Northern Maremma: (a) Montecucco

The northern Maremma area is made up of two quality wine areas, ie two DOCs.  Starting inland again, there is Montecucco, which is the roughly L-shaped area South West of the Montalcino plateau. It is further inland than the even less well known Montereggio di Massa Marittima (see next section).  Neither has a long history of quality wine production and both have struggled to gain recognition.  They may well both disappear from labels if the new EU-inspired larger areas (in this case DOP Maremma) take off.  In this section we will focus on Montecucco, overwhelmingly a red wine area.

Montenero

Featured wineries: Salustri, Le Vigne, Trottolo, Perazzetta, Parmoleto. All wines tasted in spring 2007 unless stated otherwise.

Salustri
A perennial problem of visiting wineries around Easter is the confluence of the brief holiday itself and then Vinitaly, the five day, mammoth, annual wine fair at Verona.  Leading producers are either preparing for, at or recovering from Vinitaly.  Our visit to Salustri was somewhat curtailed by the V factor but it was still well worth going to this leading organically run farm and winery in the Montecucco area.  Although the site is not big, Salustri is a regional player, producing its own quality wines and making and storing wine for others.  Unusually it also keeps examples of its own bottles for ageing and has very beautiful labels.

At the winery we tasted just the quality red, Marleo 2006: made of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Ciliegiolo:

old oval botti with other people's wine, stored at Salustri

it had a good ruby colour with a pronounced purple rim (March 2007), a moderate cherry nose which opened up with time, good dense fruit and decent balancing astringency. Even in a red wine area this as good a basic quality red as you will find.  In 2008 we did taste one of the older bottles, Marleo again but this from 2002. It still had lots of lovely cherry fruit but now with leather notes, and some refinement on the palate, good acidity and fine tannins.  Very good/excellent.   Salustri also make a white (Narà, 100% Vermentino) and two top reds, Santa Marta (from 30 years old vines, oak aged for 18 months) and Grotte Rosse (50 year old vines, slow vinification, 18 months in oak).  Richard Baudains comments on the 2004 Grotte Rosse: ‘Ripe, supple  Sangiovese with elegant fruit aromas, lovely balance. Deliciously natural quality on the palate.  Outstanding. [Drink] 2008-15’ (Decanter August 2008)

Le Vigne

This winery, ‘the vineyards’ in Italian, is unusual in that it has most of its vines in one large vineyard, with fossil rich soil, good exposition and very good day/night temperature difference which contributes to freshness in the wine.  The family have decided to stop expanding the vineyards, now at 9 hectares, because they want to manage directly what they produce.  The emphasis is on gentle handling: the harvest is by hand using small panniers, they have a Teflon de-stemmer and go in for cool temperature maceration of up to three weeks.

Le Vigne

We tasted two reds here: Cupilaio 2005, 85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, with a year’s ageing in stainless steel.  An excellent nose of sour cherries, easy to drink, good Sangiovese quality with the Merlot not being too dominant.   By contrast the Montecucco DOC Sangiovese 2005 (100%) is aged in mainly new barriques and a fine nose of cherries, vanilla, liquorice and leather, lots of fruit, acid and tannin, definitely age worthy, perhaps for 10 years.  It’s quite unusual to go for such clearly new oak style but it worked well, perhaps because of the very good fruit.

Trottolo

Dario Pasqui runs a small (3 hectare) estate outside Montenero, with great views across the undulating landscape.  He loves the outdoor life, for him and his young family.  The wines are aged in a mixture of barriques and the rather larger tonneaux. Apart from tips on wine making (he’s keen on inert gas when processing wines to stop oxidization), we also get a lesson in productivity of varieties:  his Sangiovese produces 1.5 kg per plant, a medium yield (1kg per plant is low), while his Cabernet will produce 4 kg each!

Trottolo has three reds to taste: Monteflaminio (a sort of Super Monteccucan blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 20% Merlot), a quality Sangiovese and a top, riserva Sangiovese.  The Monteflaminio 2006 has an excellent nose of ripe fruit and further explosion of fruit on the palate,  though the bouquet is somewhat transient – it is obviously a fruit led wine for drinking young, in a rather new world style. We try the Montecucco Sangiovese 2006 but he is not very happy with it as it doesn’t really show, so we try a bottle of the same that has been open for 4 or 5 days, still in perfect condition.  The Riserva 2005 (100% Sangiovese) has a powerful nose of dark cherries/plums and oaky notes, fully mature fruit in the mouth, good acidity and tannins.

Perazzeta

Alessandro Bocci’s company is a quite a big player in these parts with, unusually, 7 hectares in Montalcino, 7 of Syrah near Cortona, as well as 10 hectares in Montecucco.  Land prices are spectacularly different on the two sides of the Ombrone river, €1m per hectare in world-famous Montalcino and €300,000 per hectare south of the river in little known Montecucco.  (These prices are reflected in the bottle: say €15 for a bottle for Montecucco riserva and €45 for Brunello.  Perazzeta is in a strong position with land in three parts of Tuscany producing three styles of wine; for others, looking across to the gold mine of Brunello country it is hard not to be envious.  To be fair, the wine styles and requirement for long ageing of Brunello are quite different.)  Perazzeta has worked hard on marketing – we were given a DVD about the property, the wines have traditional names for Europe and personal family names for the States.

Perazzeta’s everyday red, Alfeno is a slightly more traditional blend than some, Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo and Cabernet.  We tasted the 2007 from the cask – a glass of cherries, with the Ciliegiolo in the mix being valued for it perfume and colour.  The Cabernet obviously adds yet more colour and backbone.  Two quality Sangioveses follow: Terre di Bocci 2005, has spent a year in barrique and is good example of bitter cherries with an oak waistcoat, medium bodied (no Cabernet) and moderate astringency.  Licurgo 2005 is the top wine, mostly from 60 year vines, less than 1 kg per plant and an impressive 14.5˚, a testament both to the warmth of inland Montecucco and late harvesting in a quite a mixed year.   The nose is of dark berries, plums and minerals, very closed still.  It seems surprisingly low in acid (super-maturity?) and tannins.  Its maker thinks it will be at it best in 2015.  We may be able to test this as we have a bottle in the cellar.  Finally, we try the Syrah 2006 from Cortona, planted in 2001, at a bit of whopper at 14.9˚  Deliberately pitched at an international palate, it smells of strawberries but is a bit ‘up and down in straight lines’.

Digression: How much (quality) wine do you make from each vine in Tuscany?    Historically, volume was all.  For the peasant, Trebbiano toscano, the white work horse of Tuscany, was planted everywhere because of its high production.  Now growers are reducing yields, particularly of Sangiovese,  in the search for quality.  The maths are something like this:  if you plant densely, 5,000 plants per hectare, and get 1.5 kg per plant, this will give you 7,000 bottles.  By contrast, a top wine (taking the example of Licurgo) is made from vines planted even more densely (7,000 per hectare); with low yields this produces only 3, 700 bottles per hectare. So that’s only half a bottle per vine … a very good reason for that top wine to cost more.   The Syrah, like all the French grapes, is rather more productive at 6, 000 bottles per hectare.

Other wines that we enjoyed in Montecucco:

Vineyard at Parmoleto

Parmoleto – our hosts during our stay, good range of well-made wines including a Bianco made with Malvasia Bianca (40%), Trebbiano (30%) and Chardonnay (30%), fresh and pleasant; Montecucco Sangiovese DOC (85%, plus 10% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 5% Syrah), matured in second and third year barrels.  As so often we preferred the top Sangiovese riserva (2004) matured for two whole years in wood, to the Sangiovese/Cabernet blend, Sormonno 2005.

We enjoyed a substantial update of vintages at Vinitaly 2010, in the company of Parmaleto’s Swiss importer who is very impressed with the wines. The Bianco (Carabatto 2008) had nice apple fruit, the Montecucco Rosso 2006 is full of fruit and quite perfumed, good acidity, while Sangiovese 2006, after a corked first bottle, had brilliant fresh cherry fruit and wonderful freshness, a star wine.  The riserva 2005 is more perfumed with longer oak ageing, not as fresh, good but not as impressive as the normale. Sormonno 2006 is rich, good balance and powerful, properly astringent, while Syrah 2006 has a rather plain nose but very good on the palate. All round a very good achievement, with the help of the excellent 2006 vintage. No UK importer.

Peteglia, Monteccuco Sangiovese, 2005 – lovely dark cherry nose, some nice chocolately/tobacco notes, delicious at €13 in the excellent Antica Fattoria del Grottaione in Montenero which stocks the local wines (including a special shelf for those of his friends) and has excellent food.

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