These two areas, close to Bolgheri, are relatively obscure as names but produce some great wines. I have grouped them together because, like their famous neighbour, they specialise in French grapes and a Tuscan take on Bordeaux. Not that there aren’t outstanding Sangiovese-based wines here, but they are in a minority. We could call the whole area the ‘northern coastal area of the Maremma’, but as no one appears to known where the Maremma ends going north, that wouldn’t really help. At least the quality wine areas are clearly delimited.
(a) Val di Cornia
You can tell that the Val di Cornia is a relatively new DOC (1989 and revised since) because, like Bolgheri, it has pretty flexible rules about which grapes you can include in designated wines. So, Val di Cornia Rosso DOC must be at least 50% Sangiovese and after that can be any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and up to 20% of any other authorised red grape. Lots of flexibility here and note the provision for the use of large proportions of French grapes. This is a Tuscan DOC but basically in a Super Tuscan mould. If you want to be entirely ST about it and are one of the concentration of wineries around Suvereto, there is Val di Cornia Suvereto DOC which must be a minimum of 50% Cabernet and up to 50% Merlot. There are also monovarietal options: Val di Cornia Cabernet Sauvignon (or any of the usual French or Tuscan varieties) which must be at least 85% of the named grape.
The Val di Cornia has also been effected positively by Bolgheri in that, once suitable land in Bolgheri was exhausted, people began to look over the border to nearby areas to do more of the same. As a result, in the Val di Cornia, there is a mixture of locals making good and investment from near and far. The area runs from the coast at Piombino and then goes inland in a NE direction, around the main town of Suvereto, basically inland of the small spit of steep hills which separate it from Bolgheri on the coast.
Bulichella – high tech biological wines
At Bulichella, two kilometers outside Suvereto, the investment is Japanese and the know how Italian. The farm, which dates from 1983 but was completely renovated in 1997, is run biologically, looks beautiful because of all the attention lavished upon it and there is an agriturismo as well.
Alessandro, the wine maker, is understandably proud of the state-of-the-art technology at his disposal. In addition to the now usual temperature-controlled fermentation vessels, he also has the facility for micro-oxygenation and for keeping white musts at 0˚ centigrade. Yields are kept very low, down to one bunch per plant. The motto is that wine is made in the vineyard but the quality is kept in the winery. When we stayed here the plans for the future were very evident with new vineyards being prepared.
Tuscanio bianco 2006: 100% Vermentino. Pleasantly nutty and mineral; had just been bottled and so needed some time to mature. (All wines tasted 5/07)
Rubino 2005: Sangiovese 50%, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon 25% each. This quality red is matured for six months in barriques. This is the ‘calling card’ for the estate and is good value at €9. Lovely red fruit evident on the nose and palate, rounded easy drinking.
Tuscanio 2002: Sangiovese 90%, Merlot 10%, 15 months in barriques. Bulichella’s top Sangiovese put on a pretty good show in a miserable, rainy year. Lovely approachable fruit and signs of oak, good persistence.
Coldipietrerosse 2002: 80% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot (though the labels says its 20% Merlot!) The estate’s top wine is in a Super Tuscan style. The long name just means ‘the hill of the red rocks’. Deep red in colour, excellent nose of blackberries and oak, sweet and rounded, decent structure, moderate persistence. The 2006 vintage is well received by L’espresso 2010.
Aleatico 2005: qualcosa particolare said Alessandro and indeed it was something a bit special. This is the sweet dessert wine of Elba and Tuscany, made from the perfumed Aleatico grape. Aromas of prunes, dried grapes, grapefruit, very drinkable, definitely not dry but not sickly sweet. Would be good with both cheese and desserts.
Gualdo del Re – established provider
On the small Forni road, south of the town of Suvereto, there is an impressive line up of wineries, a good dozen. The most prestigious is undoubtedly Tua Rita (to be visited still), but there is also Gualdo del Re, Russo and others. Gualdo del Re is well-established and produces 100,000 bottles a year. Its history goes back into the nineteenth century though the first modern harvest was 1982. They produce an interesting range of wines. We tasted five of the ten wines in 5/07. (They are one of the few to try Pinot Nero in the region but I haven’t tasted that.)
Valentina 2006: 100% Vermentino, banana and herbs on the nose, good
Strale 2004: classified as IGT Bianco Toscano, as the grapes are Pinot Bianco, this white is oaked, the malolactic fermentation taking place in barriques. Golden tinges in the glass, vanilla and some herbiness on the nose, mildly aromatic, good mouth feel. Good with the famous Tuscan soups – chick pea, mushroom or mussels – and the aperitivo wine of Suvereto’s specialist fish restaurant, Ristorante dal Cacini.
All the quality reds spend a year in barriques and a year in bottles before release:
Gualdo del Re 2002, 100% Sangiovese, a big wine, 14% alcohol. Great nose of dark fruits and well-integrated oak, cherry, figs, liquorice. A very good example of warm climate, Maremman Sangiovese. Not for the very long keeping but creditable in wet 2002.
Frederico I 2002: Cabernet Sauvignon, deep garnet red, big concentration of fruit.
I’Rennero 2002: 100% Merlot, 15 months in barriques, 21 months in bottle before release. Described by the winery as the king of its reds, its a brighter red than Frederico I and tasted of blackberries and mulberries, lovely rounded fruit, great concentration, the sweetness of ripe fruit.
Russo – Southern wine-making know how
If you keep going on the Forni road, long after you appear to have left the wineries which huddle together for company, keep going past some industrial landscape, eventually go up a farm track you come to a very ordinary looking farm, the home of the Russo brothers. They are originally from Campania, from a wine making family. As a relatively small concern Russo has made an impact on the Tuscan scene and beyond. Antonio Russo and his welcoming wife greeted us warmly and gave us the history of this farm on which they had their first vintage in 1998. 14 hectares of vines are kept company by 7 of olives and 70 milk cows – plenty to keep the two brothers, their families and two regular farmhands busy. We sat in a simple room in the house which doubles as a tasting room and enjoyed:
Pietrasca 2008: mainly Vermentino, but with a little bit of Clairette and Chardonnay, from a very good year, excellent perfume, herby, floral, less nutty than some, very fresh and drinkable. This wine, like most of theirs, is named after the locality in which it grows.
Ceppitaio 2007: Sangiovese, Colorino, Cannaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Merlot and Cabernet grapes, some bought in. Again good fragrance, quite rounded, good, highly drinkable wine. Named after the yellow flowered perennial plant (Inula viscosa) that grows in the fields.
Barbicone 2006: The top red. 80% Sangiovese plus other typical varieties of the region, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Cannaiolo and Giacomino, from 40 year old vines. Antonio laughs – “whose knows what the other grapes are? I rent the vineyard from a shepherd and it’s just what’s in the field”. After 18-20 days of maceration, the wine is left on the lees, and then aged in barriques in their second and third year of use. 2006 is an excellent year – ripe fruit, moderate oak, dense, some liquorish. An excellent 17/20 score in L’espresso for a wine that costs less than €20. 2005: surprisingly dark colour (for the pale Sangiovese grape), good use of oak and dense red fruit, rounded and sophisticated on the palate, notes of chocolate and tobacco, very superior (7/08). Recommended at the very fine friendly and knowledgeable Le Volte restaurant (with rooms and wine bar), Casale Marittimo.
There is also the Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend Sassobucato, named after a disused marble mine next to the vineyard.
We leave after a wonderful meeting and tasting. Some corks have been delivered. Portuguese according to the labelling – “how many corks trees are there in Portugal?” asks Antonio with the same knowing laugh.
Petra – the grandest gesture
The Petra winery, built from 1997, is worth visiting, even if you are not interested in wine. The eye-catching, tambourine-at-45˚ building, topped by full sized olive trees, demands to be noticed. As its owners are all too aware, people have not heard of Suvereto in Milan, never mind New York or London. Despite its huge presence, the new winery sits well in the landscape, complemented by the sea of vines in front of it and the charming, old winery building looking on in apparent quiet contentment.
Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the spectacular pale pink construction, model vineyard and exciting interior make the new winery an architectural landmark in contemporary Tuscany. Mind you its owners, the Moretti, have had a bit of practice. In addition to making excellent sparkling wine up north at Bellavista in Franciacorta, the main business has been pre-cast concrete and laminated wood buildings. This was the company’s 122nd winery. You tell Sig. Moretti where you would like your winery and he will put it up in three months.
Inside it is not only very beautiful but built to the highest practical standards, ‘gravity fed’ in the jargon. The grapes arrive in their small baskets at the top and back of the building which nestles against the hill side. They are sorted and refrigeration is available for the grapes if they cannot be handled straight away. After de-stemming, they are pressed and then dropped directly into the top half of huge, double-height stainless steel fermentation vessels. Each of the largest vessels holds enough wine for 22,000 bottles. Once fermentation is completed, the young wine can be run off into the lower container.
The barricaia makes the most of the hillside location, going deep into the rock. The bottling and packing plant on the lowest floor completes the journey from basket of grapes to bottle ready for sale. The bottling line can handle the 22,000 bottles produced in each batch in a single operation, eliminating the need to store wine temporarily or repeatedly clean equipment. Production in 2007 was 280,000 bottles, with the eventual target of 500,000. The vineyards stretch out in front of the winery with additional sites by the sea at Follonica and at 300m of altitude at Massa Marittima.
The top wine, Petra, is fermented in large, wooden vessels with higher temperatures and longer maceration times (25 days).
Zingari 2006: Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Alicante, presumably what was in the vineyards when they bought the estate. A fresh, drinkable style, made for drinking young, slightly wild edges to it.
Ebo 2004: Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Sangiovese 30%, Merlot 20%. This is the quality red, made in large quantities, vinified in the enormous stainless steel containers, matured in old barriques for 12 months with a six month rest in bottles before release. Big blackcurrant nose, black fruits, rounded, moderate length.
Quercegobbe: IGT Toscana, Merlot, from a single vineyard (‘hunched back’), which gets the influence of the sea, fermented in large wood containers, matured in 600 litre barrels and second year barriques for 15 months. 2004: A good year and a good example of Maremman Merlot, rich fruit, good acidity. (tasted 7/07) 2005: a demanding year and a wine in development still, pronounced asparagus and capers aromas on the nose to start with, then some red and black fruit, rounded and approachable, finally quite chocolately – rather an extraordinary experience, given the rapid changes in the aroma profile of the wine. (8/09) 2006: an excellent year, not ‘green’ at all, excellent if young fruit, high tannins and acidity, needs time but has great potential. (8/09)
Petra: IGT Toscana, top red, made with varying amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, fermented in a mixture of wood fermenters and stainless steel, matured in 90% new barriques for 18 months and the same in bottles. 2003: this year 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the heat of the year, a well integrated nose of black fruit, complex, very smooth in the mouth (no record of the alcohol level), some acidity, fair persistence (7/07). The winery is one of the few to keep older bottles and we bought a magnum of 1998, the wine in that year being half and half, Cabernet and Merlot. Pleasantly ruby with some browning at the rim, lovely soft nose with a slightly raisony element, balanced, light and velvety in the mouth but with good acidity and rasp. Showed that Maremman Super Tuscans (even made in the conditions of the old winery) can age perfectly respectably (8/07).
A Vin Santo type wine, Angelo di San Lorenzo, is also made. The challenge for Petra is to produce wines as great as the architecture. L’espresso 2010 thinks it has begun to do so and if that is the case, then the future is certainly bright.
Some other wineries:
The Val di Cornia took a good step by having a stand at the London International Wine Fair, May 2010. The size of the marketing mountain was well illustrated by the people on the stand telling me that I was the first visitor who knew where the Val di Cornia was. But others were impressed by the wines, so there is lots to celebrate here. I mainly focused on the Sangiovese and enjoyed:
- the white Stradivino 2009, Rigoli: nice fresh lemony 100% Vermentino, quite complex
- Rodantonio 2006, Sangiovese (100%), I thought there was quite a lot of oak but said to be 2nd/3rd year barrels, pleasant, very modern and fruit led in style, quite rich and persistent
- San Guisto Rosso 2005, 100% Sangiovese, a little bit dumb on the nose but then dark cherry-plum fruit, good – from right down on the coast at Piombino with no doubt great views of Elba
- Libatio Lunae, Sant’Agnese, 2004, also near Piombino. This top Sangiovese is fermented in open vats with regular pressing down, maceration for 8-10 days, matured for 18 months in barriques: great depth of flavour, excellent acidity from a top year, complex, very good indeed – and shows you can make quality Sangiovese on the coastal strip.
Featured wineries: Castello del Terricio, Caiarossa, Pagani de Marchi, Aione
Montescudaio as a quality wine area is mostly inland and in this case runs up the valley of the Cecina river towards the famous Etruscan town of Volterra. The DOC was established back in 1977 on a good old-fashioned Tuscan model: a red based on Sangiovese (and all the other Tuscan grapes, red and white, like old-style Chianti) and a white based on Trebbiano, Malvasia and Vermentino. The rules call for a minimum of 50% Sangiovese in the red and the same proportion of Trebbiano in the white. When the DOC was revised in 1999, the foreign legion of Cabernet and co were admitted. The ubiquitous ‘monovarietal’ style is available to growers: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc, all at a minimum of 85% of the named varieties. The official consortium is small (13 members) but has some very characterful wineries. We begin with the star winery of the area, not actually a part of the consortium.
Castello del Terriccio
Only 30 kilometers south of Pisa, this magnificent estate was described in 1830 by the historian, Lapo de’ Ricci, as being on the Maremma border, as the estate’s website informs us. The estate was turned over to quality wine production by its current owner, the man with one of the best names in the entire Tuscan wine scene, Gian Annibale Rossi di Medelana Serafini Ferri. On a more serious note, once a competitive three-day eventer, his horse riding accident in 1975 led to a new direction and specifically to wine production of the highest standard. The estate is large, 1,700 hectare, with 70 down to vine. The overall message of Terriccio is: close to Bolgheri and just as good!
If the setting is beautiful and luxurious, so are the wines. There are some Tuscan favourites here, but the emphasis is on French grape varieties with an Italian twist. 60% of the wine is exported, a testament to quality. All the wines tasted 7/08.
Col Vento 2006: Sauvignon Blanc, with an extra year in the bottle, fairly neutral on the nose, then good fruit and acidity. Very enticing. 2007: more characteristic freshness, currant leaf, very good.
Rondinaia 2007: Chardonnay, good apple and pear aromas, rounded palate, bene.
Saluccio 2007: something of an experimental wine, made from Viognier, mild peachy flavours, pleasant, rather modest in character but we will see if this intensifies as the vines get some age.
Capannino 2006: unusually here, 100% Sangiovese, a entry level quality red, excellent warm Sangiovese aromas, good body, dense.
We start the ascent of the top reds:
Tassinia: three equal parts of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in 90% used barriques for 14 months. 2004: a dark red, blackberries and red fruit on the nose, very fruity, dense. Excellent. Treated to an older bottle, 2000: fruit evolved into a deeper register, the balsamic effect of wood ageing in older barrique makes a balanced impact. Very good.
Castello del Terriccio: despite being named after the company, this is not the top of the range and is quite a new wine, made from Syrah (50%), Petit Verdot (25%) and other red varieties (25%). Syrah is the new grape in the Super Tuscan movement. The 2003 was the deepest, darkest red, dense and with some characteristic Italian bitterness. 2004 is somewhat lighter in style, a better year, but still very young when tasted in 2008. Rather like being in some Bolgheri establishments, these wines are not made for the short-term.
Lupicaia: much lauded Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (15%) and Merlot (5%), from the best sites. Aged for 18 months in 90% new Allier oak barriques. The 2003 was still a bit dumb on the nose, but a enormous mouthful of ripe fruit and decent acidity, very long. 2004 was similar (surprisingly given the marked difference between the years, but then they were both pretty young in 7/08): currant leaves, big fruit, marked acidity and tannins, huge promise. Thank you to Bettina, an exemplary host on a very hot day.
Update on new vintages tasted at Vinitaly 2010:
Rondinaia 2008: good bright pears/apples, fiery finish, interesting
Col Vento 2009: nice floral nose, not typically gooseberry of Sauvignon Blanc but pleasant
Tassinia 2006: fully mature fruit, some blackberry notes, persistent, very good indeed
Castello di Terricio 2005: no tasting note. In general I am rarely moved by Tuscan Syrah and that may have been the case here.
Lupicaia 2006: the top wine hidden away from the crowds on the final day of the fair; deep plummy and balsam notes, very well balanced despite its massive palate, following acidity and rasping tannins, excellent and huge potential to soften, knit and age
Caiarossa stands out, not only because of its bright red winery, but also for its commitment to quality and to a different way of thinking. We visited during a rain storm of biblical proportions, so no pictures. The enterprise has been built up through foreign, in this case Dutch, investment and is now owned by Eric Albada Jegersma who also has two Margaux properties, Ch. Giscours and Ch. du Tetre. The wine maker is also French, Dominque Génot. In addition to running the vineyards and winery in on biodynamic principles, the property is unusual for its commitment to feng shui. This governs the colour (red/terracotta, the colour of wine and la fortuna; ochre for the sun and life) and orientation of the winery. Also notable are the very dense planting of vines (9,050 per hectare, the most we have met, planted in tightly packed rows) and an amphitheatre of vineyards with an excellent South-facing aspect. The range of grape varieties is also unusual. Though the majority are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, and Sangiovese, there is also Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, not to mention Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng.
The range of wines has increased recently but in 2007 (tasting note 5/07), it was just two:
Pergolaia 2004: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, this quality red is a sort of homage to the local traditions given the predominance of Sangiovese; wine matured in barriques for 12 months, a big 13.8˚ alcohol. Great intensity of fruit, oak on the nose, figgy and liquorish. A second bottle of same vintage, tasted Jan 2010, now slightly brown tinge to ruby colour, fruit on the fade but fascinating dried fruit and leather bouquet, decent finish, probably at its peak. Very good. An interesting example of an aged bottle of a simple but good wine, not intended to be aged. Showed its quality.
Caiarossa 2004: into the top wine goes the best grapes, 33% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, 22% Sangiovese, plus five other red varieties mentioned above. It’s difficult to imagine that tiny proportions of Grenache or Mourvèdre can make a difference, but the blend definitely works. Pre-fermentation maceration of 2-3 days and then 20-30 days. This spends 18 months in new French barriques. A big, glorious nose of blackcurrant, oak and red fruits, good texture in the mouth, tame tannins, good persistence.
Caiarossa Bianco, Viognier (50%) and Chardonnay (50%), whole bunch pressing, matured in 33% new oak.
Oro di Caiarossa, a late harvest, sweet wine, made from Petit Manseng left on the vine to dry out before being vinified and matured in barrels.
The force, biodynamic, feng shui or a combination of these with modern skills and competence, does appear to be with Caiarossa. The 2006 vintage of the top red scored an impressive 18/20 in L’espresso 2010 and gets a warm commendation from Nick Belfrage in The Finest Wines of Tuscany.
Pagani de Marchi
Further south in Montescudaio, just below yet another attractive hill-top town, Casale Marittimo, is the small family firm of Pagani de Marchi, founded in 1996 using a property that used to be a holiday house. I have mixed emotions about Casale, beautiful though it is, as with one wrong turn we found ourselves driving down its minute and steep roads, more like staircases really, feeling that one would never escape. Then to cap it all, six months later (some things don’t move fast in Italy) I got a speeding fine from a speed camera on the stretch just below the town – it was obviously the relief of having escaped the town’s roads.
With a first harvest a year after the millennium, Pagani de Marchi has cleverly positioned itself between the local Etruscan past, picked up in the labelling, and the very contemporary choice of French and Tuscan grape varieties. While the Etruscans may (or now, so it seems, may not) have grown anything resembling Sangiovese, there is certainly no evidence (!) that they also grew the Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon which thrives here on the clay and chalk soils, poor in nutrients but high in minerals.
Five red wines are produced, tasted in May 2007:
Montaleo 2005: Sangiovese 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%, Merlot 15%, matured for four months in stainless steel only. This quality red is sold as the entry level wine and has lovely fresh berry aromas on the nose, very drinkable.
Olmata 2004: a Sangiovese (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (30%) blend, given 8-12 months in second year barriques and another 8-12 months in the bottle. Lovely rich nose, good acid and tannin, a fair compromise between fruit and some wood ageing.
Casalvecchio 2002: a top red, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in French barrique, a mixture of new and one year old, for 12 months and then a further year in bottles. Named after the Etruscan site near the sea. After a couple of moments in the glass, it opened up with violets and blackberries, a slight whiff of burning, rounded, full and elegant in the mouth, with good persistence.
Principe Guerriero 2002: the top 100% Sangiovese, taking its inspiration from an Etruscan warrior prince. Similar ageing to Casalvecchio. Initially rather dumb on the nose but elegant and with a good concentration of fruit. A second bottle drunk in 2010: good dense mid red, little sign of ageing; modest nose of sour cherries, decent fruit core, after two hours of aeration, much more perfume.
Casa nocera 2004: a top red, this time 100% Merlot, 16 months in French barriques of first and second years of use and twelve months in the bottle. An impressive 14.5˚ alcohol. A deep red in colour, nose of cooked plums, huge concentration, still very tannic and astringent.
Only five kilometres from the sea, close to Cecina, La Regola is now a pretty well established winery with a good range of whites and reds. The enterprise started in 1990 and bottled its first wines in 1997. The wines include Lauro, an interesting mix of Chardonnay and Viognier, the latter’s peachy aromas detectable on the nose and RoséGola, a new rosé from Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah, with a bright fruity nose, which in 2008 was about to go on the market. The two top reds are Beloro (mostly Sangiovese) and La Regola (85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot), treated to 18 months in new oak. Both have a good explosion of fruit on the palate.
Another exceptional wine from Montescudaio comes from L’Aione, far inland on the way to Volterra. Unusually, for the Maremma, the estate, Podere Aione, is at 400m above sea level. We bought an older bottle (1999) of the top wine named after the estate at dinner in Volterra at the excellent del Duca. The blend is Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, made in part from 80 year old vines with 15-18 months of ageing in barriques. It showed a pronounced nose of ripe fresh and dried fruit, tobacco, full and rounded on the palate, soft tannins, balanced, with an after taste of figs and raisons. Wonderful ( 6/07). Tasted again at Vinitaly 2009: the 2004 vintage, ruby with a brownish tinge, elegant rather than powerful, mature fruit, well integrated oak; slightly tannic still as a relatively young wine but velvety.