Morellino di Scansano - Tuscany’s Other Sangiovese Wine
Morellino di Scansano (mor ay lee’ no dee scahn zah’ no) is a Sangiovese-based red wine produced in the area around the ancient village of Scansano in Tuscany’s Maremma region. The Maremma is a narrow strip of land in western Tuscany with a long coastline on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The area's rich volcanic soil and dry, hot weather makes it a prime area for growing wine grapes. The sea breezes from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea also promote large day-night temperature swings which, contrary to what you may think, are beneficial to growing quality grapes because they help balance the level of sugar and acidity in the maturing grapes.
Although the Scansano area has an ancient winemaking tradition, it wasn’t until the 1970’s when the Super-Tuscan wine phenomenon first surfaced in the Maremma region - think Sassicaia and Ornellaia - that Morellino wines caught the attention of the wine world.
The popularity and commercial success of Super-Tuscan wines sparked interest in wines from elsewhere in the Maremma region and demand for Morellino wines increased sharply. This increased popularity precipitated a land rush of sorts in the Morellino area as existing Morellino producers responded to increased demand by buying additional vineyard properties at the same time that producers from elsewhere in Italy began investing in the Morellino area by buying land, planting vineyards and starting wineries.
The Morellino di Scansano brand also received a boost from the appellation’s award of DOC status in 1978 and the subsequent upgrade in 2006 to DOCG, the highest category for Italian wines.
While all this attention worked to the benefit of wines from the Morellino area, they are still relatively unknown or overlooked by the general wine-buying public in the U.S. Consumers are generally unaware of them and easily gravitate to the comfort of the more familiar and celebrated Sangiovese-based wines from the Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano areas of Tuscany. However, that may be about to change as more Morellino di Scansano wines find their way to wine shop shelves in the U.S. and consumers become more aware of this delightful and relatively inexpensive Sangiovese wine.
Morellino is the dialect name for the local Sangiovese clone. Morellino is just another name for the Sangiovese varietal and Scansano is the area where the grapes are grown.
While some Morellino wines are 100% Sangiovese, the majority are blended wines. The regulations specify that Morellino di Scansano wines must consist of at least 85 percent Sangiovese. Up to 15 percent of the blend can consist of local red varieties such as Canaiolo, Alicante, Mammolo and Malvasia Nero and/or “international” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The regulations specify two official categories of Morellino di Scansano. The first is the regular or normale Morellino di Scansano wine which does not have to be aged in wood and can be released for sale as early as March of the year following the harvest. This type of Morellino wine is meant to be drunk young, within 2-3 years of release.
Morellino wines identified as “First Selections” are aged in wood for a relatively short period of 4 to 12 months. The token barrel ageing imparts more personality and extends the ageing potential of the wine. Depending on the type and duration of the barrel ageing regimen, these wines can be aged for 4 to 6 years
The second official category consists of Riserva versions of Morellino di Scansano. Riserva wines must have a minimum of 11.5 percent alcohol and must be aged for at least two years of which at least one year must be spent in wood. The extended barrel-ageing enhances the aroma and flavor profiles of the wines, imparts some tannin and also extends the ageing potential of the wines. Depending on the vintage, some Morellino Riserva wines will age gracefully for 10 to 15 years or more.
The variety of Morellino wines generally available makes it difficult to articulate the aroma and flavor profiles and structure of Morellino wines in general. Depending on the ageing protocols and grape varieties utilized, the characteristics of Morellino wines can vary significantly from producer to producer and even from label to label within a producer’s portfolio.
Regular (i.e., no-Riserva) Morellino wines are typically fresh and fruity with bright acidity and modest tannins while the Riserva wines will generally be more full-bodied, richer and more tannic than the normale versions. Some Morellino producers take extra-special efforts with their Riserva wines, crafting elegant and complex wines that can be prominently featured at the top of restaurants’ wine lists.
Prices of Morellino wines generally provide real value on a quality-to-price basis. Prices of regular Morellino wines typically range from $11 to $18 on retailers’ shelves while prices of Riserva bottlings will typically fall in the $18 to $30 price range, an outstanding value for wines of this quality. The best Riserva bottlings of Morellino wines, such as Fattoria Le Pupille’s “Poggio Valente” and Poggio Argentiera’s “Capatosta”, bear price tags north of $30.
My overall assessment is that Morellino di Scansano wines are satisfying if not delicious, generally reliable and provide exceptionally good value for the price, especially when compared with other Sangiovese-based wines of similar quality.
There are over 500 Morellino producers and some obviously are better than others. A short list of the best Morellino di Scansano producers would likely include Fattoria Mantellassi, Fattoria le Pupille, Fattoria Terenzi, Roccapesta, Tenuta Belguardo, Tenuta Val di Falco and Vignaioli del Morellino di Scansano, the last of which is, interestingly, a cooperative winery.
However, Morellino di Scansano wines are not on most U.S. wine consumers’ radar screens and not a lot finds its way to the U.S. By comparison, Morellino wines are readily available throughout Italy and I found them to be particularly popular in the enoteche (winebars) and restaurants of Rome during a recent visit there. Perhaps the Italians know something we don’t.
Listed below are seven noteworthy Morellino di Scansano wines generally available in the U.S. Some may be harder to find than others but it’s worth the effort to become better acquainted with these wines. The wines are listed alphabetically by producer.
Doga delle Clavula, Morellino di Scansano 2010 (about $14)
This 100 percent Sangiovese is aged for 6 months in oak casks and 4 months in the bottle prior to release. It is textbook Morellino di Scansano with aromas of black cherries and spices, dark berry flavors, good acidity and muted tannins and a perfect match for pizza and pasta dishes and grilled white meats.
Fattoria Le Pupille, Morellino di Scansano Riserva “Poggio Valente” 2008 (about $42)
Elisabetta Geppetti, owner of Fattoria Le Pupille, year after year produces one of the finest expressions of Morellino di Scansano available here or in Italy for that matter. This 2008 Poggio Valente is primarily Sangiovese (97 percent) with just a splash of Merlot (3 percent). Aged for 15 months in a combination of new and used small French oak barrels barriques) and a further 7 months in bottle before release, this Riserva is a complex and full-bodied wine with plenty of character and staying power. It will age gracefully for an additional 10-12 years.
Fattoria Mantellassi, Morellino di Scansano Riserva “Le Sentinelle” 2006 (about $23)
Fattoria Mantellassi is one of the largest wineries in the Scansano area and has good distribution in major U.S. markets. The 2006 “Le Sentinelle” from Mantellassi is 85 percent Sangiovese and 15 percent of the local variety Alicante. This is the estate’s premier wine and takes its name from the small 6 acre hillside vineyard where the grapes are grown. The wine is aged in barriques for 20 months and spends several more months resting in the bottle prior to release. This ageing protocol gives it a deep, full and elegant personality and is an excellent value on a quality-to-price basis.
Ghiaccio Forte, Morellino Di Scansano “Vigne Del Passero” 2011 (about $16)
This blend of 85 percent Sangiovese and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is irresistibly rich and complex and goes well with a wide variety of foods.
Lionello Marchesi, Morellino di Scansano “Poggio alle Sughere” 2010 (about $14)
This impressive wine consists of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is aged for eight months in barriques and four months in the bottle. This medium-to-full-bodied Sangiovese is well balanced with good acidity and smooth tannins. A remarkable bargain at this price point.
Lohsa, Morellino di Scansano 2010 (about $16)
The Lohsa estate is owned by the Poliziano winery which is one of the top producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Located in the vicinity of Magliano, Azienda Lohsa is planted with 67 acres of vineyards devoted to the production of Morellino di Scansano wines. This Morellino is 85 percent Sangiovese and 15 percent Ciliegiolo, a Tuscan variety frequently blended with Sangiovese. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 8 months in a combination of barriques and oak casks. It is a great food-friendly wine at a can’t-resist price.
Val delle Rose, Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2009 (about $21)
The Cecchi family from the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany purchased the Val delle Rose winery in 1996. They then spent a lot of time and money on reviving the estate by replanting vines and upgrading the winery’s production facilities. The results have been worth the investment and effort.
Val delle Rose’s 2009 Morellino di Scansano Riserva is 90 percent Sangiovese with a splash of several other red varieties. It is aged for 12 months in barriques and 10 months in the bottle prior to release. It has ripe fruit and spice aromas typical of Sangiovese from the Maremma area. It has sufficient body and structure to accompany main courses such as stews, roasted and grilled meats and game.
October 23, 2013
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