It’s very tempting to start this survey of key wineries of the Maremma in the north with Bolgheri - after all it re-ignited the quality wine business in the 1960s and led to the growth of a fine wine scene in the previously unknown Maremma. But I am going to start in the South and work up the coast as the Maremman wine scene is much more than just Bolgheri. In the south you are most aware of the ancient Etruscan heritage as you can still walk along the deeply cut Etruscan roads and admire the ancient city of Pitigliano. For more on the Etruscan period, see the time line.
Thank you to Edoardo Ventimiglia for the photos of Pitigliano and of his Sassotondo estate. For an interactive map of the wine zones, click here.
Featured wineries - starting inland near Pitigliano, moving to the Scansano area and then up the coast: Sassotondo; La Bussatina; Acquaviva; Mantellassi, Le Pupille; La Parrina; Poggio Argentiera
Retreat to the land: Sassotondo
Just outside Pitigliano, Carla Benini and Edoardo Ventimiglia started their winery in 1990 drawing on Carla’s professional background as an agronomist and his success as a documentary film maker. They describe it as a flight from contemporary urban life and its preoccupations and visiting the estate on a bright spring day in 2007, it was not difficult to see why. They are surrounded by pasture and woodlands which – as they say – makes the site feel more remote than it is, half way between Pitigliano and Sovana. The house is a pleasantly ramshackle but the vineyards buzz with new life. They have farmed organically from the first and spring flowers and plants were bursting into life between the organised rows of vines. Carla was happy to show us around, stopping briefly to fulminate about her neighbours immaculately sprayed vineyard! The tufa – highly porous volcanic rock – is visible everywhere: at ground level, in the cellars cut in the natural caves, at the road side where you can see roots descending to metres below the surface. Notice also the ‘green manure’ crop growing between the organically tended vines.
In addition to the magical setting, what makes Sassotondo stand out is finding the right grape varieties and wine styles for its setting. Although the reds hold sway here, the white are not to be overlooked. They benefit from the tufa (volcanic compressed sandstone) with Trebbiano, supported by Sauvignon and Greco, achieving a good profile: nice clean nose, reasonable fruit and citrusy edge, then good minerality, refreshingly acidic finish.
The star attraction here, after the place, is Ciliegiolo [pron.: chi-li-edg-JO-lo], a red grape variety usually in the supporting cast to Sangiovese in Chianti and elsewhere in Tuscany. If anything it tends to come a poor third or fouth after Colorino and Cannaiolo. But here it stars in its own right: a quality red called Ciliegiolo (90%, with 10% Alicante) and a top wine, San Lorenzo, 100%, in purezza, as Italians like to say. The former is aged briefly in stainless steel and has great primary fruit flavours. In the glass it has a good deep ruby red with purple tinges, a great nose of cherries and plums – and smell of bacon according to my culinary son – rich sweet fruit on the palate, balanced tannins and acidity, quite a long finish. In short a red wine of great character. The good news is that it is currently stocked by the Wine Society, a brilliant bottle at just under £9.
Before we come to San Lorenzo, we note that Ciliegiolo has currently been given a leading role in wine science. According to the research centre in Alto Adige, it is not only definitely related to Sangiovese, it is almost certainly one of its parents (N Belfrage, Finest Wines of Tuscany, p. 27). If Sassotondo’s version is anything to go by, the other parent – a really obscure Campanian variety called Calabrese di Montenuovo – must have been particularly characterless.
San Lorenzo is treated as the top wine that it is. The best grapes are selected from nearly forty year old vines in the single vineyard opposite Pitigliano. After a maceration of 15-20 days, the wines are matured in new barriques for 18-24 months and then rested in their bottles for a year. In 2007 we tasted the 2001, which had a big nose combining fruit and the spice of wood (perhaps pepper and cloves). It still seemed quite closed and needed time to develop in the glass. Its makers praised its freshness and drinkability; other find it to be powerful and elegant. You can’t really praise it more than Nick Belfrage does: ‘It was at a tasting featuring the top wines of the Tuscan coast, a few years back, that San Lorenzo … stood out for me, among the Sassicaias and Ornellaias, as being the wine on display with most character.’ (Belfrage, Finest Wines, p 197) At around €30 it costs less than a third of its Super Tuscan colleagues!
Other wines are produced - a 100% Sangiovese and a oxidative white, Numero Sei, which I look forward to tasting in due course. What is clear is that the retreat to the country has been anything but a backward step. In fact it has brought something very special about this hidden part of the Southern Maremma to a wider world.
La Bussatina – natural wines and wild breeds
Another highly individual, biodynamic winery is to be found a few kilometres north west of Sovana at San Martino sul Fiora. Emilio Falcione runs a small holding at 500 metres above sea level, keeps wild breeds and makes super low intervention wines at La Bussatina. Unlike the surrounding tufa and clay, his soil has much more sand and his 30 year old vines give softness to the fruit. The wines are sold in local restaurants but not much beyond.
As we tasted in his house, he explained that every bottle is marginally different and that he prefers authenticity to uniformity. His white, San Martino 210 is 75% Trebbiano, 20% Malvasia and 5% Ansonica, a very traditional blend. As the wine opens up in the glass it shows powerful mineral notes, a certain waxiness on the palate, very rounded and full. We then try two vintages of Terre Eteree 2005 (85% Sangiovese, 15% Ciliegiolo, matured for 6 months in barriques and 6 months in the bottle) had a wonderful bouquet and was full of fruit; 2004, for most a better year, was more acidic but had good fruit and persistence. His Ciliegiolo 2003 stood up well to the extreme heat of that year but lost its freshness. The nose was rounded, not obvious or racy, good fruit again. None of these bottles were super clean in the modern style but they are textured, substantial wines in an over-homogenized world.
Acquaviva – resort and wine
On the same day 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 wine making – 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 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 hill side 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.
Mantellassi - the heartland of Morellino
Founded 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 Tosana 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 much missed Ezio Mantellassi’s widow, 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 (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. And 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.
The star winery of the Southern Maremma is to be found at the very north western 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 may be 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. There is now also a four-way red blend, Pelofino, sangiovese, cabernet, syrah and cabernet franc, introduced in 2006, a ‘deliciously favoursome 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.
This estate is very unusual in Tuscany for having its own DOC: La Parrina, granted in 1971. We are now close to the sea and were it not a little kingdom of its own, the DOC would be in Costa dell’ Argentario for whites or Capalbio for red. The estate lies directly behind Orbetello which in turn is on reclaimed land behind the Argentario peninsula/ island with its bustling ports and mountain. The estate is now run as a rather upmarket agriturismo with a good restaurant where they are helpful in enabling you to try a range of wines. They have as many specialist cheeses as wines, so all in all it scores highly on the gastronomic front.
Tasting at dinner in 2007: Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario DOC 2005 – ie Ansonica grape from the wide DOC area, not just the estate: mid straw colour, nice waxy nose, fruity with lemon hints; Parrina Rosso 2005 (100% Sangiovese), delicious fresh red fruit; Parrina Rosso Riserva 2001, 70% Sangiovese much beefed up with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, a deep ruby red with garnet tinges, ‘stuendous nose of dark fruits and well integrated oak’ (I wrote at the time), some tar, excellent persistence; Radaia IGT Maremma Toscana, 100% Merlot, they were very proud of this, lots of black fruit especially mulberries, rather lacked freshness (perhaps it was the hot 2003 vintage?), we much prefered the Rosso Riserva. They also produce a Vermentino and a Sangiovese based red, Muraccio.
After the traditional estate of La Parrina, a journey north on the Vecchia Aurelia (old trunk route) to the very contemporary Poggio Argentiera, within the Uccellina nature reserve/park. You do take your life in your hands slowing down to make the turn off the Aurelia, annoying any number of lorry drivers.
Gianpaolo Paglia runs this winery with contemporary labels and marketing overseen by his wife, Englishwoman, 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.