Morellino is, in fact, a grape which gives its name to the wine Morellino di Scansano. To sample this, Vinnie and I travelled to the Maremma in southwest Tuscany. This area is unknown to most tourists, unlike the narrow valleys of Chianti or the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia. This is an expansive landscape that for centuries has been home to a group of men called butteri. These men used to herd cattle on horseback on the large estates which existed here. Yes, before the days of the Wild West, Italy had cowboys. Even today there are still some butteri working with cattle herds in the Maremma Regional Park but their glory days, when they outperformed Buffalo Bill’s visiting troupe, have sadly passed. Back in the present day, this is the area that produces the prestigious DOCG wine Morellino di Scansano, a wine whose popularity has been much on the rise in Italy in recent years.
Vinnie and I visited the Roccapesta winery, and we were shown around by the resident oenologist Ginevra Espositi. The winery is a relatively new project; it started in 2005, and produces around 100,000 bottles a year from 18.5 hectares of vines. The first thing to be clear about, as Ginevra explained, is that the Morellino grape is, in fact, none other than the famous Tuscan variety Sangiovese. However here, in sight of the sea, it is grown in a very different environment to the land that produces Chianti and Brunello. We were there during the harvest when the winery is at its very busiest with the bunches of grapes being picked by hand before being brought in for selection.
One of the problems a winemaker faces is that on a bunch of grapes not all grapes will ripen at the same time. Ginevra showed me the grapes at the top of the bunch that had started to shrivel under the unrelenting heat of the sun and, indeed, tasted of raisins. These and any undersized grapes have to be discarded and it is a three stage process. Firstly, there is a manual selection as the bunches are fed into the machine which destems the grapes. Next, the berries go through a machine that optically detects and discards grapes too small or large and finally there is another manual check. If you want a quality product, this is what you have to do.
From there the grapes are pumped down to the area where the fermentation takes place. Different parts of the estate have vines of different ages and these are fermented separately. The grapes from the oldest vines, destined to make the most prestigious wine, go into large French oak tini of 5,000 litres and others are fermented in stainless steel. Whichever method is used, if the winemaker is going to extract all the goodness from the grapes the wine cannot be left to its own devices. The skins float on the top and somehow they need to be mixed with the must to allow the colour and the tannins to come out. There are different ways of doing this and at Roccapesta they use a technique called ‘pumping over’ which describes perfectly what happens. The outflow from the bottom of the tank is connected to a pump and the raw wine is pumped back in at the top so it flows over the skins extracting more of the goodness. Many wineries will do it once maybe twice in a day – here they do it three times a day.
From the fermentation area the wine is moved to the cellar to mature. They do a range of six wines, all red, and I tasted four of them. The first is called Masca, 2016. It is a DOC Rosso di Toscana and is made from 80% Sangiovese and 10% each of Petit Verdot and Syrah. The international grapes, coupled with the length of time this wine has had to mature, certainly gives it a huge bouquet full of plums with maybe a hint of tobacco coming from the Sangiovese. On the palate there is a balanced acidity with bitter cherry and light tannins.
The second wine we tried is called Ribeo, 2018. This is a true Morellino di Scansano made from 93% Sangiovese and 7% Alicante, a Spanish variety. The colour is a bright garnet, a characteristic of Sangiovese, and the bouquet is light and floral with raspberry. On the palate there is a fresh acidity with a pleasing salinity and cherries. Try it with fish or pasta.
Moving on, I sampled a Roccapesta 2018. Again, this is a Morellino di Scansano but this time 96% Sangiovese and 4% Ciliegiolo. Colourwise it is a dark garnet with hints of ruby. On the nose there is cherry with vanilla and herbs. In the mouth there is good acidity with cherry and a touch of oregano and some salinity.
Finally, we tasted the third, a 2016 Calestaia, the most prestigious of the three DOCG wines produced here. The colour is dark garnet which is to be expected from a wine that is 100% Sangiovese. The bouquet is deep and complex with leather, tobacco and vanilla. This is the result of three years maturing in oak. In the mouth it is full-bodied and well structured with bitter cherry. Indeed, the whole experience is reminiscent of a Brunello except for the hint of salinity in the mouth. This is great wine with plenty of aging potential.
One final attention to detail that Ginevra pointed out during our tour – all the bottles are hand-sealed with wax over the cork. This is a winery which is concerned with quality and knows how to achieve it. I would strongly suggest you visit if you can – a new tasting room is on the way. If you can’t pay them a visit, then look out for their wines at the best wine merchants.