The great Tuscan reds you probably aren’t drinking – The Grand Wine Tour
The great Tuscan reds you probably aren’t drinking
The young aristocrats of the 18th and 19th centuries took Grand Tours to Europe ostensibly to “get cultured.” Italy lured Grand Tourists with Old-World mystique, ancient archaeology (just imagine the Colosseum without the lines), and artistic masterpieces that most people had only ever heard of. Today, there’s a new dimension to travel: food and wine. Never before has gastronomy held the fascination of so many, helped in no small part through social media. It’s starting to feel like we’re all experts, with daily columns on edgy food trends, food-stagrammers galore, and enough drool-worthy recipes to last a lifetime. But are we as food-and-wine-cultured as the internet and our social media make us look? Americans overwhelmingly think Chianti when they think of Italian wine, according to a recent survey from the Italian Trade Agency. Don’t get us wrong: Chianti is an important Italian wine with centuries of history behind it. But Italy has over four thousand native grape varieties and hundreds of different wines. To get cultured in this sense, then, it’s time to move beyond Chianti and look at some other greats.
Great red wines from Tuscany to try for a change
We’ll stay with red and we’ll stay in Tuscany, to keep it simple. For your own Grand Wine Tour from home, you’ll need two bottles: an international palate pleaser and an affordable gem that’s still largely hidden from the masses. We have two excellent examples coming from a local winery in the coastal Maremma area of Tuscany, Fattoria Le Pupille—a winery that has been there from the beginning of the birth (and rebirth) of the wines of Maremma.
The Lady of Morellino
In the coastal territory of Tuscany called Maremma, winemaking goes all the way back to the ancient Etruscans. So when Morellino di Scansano reemerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it truly was a comeback. Fattoria Le Pupille was one of the very first wineries in this territory to bottle Morellino di Scansano in 1978. Today a winery with four hundred and twenty hectares (1038 acres) of land, its main structure and winery is near Grosseto, an old, noble-looking farmhouse surrounded by vineyards, including a small plot for experimenting with old sangiovese grapes. A well-curated guest-house is located under the shadow of Monte Amiata in Casaletto, where the winery first produced their wines; this was back when an enthusiastic Elisabetta Geppetti and oenologist Giacomo Tachis turned their attention towards serious viniculture and away from the multifunctional farm it once was. Owner Elisabetta Geppetti was still just a young studentessa when she and Giacomo Tachis put their faith in Morellino di Scansano. In 1982, their Morellino Riserva 1978 was released, quickly earning her the honorable nickname “Lady of Morellino.”
Morellino di Scansano for a different sangiovese
Ask for Morellino di Scansano next time you eat out at a restaurant, and you’ll earn some Grand Wine Tourist points (highly coveted, we assure you). Like Chianti, Morellino di Scansano is sangiovese-based (minimum 85%); morellino is the local name for sangiovese. Unlike Chianti, Morellino di Scansano hails from the coastal Maremma area of Tuscany closer to the Tyrrhenian Sea and from a warmer climate than its neighbor. It benefits from good soil, cool marine breezes, plenty of sunshine, and low humidity. Its deep-hued grapes (morellino is the local name for sangiovese) were named after the dark-haired Morelli bay horses that once populated the area. A cheerful red wine, Morellino has fruit-forward notes, scents of sweet cherry, and a soft texture balanced by good acidity. It can be drunk quite young, and may even be released as early as the March after harvest. And even though some versions require less aging than Chianti or Tuscany’s other two big sangiovese-based wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello, it still surprises with unexpected depth and complexity in its best bottlings. The Morellino di Scansano DOCG by Fattoria Le Pupille, for example, has scents of red berries and rosemary, with a good structure and balanced acidity. Overall juicy and versatile, it pairs perfectly with first courses of Maremman cuisine—have you ever had “cooked water,” acquacotta?—or other pasta dishes with a sprinkle of pecorino toscano on top, as well as second courses of red meat.
The “Super Tuscan” for a special occasion
Let’s get two things straight: Super Tuscans are not all overpriced, and today they are known by a variety of official names: Bolgheri DOC, Toscana IGT, and Maremma Toscana IGT. Super Tuscans are the international palate pleasers of Tuscany, and when you look at quality for price, many labels will astound you. The odyssey of the Super Tuscans began in the 1960s-70s, when producers were making great quality wines but with international grape varieties, thereby precluding themselves from the Italian wine qualification systems of DOC and DOCG. Instead, they were labeled humbly as Vino da tavola. These wines, intense and fruit-forward, were dubbed “Super Tuscans” and gained international renown. Prices skyrocketed and, for the most famous labels, have remained in the stratosphere to this day (think around $200). Don’t look for “Super Tuscan” on a label. You need to find a Maremma Toscana IGT, Bolgheri DOC, or Toscana IGT. These wines, often made with a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and merlot, know how to toe the line between international fruitiness and unmistakable italianità. What to expect from a top-notch label, barring the cult wines? It will only set you back about $20-$35. In its best form, it will be fruity and spicy on the nose, round and soft on the palate, with a long persistence. Saffredi by Fattoria Le Pupille, whose 2013 vintage was awarded 98 points by James Suckling, is deep ruby red in the glass with currant, blackberry, cinnamon, clove, and chocolate on the nose, finishing velvety-round in the mouth. Another label that has been with the winery since its early days of rebirth, the first Saffredi came out in 1987—named after Elisabetta’s mentor and Tachis’ close friend Fredi. Initially 100% cabernet sauvignon, today it is made in equal parts cabernet and merlot (45%) and syrah (5%). A complex, intense wine, Saffredi is “the Maremma concentrated in the glass;” it pairs best with hearty meat dishes, but is also ideal as a fine meditation wine, cigar in hand.