In depth look at Tuscany uncovers hidden wine gems

10/30/2013 2:31 PM

10/30/2013 2:31 PM

Not long ago, I had the chance, privilege really, to travel to the bucolic, historic Tuscan city of Montepulciano to participate in an unbelievable food and wine pairing competition.

The featured cuisine was “la nana,” or duck, and the featured wines were Vino Nobile di Montepulcianos. After eight duck recipes paired with eight different Vino Nobiles, and some two dozen other Vino Nobile de Montepulcianos sampled on their own or with other cuisine, I was a convert, but a curious one.

I wondered if there were other Tuscan gems out there that I had yet to discover, at least in their full glory. So, off to the internet and the wine store I ventured. What follows is some of the most delicious homework I’ve ever been assigned — it helped that I assigned it to myself.

On the shelves and in cyberspace, I came across a region of Tuscany I had heard of, but knew little about — Maremma. Maremma is located in the southern coastal area of Tuscany between the valleys of the Ombrone and Albegna Rivers.

The wines from the region are labeled Morellino de Scansano. Nearly as tough to say as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino’s were exactly the type of wines I looked forward to exploring — Sangiovese-based, full-bodied Tuscan gems.

The wines are known locally as “Morellino,” and they are made almost entirely with Sangiovese with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Canaiolo and other varietals completing the blend. Being farther south, Maremma is hotter than Montepulciano, but it’s also closer to the Mediterranean, so a constant breeze helps cool the vineyards down after those long, hot summer days.

Considering the length of Tuscany’s wine-producing history, Morellino di Scansano is an infant. Morllinos were first given DOC (Designation of Origin Controlled) status in 1978, and they were only granted the higher DOCG (Designation of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed) status with the 2007 vintage.

Specifications for the wines mandate that Morellinos be made with a minimum of 85-percent Sangiovese. There are two qualifications of the wines — standard and riserva. Standard, or basic Morellino de Scansanos age in oak for four to 12 months, depending on the producer and expression of wine desired. Riservas are a full year in oak, giving them both a deeper color and more intense and complex flavors and aromas.

I tasted a combination of standard and riserva Morellinos, and while I generally enjoyed them all, here are my impressions of a few of my favorites.

Not surprising, at the top of the list was the Tenuta dell-Ammiraglia “Pietraregia” Morellino de Scansano Riserva. I say not surprising because, at $25, this was the most expensive of the Morellinos I sampled. Also, Teunta dell-Ammiraglia is an estate owned and developed by Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, one of the most prestigious and consistent wine producers in Tuscany and the world.

With this wine, the Sangiovese is blended with small amounts of Ciliegiolo and Syrah to create a tremendously complex, deep, rich wine with hints of currants and spice on the note, and a vast array of ripe dark fruit on the palate. It is a stunner.

I also very much liked a standard Morellino called Pietramora. A blend of 85-percent Sangiovese and 15-percent Merlot, the Pietramora is softer than the Pietraregia, less complex, but at $17 retail, also less expensive. A bit more up-front with both its aromas and flavors, the Pietramora is warm and ripe with tons of rich fruit, and just a hint of vanilla and thyme.

Remember my blog on the wine and barbecue dinner at JackStack? This wine would have been a hit with several of the courses we had that night.

Finally, let me give you a real value pick — the Cala de’Poeti Morellino. At well under $10 retail, this wine is a “buy-by-the-case” selection, and a front-runner for a red wine of the house at the Eckerts. Yes, we have both a red and a white house wine. Don’t judge us.

Anyway, the Cala de’Poeti is ripe and fruity, a little simple perhaps, but ultimately very approachable and sumptuous.

I could go on about Maremma and Morellino de Scansano, but I’m hoping to actually visit in the not too distant future, which would make my impressions all the more vivid, my prose more creative and the Morellino de Scansanos even tastier.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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