Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Montecucco in Maremma
Maremma is the name of the stretch of the Tyrrhenian seacoast of Southwestern Tuscany between the towns of Livorno and Grosseto. First the Etruscans and then the Romans and the Lombards flourished for centuries in this area, leaving behind many archeological treasures. During the Middle Ages the Aldobrandeschi clan ruled in Maremma from high towers, castles and walled towns. The Medici family also flourished here before dominating Florence to spearhead the Renaissance, and their authority was felt all the way to Rome.
Sangiovese is the red grape variety mostly planted in the Maremma and it thrives here as well as some international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. There are many DOCs and DOCGs that make exceptional wines from Sangiovese in this part of Italy that are very well known: the western segment of Brunello, Bolgeri Sassicaia, Morellino di Scanzano, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Val di Cornia, and numerous individual wineries – large and small – that do not conform to strict DOC(G) regulations but aspire to very high quality. One of the newest DOC(G), starting in 2011, is Montecucco (in Italian the word means: Mountain of the Owl). Montecucco is physically situated between Brunello and Morellino. Covering the slopes of the Amiata Mountains (an extinct volcano) the vineyards of 7 communities form the core of this appellation. The volcanic soil is rich in lava composites giving the grapes a particular mineral character.
I visited the Montecucco territory after last year’s harvest, to personally explore and taste the wines they create. There are numerous excellent producers; from large transnational companies that produce hundreds of thousand bottles, to small individual family wineries with less than one hectare, who produce perhaps 600 to 800 bottles each season and sell all wine not used by the family through a co-operative.
There is a truism in the wine industry “Good wine doesn't have to be expensive but expensive wine has to be good”. The Montecucco DOC(G) requirements result in wines from high quality/low yield vines (maximum 7 tons of grapes per hectare) that use at minimum 90% Sangiovese for the reds and 85% Vermentino, for the whites. The reds are aged in wood for 12 months - 24 months for Riserva – and then in bottle 4 months – 6 months for Riserva – prior to release. The Montecucco DOC Bianco is made with Vermentino and/or a blend of Vermentino and Trebbiano grapes. An exceptional sweet dessert wine is also produced as part of the DOC called Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice, made from 70% Sangiovese grapes. There is also a very attractive Vin Santo made from a blend of white grapes: Malvasia, Grechetto and Trebbiano.
Like much of Tuscany, Montecucco produces Sangiovese reds for both short-term consumption and long-term cellaring. Most of the producers use organic cultivation methods, with a few vineyards being biodynamically cultivated. They make wines with great structure and body.
Tenuta Pianirossi is a well established wine producer and agritourismo company with a long tradition of winemaking excellence; it has one of the most modern wineries in the area. We spent the night at their farmhouse estate and had with dinner their wines from the 40-hectare vineyards planted and maintained on the hills of Montalcino. The entire complex was built to allow air to circulate and maintain ideal room temperature. Solar panels located above the wine-making cellar produce hot water. The roofs are insulated using recycled cork. Natural slopes provide optimum water management and exposure. The vineyard is using the best clones of Montepulciano grapes from the Marche to complement the traditional Tuscan Sangiovese and Alicante Bouschet as well as Petit Verdot. They make three very good red wines: Pianirossi Solus, Sidus and Pianirossi Roso -- a wonderful blend of Petit Verdot, Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon that, in my opinion, favorably competes with the best wines of Tuscany. The farmhouse’s restaurant in the evening becomes a “piccolo osteria” offering traditional dishes from ancient recipes, using local produce from the Maremma. If you are in Tuscany, it is a great place to stay.
Another wine that I liked very much and is 100% Sangiovese was Ad Agio, a Reserva from the Basile winery. It’s a mainstream Tuscan red: moderate garnet in color, ripe red fruit on the nose with wild strawberry hints. It has a remarkably smooth initial taste and a dry, well-balanced middle palate. The lovely slightly tannic finish is a bit grapy but with definitive hints of cedar and graphite. It was paired with a medium-rare, charcoal grilled bistecca alla fiorentina, of course! And it was absolutely exceptional.
Quite noteworthy as well was a grouping of 6 Sangiovese wines from the Asscolati, Montesalario, Palmoletino, Parmoleto, Podere Firenze and Salustri wineries. We tasted them without food and, though they were fine as tasted, I frankly don’t know how well they would pair with heavier meat and game dishes as they seemed to be a bit on the lighter side.
But I know that Collemassari’s Poggio Lombrone Reserva paired beautifully with Cinghiale alla Genovese, a wild-boar ragoķ that dressed the plate of pappardelle that I made at home. A silky single-vineyard 100% Sangiovese wine from one of the oldest vineyards, it has balanced flavors of rich dark fruit, pepper and spice with a good dash of minerality. And it was an exceptional counterpoint to my wild-boar dish.
To your health!
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