There are many icons in Italy; when you see pictures of the Colosseum or Michelangelo’s David you know exactly what you are looking at. But for Italians there is one place that is just as iconic. This place, however, might not be recognised by many foreign tourists.
Near the winery of Antonio Camillo in the Maremma, southwest Tuscany, you will find the Baths of Saturnia. The springs are fed by water heated by geothermal activity. The waters are rich in sulphur and at a constant temperature of 37.5 degrees. People flock to bathe here to benefit from the health-giving properties that the waters are said to possess. The baths’ origins go back to a disagreement between Jupiter, King of the Gods, and Saturn, his father. To resolve this issue, Jupiter hurled two thunderbolts at Saturn. Saturn dodged the thunderbolts and they struck the earth, splitting it asunder, thus allowing the hot volcanic water to escape – hardly an exemplar of filial piety.
Only a couple of kilometres away Antonio Camillo makes use of the Gods in another way, namely in the production of his wine, Morellino di Scansano. The Morellino grape is in fact Sangiovese by another name. Those of you who have been following this blog will remember that the name is a contraction of Sangue di Giove, or blood of Jupiter.
Vinnie and I left the springs and drove the short distance to Antonio’s winery. Here we were shown round by his assistant, Valentina, who explained some of Antonio’s winemaking philosophy to us. As a young man, Antonio was working in a cantina. He is not from a winemaking family but obviously fell in love with the whole process because he bought two hectares of forty-year-old vines and set out to produce his own wine. He now has 17 hectares and produces some 95,000 bottles per year from the modern winery that he moved to in 2015. Here you can see the massive cement vats that he uses to mature his wines. He prefers this method over wood because the cement allows the taste of the grape to come through unaltered and he does not use steel because the cement allows the wine to breathe.
The first wine we tasted was indeed his Morellino di Scansano. The rules for this wine specify a minimum of 85% Sangiovese but Antonio does not mess about and goes straight in with 100% Sangiovese. This is matured in cement for four months before being bottled. We sampled the 2019 and, after the explanation provided by Valentina, I had some trepidation. Sangiovese can be strongly tannic but the amount of tannin you extract depends on the maceration. With no small amount of skill, Antonio has produced a wine that has a bright ruby colour but without an excess of tannins. On the nose it is young and vibrant with plums and cherries, with a suggestion of violets and rose, and in the mouth the tannins are medium strength and balance well with the acidity – perfect with barbecued red meat, Tuscan style.
Antonio has another passion and that is the Ciliegiolo grape – the name comes from the Italian word for cherry. This is a grape that is used extensively for blending but Antonio has chosen to explore its potential to produce wine by itself and the results are well worth tasting. The first we tried was from 2019. Light in ruby colour, the bouquet is delicate with cherries in the foreground and plums behind. On the palate the tannins are low with some acidity and a wonderfully full flavour of cherries that bursts into your mouth. Serve it cool with bruschetta and fresh tomatoes.
Finally, we sampled Antonio’s single vineyard offering, Vallerana Alta. Again, 100% Ciliegiolo from vines around 60 years old, the colour is a deep ruby with hints of garnet. For once Antonio does age in wood, in this case large botti, and the extra dimension this brings is reflected in the bouquet of cherries with leather and tobacco. On the palate there are low to medium tannins with good acidity and a certain salinity. This is a wine to pair with lamb or baccala or fresh cheese.
If you make it to Antonio’s, and I hope you do, be sure to visit the beautiful hilltop town of Pitigliano nearby. For me this is one of the undiscovered gems of Tuscany. Set on a narrow tufo ridge in an unassailable defensive position the narrow streets of the centro storico are full of opportunities to discover the real Italy. From the Etruscan roots through to the once vibrant Jewish community and the Orsini fortress this is a fascinating place.