In the past 25 years, the Tuscan Maremma – the stretch of hills and valleys just behind Tuscany’s Mediterranean seacoast – has become an important wine-making zone. The most prestigious part is the Bolgheri area, home to Sassicaia and Ornellaia and Angelo Gaja’s grandiose winery, as well more indigenous producers such as Grattamacco and Michele Satta. Right behind Bolgheri – in the prestige sense, not geography – is the Scansano zone, with its luscious Morellino, another delicious incarnation of Tuscany’s ubiquitous Sangiovese.
Among many newish enterprises in the Maremma, a few old-timers – real pioneers, such as Erik Banti – stand out. One of the best of these has the unusual name of Moris Farms, whose wines deserve to be far better known here in the US than they are.
Farms is an English word, but Moris is Spanish, the name of the family that acquired two estates in the Maremma a few generations back. One is located in the Morellino di Scansano zone, and the other in a less well-known but very interesting part of Grosseto province, around the also-interesting town of Massa Marittima. Despite Morellino’s DOCG status, the latter, supposedly lesser, Moris Farms location produces what amounts to its banner wine, the IGT classification Avvoltore.
The estate also houses a pen of cinghiale, the wild boar that inhabit every uncultivated stretch of the Maremma and whose appetite for ripe grapes can wreak havoc in the vineyards at harvest time. The canny grape growers get their own back by hunting and eating boar at every opportunity, and I can assure you from several happy visits to the region that Avvoltore makes the ideal wine to accompany boar, whether it appears in a long-simmered pasta sauce, a stew, or simply braised or roasted. Boar is a forceful, full-flavored meat, and it wants a forceful, full-flavored wine to partner with. Avvoltore fills the bill admirably.
I can also tell you, from more recent, domestic experience, that Avvoltore matches equally well with milder, less wild meats. Diane and I served a 2003 Avvoltore at a dinner party alongside a handsome stuffed breast of veal, and the pairing was spot on – as Italians would say, un buon abbinamento.
Moris Farms’s vineyards are overseen by Adolfo Parentini, the husband of Caterina Moris, with the help of consulting enologist Attilio Pagli. Within Italy, Moris Farms has long been highly reputed, but awareness of the quality of its wines has been slow to reach these shores. This is surprising, because Avvoltore is the sort of “modern” wine – some Cabernet and a bit of Syrah blended with 75% Sangiovese, aged for a year in barriques – that in theory the American market loves and I usually hate. I can only defend my seeming inconsistency by saying this wine tastes purely Italian to me: The Sangiovese sings in the blend, albeit with deeper notes than in most other Tuscan wines, and the oak notes are seamlessly integrated, not dominant. With decent age – my 12-year-old was perfect – the wine is utterly harmonious. In The Finest Wines of Tuscany, Nicolas Belfrage describes Avvoltore as “a wine of complexity and character, rich but rounded, a Tuscan modern classic.” I’d say that’s nailed it exactly.
Purely by the way, the name Avvoltore comes from the hillside vineyard in the Massa Marittima estate that grows the grapes, and it in turn is named with the local word for a bird of prey – apparently a falcon of some sort. Not inappropriate for a high-flying wine of this caliber.