I had a lucky September. I attended a series of wine lunches that featured top-flight restaurants and – and – top-flight wines. Believe me, the two don’t always coincide, and I count myself very fortunate indeed. This post, I want to tell you about Terenzi wines from the Tuscan Maremma. That’s the wine zone that lies just behind the Mediterranean seacoast.
Once upon a time, it was unhealthy country, with spurs of hills running down into malarial marshes, over which Italian cowboys – I’m not kidding – ran cattle, and every autumn Italian hunters pursued boar. Well, the cowboys are gone and most of the marshes have been drained and replaced by vineyards, but the boar are still there and still hunted: Pasta with a rich, dark sauce of tomato, red wine, and minced-up boar seems to be a delicious staple of the local diet.
When I met Federico Terenzi for lunch at New York’s Marea, boar wasn’t on the menu, but does pasta with a red-wine-reduction tomato sauce with octopus and beef marrow count? It should: It was delicious, and it brought out some of the best of his complex and elegant wines. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to who, what, and where.
Who: Federico Terenzi, who with his brother Balbino and sister Francesca Romana owns the eponymous estate. What: a luncheon tasting of five of the family’s wines. Where: Marea, a top-flight Italian restaurant with a pronounced flair for seafood, in the space that once housed San Domenico, across from Central Park.
The who, what, and where of the winery is a bit more complex.
The Terenzi family established the winery in 2001 in the Morellino di Scansano zone of the Maremma with the aim of raising Morellino to the highest level of quality and elegance. Now, since Morellino is the local name for Sangiovese and we’re definitely in Tuscany, that shouldn’t seem an extravagant ambition, though many have tried it in this area, and the results have been mixed. Sangiovese almost always gives a drinkable wine, but wringing a really fine one from that tricky grape in newly planted fields in a terroir and microclimate different from other parts of Tuscany: that has not been easy, even for experienced Tuscan winemakers.
Just for clarity’s sake, here’s a bit more about the where of this whole enterprise. The Tuscan Maremma (there’s a Maremma in Lazio too, though it gets little attention except from weekending Romans) stretches the length of the province, from near Volterra in the north down to Orbetello in the south. For wine lovers, the northern end is the most famous, since it includes Sassichaia and the other vineyards around Bolgheri. As a wine zone, that northern end is dominated by international varieties. Further south, inland from Grosseto and around the town of Scansano, Sangiovese holds sway, under the local name of Morellino.
.Starting in the ‘90s of what is now the last century, there was a bit of a land rush here as winemakers in other parts of Tuscany discovered (a) that Sangiovese cultivated here had a distinctive freshness and fruitiness that greatly excited them, and (b) that land was available at, for Tuscany, very reasonable prices. The registers for Morellino di Scansano have since been closed: The total amount of land that can be planted to grapes has been filled up. The only way anyone can create a new winery now is to buy an existing one, and the price of land has gone up quite substantially. So the Terenzis chose an auspicious place and time to put down their and their vines’ roots.
That they have done so successfully is amply attested by the fact that their cru Morellino, Riserva Madrechiesa, has already, in the winery’s short history, become a multiple Tre Bicchieri winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself again: Let me take the wines in the order I tasted them.
We opened with a lovely 2015 Vermentino called Balbino, for the winemaker brother, accompanying an equally lovely plate of crudi (raw fish). Vermentino is a great seafood wine, and this light and aromatic specimen played that role perfectly. Two weeks on the skins creates that pleasing fruity aroma and gives the wine a little hint of complexity, very intriguing in what is normally a simple aperitif wine. Federico says that Tuscan Vermentino always smells more intensely of the Mediterranean scrub, especially of rosemary, than does Sardinian.
We went on to Terenzi’s 2015 Morellino, vinified from 100% Sangiovese. For my palate, this is a perfect luncheon wine – medium-bodied and not overpoweringly alcoholic, with appealing fresh cherry fruit, excellent acidity and good balance. At a suggested retail price of around $15, you’d be hard put to find a better wine.
2013 Morellino Riserva Purosangue came next. This wine showed all the characteristic aromas and flavor of the basic Morellino, kicked up a substantial notch in intensity and refinement. It is a selection of the best grapes from several vineyards, not a cru, but that makes no difference to its very high quality.
The next wine broke the traditional mold with a pronounced nod to the Scansano zone’s northern neighbors. Francesca Romana, named for Federico’s sister, blends Merlot, Petit verdot, and Cabernet sauvignon to create a (for me and my prejudices against international grape varieties in Italy) surprisingly successful wine, very bordelaise in style but because of its emphatic Tuscan acidity very Italian in total effect. It’s barrique-aged – another usual no-no for me – but I found the oak very controlled, and the wine as a whole very pleasing. I especially liked the olivaceous scents, which I’m pretty sure derive directly from the Petit verdot.
For our final wine, we tasted the 2013 Madrechiesa, a Morellino Riserva and a cru wine from Terenzi’s oldest vineyard. As I remarked above, this has been a pretty consistent Tre Bicchieri winner, and the reasons for that were immediately apparent. This is a big wine, and a touch austere – it’s young yet – with refined fruit and excellent balance. Above all, it is elegant – very, very elegant, a wine of poise and restrained power. Need I add I liked it a lot?
Overall, I thought that elegance was a hallmark of these wines all through the line. At least one reason for that, beyond the good terroir and the appropriate clonal selection, lies with the winemaker. The Terenzis made a canny choice there too: they engaged Giuseppe Caviola, a Piedmontese winemaker who has established himself as a premier enologist throughout Italy. It’s no wonder this Maremma estate is regarded as one of Tuscany’s rising stars.