The wine styles
A typical well-established Maremma wine producer will have a range of 5 or 6 wines:
- white blend: Trebbiano plus Vermentino, Chardonnay, Viognier etc
- varietal white: Vermentino or Ansonica
- young red: Sangiovese made for quick drinking, refreshing, undemanding
- quality red: usually Sangiovese but made for greater depth of flavour and short-term ageing
- top red: either Sangiovese based or Merlot/Cabernet/Syrah, big structured wines, from older vines, often drunk fairly young but can be aged;
- sweet wines: wines made from partially dried grapes (passiti), Aleatico (sweet red), Vin Santo, occasionally Ansonica or Muscat
Increasingly, they will also have a rosé, or should we say, rosato. Actually the Italians will probably use the former.
This section on wine styles will feature some wonderful, often smaller wineries, so typical of the area. As not everyone will get a mention in the ‘key wineries’ section, it’s a pleasure to mention some other wineries here.
Historically this would have been made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, producing wines of either virtually nil character to a mildly grassy, slightly herbaceous quality. In the Southern Maremma, the tufaceous rock can produce wine of real character – sharp and edgy, for example at Sassotondo.
In northern Maremma everybody has decided that Trebbiano plus Vermentino is a better bet (eg Tenuta del Fontino). This is a shame – surely someone has got to set themselved the goal of creating a top quality, age-worthy, traditional white. The traditional blends do exist as sfuso and in bottle. Although I have been to the Serraiola and Moris wineries several times (and tasted the wines many times), I have never been offered ‘Il Serraiola’, a Treb/Malvasia blend, or Moris’ ‘Santa Chiara’. So the quality producers are making the traditional white blend for local sales and putting all their efforts in to modern blends or single variety whites.
Much more exciting and available are good whites made of either Vermentino (inland) or Ansonica (coastal southern Maremma). Vermentino can have a lovely lemony character, excellent mouth feel and, occasionally, real structure (Serraiola, Moris Farms, Antinori’s Bolgheri estate of Guado al Tasso respectively). Although in the Maremma, it’s good to very good, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some examples from the Ligurian coast or Sardinia. But there is no doubt that it is the currently the first choice for quality white in the Maremma.
Ansonica is the same grape as Sicily’s Inzolia, so in the Southern Maremma it can cope with the heat. It has a freshness and acidity to go well with the predominantly seafood cuisine of the area. I have relatively few tasting notes for it: a good Ansonica/ Vermentino blend from Poggio Argentiera; a rather disappointing example from La Parrina (‘slightly oily texture, nice if modest fruit’); a very cheap version from the Cantina di Capalbio (leads with acidity, fair). It would be good to get back to this area and have a proper search.
Italians love young, fresh wines. Even the top wines they sell and drink young and so it is no surprise to find some emphasis on good value, young wines, fermented in stainless steel and matured briefly in large, inert containers, and released onto the market. These bottles zing with life and are purply-red in the glass. Much of it is sold as sfuso, open wine, which you collect in demijohns and pay €1.50 a litre. If it’s a better quality it is bottled but you still expect to drink it within 18 months or so.
The very first winery we visited under our own steam had a great example of this. Umberto and Bernardino Valle came from the south of Italy to Arcille (just in the Scansano DOCG but bordering the Montecucco DOC) in the 1998 to set up Poggio Trevvalle – there must be or have been third Valle relative involved. They have farmed organically from the first and in their functional winery they produce four reds, all Sangiovese based, and now a rosé. Bernardo explained that the first wine Santippe (€5) is made as an aperitivo or a picnic wine for the beach – chill it and enjoy the fresh, fruity nose and typical Sangiovese acidity … sounds good to me.
Some wine regions have a novello category, a bit like the ill-fated Beaujolais nouveau, which takes the same idea to an extreme. Make wine, clarify it, release it in November, drink it. The idea would be more popular if you were heading into summer and toward the beach, not winter and the big dishes of Tuscan wild boar. For this you need either of the next two categories.
For me, this is really the heartland of the Maremman wine scene: big, warm climate wines, full of the flavours of cherries and some pluminess, but with a good rasp of tannin and great counter balancing acidity which cleanses the palate. This is the Maremman take on Sangiovese, the most important indigenous grape variety in Tuscany. Just to keep us on our toes, Sangiovese is called Morellino in the Scansano area. So ‘Morellino di Scansano’ simply means ‘Sangiovese from this particular part of the Southern Maremma’.
In the vineyard, the producer will choose established vines for the quality red wine and in the winery the fermenting must will be kept on the skins for 10-15 days, extracting colour and tannin. After some time to clarify the wines, the wine may then be matured in oak barrels (often smaller French barriques, though usually a mixture of old and new) for six to twelve months, and be given six months in bottles before being released. These wines are extremely good value for the quality – €6-14 in Italy.
The Trevvalle versions of this wine style is the straight Morellino di Scansano DOCG (12 months in used barriques). It had a bright, lively nose of red and black fruit, with some tobacco and balsamic notes, and great acidity to balance the fruit. Available in the UK from the Wine Society is Podere 414’s Morellino di Scanscano, an excellent if slightly atypical wine – lovely lively red, great nose of ripe fruit, very rounded in the mouth (due no doubt in part to the 14.5% alcohol), very good. They go to great lengths to extract every last drop of flavour – low intervention in vineyard and winery; carbonic maceration; partially drying of the small proportion of Alicante grapes in the mix.
Top red – Sangiovese or international
This is a vital category for Maremman or any other producer because these are the wines that will make the name of the winery and win prizes. The prestige of the winery depends on this – even though for most people, it’s the quality/price ratio of the ‘quality red’ (above) which will really matter. The difference here is low yields in the vineyard, concentrating the flavours; a year of ageing in wood (usually a mix of new and used barriques, occasionally in large oak barrels), and a slightly later release date. Because of the great fruit flavours these wines can be drunk from release, let’s say two years after the harvest but can also develop in the bottle.
For their top wine, ‘Larcille’, named after the village, the Valle brothers at Poggio Trevvalle use the best Sangiovese grapes. The wine is matured in the traditional manner for twelve months in large botti, 3000 litre barrels of Slavonian oak. The use of botti indicates that in maturing the wine they are looking for slow transformation of fruit flavours, not the vanilla of new oak. The Larcille (was €18 in 2007) smells of frutti di bosco (so dark cherries, blackberries and blackcurrants,) pepper and spices, very rounded in the mouth, powerful, refreshing acidity, good persistence. Excellent.
Some growers will go for a Sangiovese blend for their top wine – Moris Farm’s Avvoltore would be a good example, Sangiovese 75%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%, Syrah 5%. Many will go for an international blend or occasionally a single French grape variety. Thus Serraiola’s top wine, Campo Montecristo is basically Merlot, with some Syrah and Sangiovese, macerated for 21 days, one year in Allier barriques. Of course in Bolgheri and nearby, the wines are basically made from French varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) with the benefit of Italian sun and soil. A few wineries will also have a top wine based on another Tuscan grape, eg Sassotondo’s San Lorenzo is 100% Ciliegiolo.
Traditionally, there are two sweet wines in the area:
Aleatico – a red grape and wine, usually made into a dessert wine by the passito method, ie you allow the grapes to dry out after the harvest and make wine from the shrivelled grapes. It’s sweet and rose scented … Aleatico dell’Elba Passito has (apparently) now been awarded DOCG status. A few main land wineries are also trying it, eg Bulichella. Locally you will also find passiti made from the Ansonica grape or even Muscat.
Vin Santo – the Tuscan classic, also made from semi-dried grapes, hung up or laid out for three months to dry out, then vinified, then matured for an indeterminate number of years in small barrels in a range of types of wood. Here the otherwise dull white grapes of Trebbiano and Malvasia come into their own with their high acidity and capacity for genteel oxidisation. Red versions also made (Eye of the partridge, Occhio di pernice, from Sangiovese, often ludicrously expensive)
The Maremma is not really a hot-bed of Vin Santo making (traditionally the small barrels were kept in the roof to be exposed to the heat and cold as the seasons changed); but here and there you will find examples. In our experience, the Vin Santo is very much a speciality of the lady of the house, or at least named after her – it’s a residual part of the traditional, domestic economy, though of course commercial versions are made. Good examples are dense and complex, nutty, slightly marmaladely, good acidity. Beware the cheap version in tourist shops and in restaurants … like cheap Champagne, all they do is to give the real, highly individual wine a bad name. Search out the real thing and be prepared to pay a bit more for it; a huge amount of work has gone into it.
The Vin Santo at Fattoria Santa Maria, Montescudaio is excellent: rich, sweet and nutty and an amazing bargain at €12.50. It’s very much Lucia D’Antillio Bacci’s labour of love.
Completely different in concept is Le Pupille’s Solalto. A table wine made from botrytised Traminer, Sauvignon and Semillon grapes: pure gold in the glass, intense honey, fruit notes, a little oxidized but beautifully balanced, lingering sweetness, very good.