botyrised, grapes, not the usual passito method. As such it is a yellowy gold in the glass, with honey and fruit and a slightly resiny nose, beautifully balanced with a sweet after taste.

For an update following a very successful visit in May 2013, click here.

Podere 414 – a singular vision

The name may be prosaic (it refers to the plot of land), the wine is anything but.  Podere 414 achieves something that many bigger or more established wines do not – a complex, drinkable, affordable wine which will stand up in any company.  Simone and Mara Castelli have been in charge here for just ten years, though Simone’s father is well established in the area and has a nursery of local vine varieties.  It’s been a successful decade judging both by the new winery and the fact that the wine was selected by Sebastian Payne, the Wine Society’s chief buyer, for sale in England.  This is a remarkable achievement given the scale of the competition and the smallness of the concern, just under 10 hectares organically farmed, with just one wine on offer, and a further 5 hectares which they manage.

Our visit to Podere 414 was a chapter of mishaps with a very happy ending. Having met Mara at Vinitaly,  we had been invited to lunch, we had got the timings all wrong, the children had come down with chickenpox and Simone had to go to northern Tuscany for an appointment.  In the owners’ absence we had the pleasure of Giacomo at our lunch – newly graduated from Florence, the first Sienese we have met who supports Fiorentina – and the real hands-on tour of the winery with Lucia who clearly loved her work.  Thinking that we had really messed this up, several days later when we were trying to meet the enologist from La Mozza, we had directions which took us back to a meeting point which turned out to be Podere 414!  It transpires that before La Mozza build their new winery, they are making wine in the old Podere 414 buildings.  Even happier, both Mara and Simone Castelli were present and we were able to catch up with them properly.

Simone Castelli’s is a singular vision – to farm on land which only a couple of generations ago was completely untamed, to do so organically, and to make one single wine, a Morellino di Scansano.  Having said that, immense care is taken:

  • a great deal of work went into the selection of the best Sangiovese clones, no doubt assisted by his father who is in this business
  • Morellino must be 85% Sangiovese and here the rest is made up of old indigenous varieties: Ciliegiolo, Alicante, Colorino
  • high-density planting, 6,700 plants per hectare – the plants have to complete, this reduces yields but concentrates the resulting grape juice, raising quality
  • organic farming and certification
  • intense work with the grapes: whole bunch fermentation of the early varieties (eg Ciliegiolo); partial drying out of the ‘tree trained’ Alicante to increase flavour; frequent punching down and pumping over of the Sangiovese
  • use of neutral small and large wood barrels for ageing the wine.

The only flourish allowed is that each year the bottle label is produced in a different colour.  The resulting wine is remarkably complex – excellent dense fruit in a dark cherry register, some dried fruit flavours, plenty of weight in the mouth (14.5º alcohol helps), splendid refreshing acidity, edgy but controlled tannins.  All this in a wine that even in the UK only costs £11.50.

Podere 414 is a model of making quite a traditional wine to an exacting contemporary standard.  Thanks to Simone and Mara for your endeavours and your hospitality – we await the colour of next year’s bottle!

Suberli – beyond Montalcino

Clouds over Suberli

When you visit wineries, one of the obvious questions is ‘which other wineries are you visiting?’  When this happened, even those in the Scansano area had not heard of Suberli. Once you explained that it is directly behind Le Lupinaie, near Montiano, everyone knew where it was.   But this lack of immediate recognition might reflect its owner’s diffidence.  Tiziano Ciacci has the established Mocali winery in Montalcino, and some years ago decided to have a second enterprise, to enjoy the ‘freedom’ of the Maremma. The rules about Brunello are very rigid.  However, what is interesting is what is produced here is two traditional Morellini, as well as the  Super Tuscan, Mirus.

IMG_5628The soil at Suberli is very sandy.  Overnight we had had quite a rainstorm, with spectacular thunder and lightning, but because of the sandy soil, by late afternoon all the surface moisture had drained away.  The walk in the vineyard showed that the ‘green harvest’ had happened recently, ie reducing the number of bunches of grapes which the vines carry in order allow the plant to put its resources into ripening the remaining bunches fully. It is the sort of practice that has the older generation, who remember genuine hardship, shaking their heads, but it is standard practice now for the highest quality.  Wine is no longer just a cheap commodity or basic nutrition; rather its aspirational, a fiercely competitive market and a statement about the grower.

Unfortunately, I no longer have the detailed notes about our visit and especially the tasting notes – they were lost with my bright red Moleskin notebook.  But I vividly remember the Morellino Riserva.  There is a normale as well which lighter and more of an everyday wine.  But the riserva is something special – good deep colour, dense aromas of dark fruit, aromas reminiscent of the earth and of herbs, good use of oak, allowing the wine to express itself, the typical rasp of acidity and tannins, very distinctive.  I was not as smitten by the Mirus but that’s mainly a matter of taste as I nearly always prefer the Sangiovese based wines to the Super Tuscans, however the good they might be.

IMG_5642Our tasting was unusual in that it was conducted – to our pleasure – in the slightly scruffy land just outside the house and winery.  There is a sort of picnic table, a couple of old chairs and the owner had brought a box with the wines and his excellent olive oil.  But then, he had started this venture to experience the freedom of the Maremma, where there is far less pressure on land than in Montalcino, where things are more relaxed, not just the wine laws. Here tasting out of doors, in the shade, under that brilliant blue sky – clear, as it rarely is in summer, because of the previous night’s storm, but enlivened by wisps of white cloud –  seemed exactly the right thing to do.

Thanks to Tiziano Ciacci for this his time and company, and for this excellent venture.  There is more to Tuscan wine than Montalcino, as he has shown.

Acquaviva – resort and wine


On the same day in 2007 that we visited Sassotondo – and after the most delicate ravioli imaginable at ‘I poderi di Montemerano’, a chance find (0564 620013) – we found ourselves at a small, very smart, resort hotel, Acquaviva, being greeted formally and with great politeness by its owner, Serafino d’Ascenzi. It’s difficult to imagine a greater difference in philosophy, but that’s what makes life – and winemaking – interesting. On this estate, a tidy sum of money has been spent on the hotel, the surroundings and no doubt the wine. Here the land is to be reshaped and controlled, not cajoled and celebrated.

A substantial tasting ensued. Acquaviva is in the Bianco di Pitigliano DOC but close to the Morellino di Scansano area and makes both styles. We tasted two Trebbiano blends, here with Verdello, Malvasia and either Sauvignon for a sharper profile (Biancospina) or Chardonnay for rounded fruit (Aquaviva). More individual is the varietal Chardonnay, initially a powerful if rather an obvious nose, but half an hour later it unfurls honey and exotic fruits – forget white burgundy, this is more New World in inspiration. The Morellino followed, Nero, a drinkable wine with good acidity and tannin, moreish … After an hour and a half, thinking we were done, we got into a very grand 4×4 for a tour of the vineyards, the new tasting room – a large building on the edge of the hill with panoramic views to the sea … that’s got to be it, hasn’t it? but no, we take the road down the hill to visit the new winery under construction (2007), three floors built into the hillside with gravity fed production … In here are vintages of the top wine Bracaleta riserva, also Morellino, still in vats but quite mature. The 2003 was about to be bottled, with an inviting and developed nose, soft and drinkable; the 2004 had more potential with excellent perfume. It’s good to see these wines being pretty well received in the 2010 wine guides.

We visited in 2010 again and enjoyed seeing the completion of the winery and the finishing work on the impressive tasting room and reception centre, shown around by Fabrizio, the well-qualified son of Serafino. The wines were also in good shape – we tasted most of the everyday ones over lunch at Acquaviva and later in the evening at a nearby restaurant.

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