Sangiovese is the great red wine grape of central Italy, just as Nebbiolo is that of the north and Aglianico of the south. And just like those other two, Sangiovese is grown all throughout its area in many different soil and climate conditions. It has its already-famous avatars – Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino – and many other incarnations that haven’t yet broken through into consumer awareness. In the cases of Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco, that is to the consumers’ advantage: Neither of these fine Sangiovese-based wines yet commands the prices that their quality deserves.
I doubt either appellation is instantly recognizable to most American wine lovers, but they’re easy enough to localize. Both sit in the southwest corner of Tuscany, between the western edge of the Brunello zone and the sea, in the broad area known as the Tuscan Maremma (home also to such famous non-Sangiovese wines as Sassicaia). Montecucco is the more inland of two appellations, butting right up against the southwest corner of the Brunello zone, which lies just across the Orcia river. Scansano – the name of the major town of the Morellino appellation – lies further west, and the Morellino zone (Morellino is the local name for Sangiovese) extends almost to the sea, taking in even parts of the coastal Grosseto township.
This is hill country throughout, still quite wild in spots. Boar are ubiquitous and can be a problem in the vineyards. Both zones are cooled by winds from the sea and protected from Apennine cold by the extinct volcano Mount Amiata, on whose slopes some of Montecucco’s vineyards spread. So exposures and elevations, and opportunities to make great wine, are as varied and as distinctive as are those of the Chianti or Brunello zones.
I had a chance last month to taste some representative bottles of recent vintages of both Morellino and Montecucco side by side, which was as revealing and informative as it was pleasurable. The event was sponsored by the consortia of Morellino and Montecucco and designed to show another face – or faces – of Sangiovese, an aim that succeeded admirably. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited both zones some years ago, so this wasn’t news to me, though I gather it was to some of the journalists present, which only indicates the absolute necessity for Italian producers to keep reintroducing themselves in the US: Both press corps and consumers are changing all the time, and they need steady reinforcements of this kind of information and experience.
In general, I could say that the Morellino wines resembled Chiantis in their style and food-friendly acidity, while the Montecucco wines seemed more like Brunellos in their generally greater body and structure. Here are the individual wines presented and my very brief comments on each:
Fattoria Montellassi “Mentore” Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014 – Very soft and mulberry tasting; excellent fruit, good acidity.
Terre di Fiori Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014 – Similar in flavor to the preceding wine, but a touch sturdier and slightly more structured. Quite nice.
San Gabriele Arcangelo “Pavone” Montecucco Rosso DOC 2013 – Very much more Brunello-like than the preceding two wines; biggish, with good fruit and abundant soft tannins.
Vignaioli Morellino di Scansano “Vigna Benefizio” Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014 – Lovely underbrush aroma, excellent fruit and balance, fine Sangiovese character. A very nice wine, ideal for drinking young and fresh.
Campinuovi Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG 2013 – Pitch-perfect Sangiovese character and balance, with delightful freshness. Some firm tannins show in the finish; very Montecucco in style.
Val di Toro Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2013 – Again, a lovely fresh nose with some slightly raspy tannins (from barriques?) in the finish; on the palate, very soft and enjoyable.
Collemassari Montecucco Rosso Riserva DOC 2012 – Big and soft despite abundant tannins. Very fine now, but clearly can age for some time.
Ferdinando Guicciardini Massi di Mandorlaia “I Massi” Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2013 – The extended Guicciardini clan has ancient roots in Tuscany, and different branches of it have been landowners and wine makers for centuries. This wine reflects that long experience: Beautifully fruited and structured, it is now a touch austere and needs a bit of time to soften. A very fine wine.
Il Boschetto “Botte N° 11” Montecucco Rosso Riserva DOC 2011 – Rather simple and soft for a Montecucco wine, but showing beautiful fruit.
Erik Banti “Ciabatta” Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012 – Erik Banti is a true pioneer of quality wine-making in Scansano: He has been at it, garnering numerous Tre Bicchieri and other Italian awards, for nearly 40 years. Ciabatta is his flagship wine, and it’s a beauty. This bottle was just lovely, with excellent fruit and an unobtrusive but very big structure that promises excellent bottle evolution. For me, this was the best wine of the day.
Basile “Ad Agio” Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOCG 2011 – Giovan Battista Basile not only makes wine but is also serving as president of the Montecucco Consortium. He said he vinified this wine just like a Brunello (his vineyards lie just across the river from the Brunello zone), and it showed: Still firm tannins partially mask enormous, fine fruit and a big structure. The wine needs time, but promises to reward it.
The Montecucco Consortium also presented the day’s lone white wine, Ribusieri Chiaranotte Vermentino DOC 2014. In addition to having a lovely name, Clear Night, this was a textbook Vermentino, clean and crisp, with wonderful herbal and mineral notes. I found it completely enjoyable and went back to it several times during the tasting as it opened in the glass. Very nice indeed. And a good showing by both Consortia.