This is an article eight months in the making, involving several thousand miles of travel and dozens and dozens of bottles of wine.
I know, I know. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. The subject is my love affair with the Tuscan wine-producing region of Montecucco.
Located in the Maremma in the southwestern reaches of Tuscany, Montecucco, with its rolling hills, vast tracts of forests, and low-density population is one of Tuscany’s, Italy’s, and even Europe’s largely undiscovered gems.
I first learned of Montecucco during a trip to the Maremma last September. I was familiar with the wines of Montecucco’s neighbors in the region, Morellino di Scansano, an area I also visited and will write about separately. However, Montecucco, its wines, its producers, and its history were unknown to me.
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I spent three days tasting, touring, and soaking up as much information as I could in that short time, then the next seven months trying to bring that knowledge to some wine-loving Kansas Citians. It all came together in a Montecucco-tasting I led at Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen last month. Before I delve into the tasting, I thought I’d cover a bit of the region’s history to help put those wines into perspective.
First of all, Montecucco is an ancient region, dating to 500-800 B.C. Yet, with all that history, Montecucco is a very young wine-producing area, receiving its AOC status in 1998 and its DOCG designation in 2011.
Montecucco also is rapidly growing, producing only a few thousand bottles 20 years ago and more than 1 million bottles today. Perhaps most significant in the style and substance of Montecucco’s wines is its geographic location. It lies directly across the river and adjacent to the famed wine-producing region of Montalcino, home to perhaps the greatest red wine in Italy, Brunello di Montalcino.
Using the Tuscan superstar grape Sangiovese as its base, and in many cases, as the sole grape, the wines of Montecucco can remind you of a Brunello, yet with their own distinctive flavors and flare, which brings me full circle to last month’s Kansas City tasting.
My approach to introducing the wines of Montecucco to the citizens of KC was rather simple. I went back over my notes and picked out the eight wines that had made the biggest impression on me during my time in the region. Turns out, that was the perfect formula as the tasting featured four regular Montecucco bottlings and four riserva wines.
The Montecucco AOGS were all good in a rather simple, straightforward way. But the stars of the show were the riservas! Brimming with fruit with hints of earth and spice, these wines were the perfect showcase for Sangiovese, which has long been one of my favorite grape varietals regardless of the appellation.
Riserva AOCG wines require a minimum of 90-percent Sangiovese with 24 months aging in the cask and another 6 months of aging in the bottle. The result, in most cases, are wines of depth, complexity, and elegance. The group preferred the Parmotelo and the Colle Massari of the four riservas, but honestly, all four wines in the flight were either good, very good, or excellent. I don’t rate wines, as I think the practice is rather facile, but if I did, these would have all scored 90 points and more!
Unfortunately, there aren’t many Montecuccos available in the Kansas City market. Jim Coley, wine director at Gomer’s Midtown, told me he just starting carrying one. However, there are plenty of Montecuccos available online, including the wines of Colle Massari, the largest producer in the region. Colle Massari’s wines are also very high in quality and extremely consistent. Montecuccos aren’t inexpensive, but in comparison to their neighbors across the river in Montalcino, they are a bargain.
Now, if you’re wary of ordering wines you’ve never tasted, you can always do what I did-go to Tuscany and taste them for yourself. Cheers!
Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.