These pages are the beginning of a project to outline the special character of the Tuscan Maremma and its wines. They are very much in development at the moment. They seek to communicate something about this special area based on the seven visits Janet and I have made since August 2006, having visited many other parts of Italy. Each visit was between a week and three weeks in length for a mixture of learning the language, enjoying the culture and the countryside, teaching wine appreciation and of course, most importantly, visiting the wineries.
I have no commercial interest in the wine business though I do have a desire to explore this underrated area with others. If you want to learn Italian (complete beginners upwards) while being introduced to the wines of the area, do come on the British Institute’s Tuscan Summer School set in the beautiful hill-town of Massa Marittima. For me it’s been a wonderful journey of discovery about the land, the people and the wine. What could it be for you?
- Introduction – why the Maremma? (follows below)
- The wine zones – basic orientation
- Time line – 2500 years of wine in the Maremma
- Wine styles in the Maremma - what the area does best with features on the most important grape varieties
- Sangiovese, Morellino, Sangiovese
- Key wineries by zone – the most important section featuring wineries great and small and the people who run them:
- Other local grape varieties
- Other international grape varieties
- Geology – should come earlier but very difficult to find out about!
- Maremma DOC (DOCG) rules – what the law says about the grape varieties you are allowed to use
- Explore more – books, magazines, websites, wine merchants
Why the Maremma?
For the English, Tuscany means the inland delights of Chianti – the gently rolling hills between Florence and Siena, now a perfectly groomed and idyllic mix of woodland, vines and olives, punctuated by expensively restored farms and castles. Further south are the moody, swirling plains of the Crete Senesi and the wonderful hill towns of Montalcino, Montepulciano and much more. In wine terms Sangiovese is king in these areas, exemplified by the elegance and austerity of great Chianti and the sterner tones of the two Monty’s. In reality Tuscany is a large province with many areas, from the wild Lunigiana in the North, via unsightly industrial and seaside ‘developments’ , to the picturesque Etruscan landscapes of the South which border on Lazio and lead to Rome.
On the coast, in a huge swathe roughly from Pisa down to the border with Lazio is the Maremma or Tuscan coast. The northern edge is poorly defined. The recently published, Grandi Cru della Costa Toscana (a bilingual list of important wine producers) goes for maximum extension, taking its brief to be the Tuscan coast as a whole. As a result it includes the Province of Lucca and even Massa Carrara, which on its northern edge borders on Liguria. More common is the equation of Tuscan or Etruscan coast and the Maremma, the area south of Pisa, so the provinces of Livorno and Grosseto. But of course, the Maremma is not just a coastal area – the Etruscan stronghold of Pitigliano is 50 kilometres inland and is definitely in the Maremma. Thus, broadly defined, the Maremma is the coastal plain of central and lower Tuscany and the lower hill zone adjacent to it.
Quality wine production is a relative newcomer in the Maremma - at least in recent centuries. But the area has ancient viticultural form. There is good archeological evidence of wine production in the pre-Roman, Etruscan period, both in terms of a bronze harvesting figurine found at Ghiaccio Forte (Etruscan harvester) and of the remnants of grape seeds which can be identified by modern science. There is of course no word on the quality of Etruscan wine but we do know that there was a thriving trade in wine in the area in Roman times. The important Roman family, the Sestii, had estates at Cosa (modern Ansedonia) and their stamp appears on terracotta amphorae with distribution in N. Italy, Sardinia, France and Germany. In the middle ages, the area became better known for its cowboys and above all its mosquitoes. The latter made summer impossible to the extent that the impressive hill towns were built so that the entire administration could move inland for the summer months – exactly the opposite migration to the flight to the coast that happens today. Much of the vast coastal plain remained a mosquito ridden swamp well into the nineteenth century and in fact was only finally reclaimed under Mussolini. The coastal plain now is a mixture of some industry, general agriculture, specialised vine and olive farming, and tourism. The Maremman wine scene was revitalised in the 1980s and 1990s with large-scale inward investment from other parts of Tuscany, Italy, not to mention from France, Holland and Japan. It now makes outstanding everyday wines, both white and red, and an increasing number of world class wines. There is lots to discover here …
Quick glossary of Italian wine law:
‘Super Tuscan’: is a term with no legal definition or common usage. It started out as a way of describing quality wines made outside of the quality definitions given above, usually because they were made with international, ie French, grape varieties, at a time when the quality definitions did not allow them. So, the world famous Sassicaia started out as a humble vino da tavola. Confusion was then created by people using the term indiscriminately of any outstanding, or indeed half decent, Tuscan wine. On these pages I will use it of wines made from non-Tuscan grapes, usually Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but now also Syrah. As such it enables quite a useful demarcation between wines basically made with indigenous grape varieties (above all Sangiovese, but also Ciliegiolo and Alicante) and those made predominantly with French varieties. Of course there are also blends of the two, but that’s just how life is! For more on this, see the pages on grape varieties.
Next: The wine zones – basic orientation