Italy: Coastal Tuscany – MONICA LARNER – 31st Jan 2017 | The Wine Advocate
- MONICA LARNER
- | The Wine Advocate
The Tuscan Coast is defined as the stretch of sea-facing hills that start just south of Livorno, and extends to the sleepy summertime hamlet of Capalbio at the southern border of Tuscany on Italy’s western flank. The area counts historic wine appellations including Bolgheri, Montescudaio, Val di Cornia, Monteregio di Massa Marittima and Morellino di Scansano. This report does not focus on those denominations per se, although some of those wines are peppered here within. Instead, I have grouped together my favorite producers along the Coast. There is so much exciting work underway in this part of Italy. It makes sense to present these producers as a united front because they share many similarities and a common vision. I hope to add to this report on Coastal Tuscany on a yearly basis going forward, in a further effort to make my coverage of Italian wine increasingly territory-specific.
You’ll recognize many of the big names of the Tuscan Coast: Castello del Terriccio, Duemani, Fattoria le Pupille, Montepeloso, Rocca di Frasinello and Tua Rita are a few that immediately come to mind. Thanks to the shared values of these artisan winemakers, a defined stylistic philosophy is indeed emerging. Winemaking tends to focus on international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sangiovese, the mighty Tuscan grape is also a protagonist. Many of these wines were once grouped within the catchall moniker “super Tuscan” that was liberally applied to wines made across the region. Today, however, I would argue that they represent a singular style that is absolutely specific to the climatic conditions of the Coast. The sunlight is brighter here, daytime temperatures are warmer and nighttime temperatures are cooler. Soft breezes from the Mediterranean keep the clusters healthy and impart faint mineral or marine characteristics that add such an elegant character to these wines.
Visionaries like Luca D’Attoma represent a common link. He is enologist with Duemani, Tua Rita and Fattoria le Pupille, and his influence spans far beyond these creative centers. This biodynamic vintner has come to symbolize a style of winemaking that is only found on the Coast. That style is shaped by the specific climatic conditions found here with fertile soils and productive varieties. These wines offer an extraordinary level of precision, sharpness and focus. Coastal Tuscany has long enjoyed a pioneering spirit with a rugged or outdoorsy personality. There is more experimentation here and a greater desire to push the limits of traditional winemaking. For example, ripening is an extreme sport. Vintners wait as long as possible before harvesting, thus exposing their fruit to great risk as the autumnal weather patterns turn menacing. The best wines never taste jammy. New tools are showing up in the wineries with more alternative fermentation and aging vessels in use. The orcio is a terracotta jar made with Tuscan clay. Amphorae made with white clay from Northern Italy are also in use for the production of white wines and rosés. They add elegant mineral overtones. Generally speaking, many wineries are shifting the aging regime of their mid-range wines from small French barrique to larger oak casks or cement vats. This insures that the quality of fruit is bright and crunchy.
Vintage Updates The 2016 summer season showed very warm temperatures and vintners hoped for a few drops of pre-harvest rain to revive and replenish the fruit. They got what they wished for in mid-September when the summer heat came to a sudden end. Gentle showers washed away the August dust. Going into harvest, vintners enjoyed steep diurnal shifts that helped set bright colors, aromas and acidity. The 2016 vintage is shaping up to be something very special. The 2015 vintage shared similar characteristics. Spring started early and set off a long growing season that was nudged forward by steep summer temperatures. Harvest came a bit earlier on some areas of the Coast. The 2015 vintage produced excellent wines, but you may spot some jammy notes. Readers already know that 2014 was a washout. The wines made are weaker in intensity and shorter in length. The summer was cooler than average and violent rainstorms washed over much of Tuscany in July and at the beginning of August. The end of the growing season saw ideal climatic conditions, but the warmer weather came too late for many. A lot of fruit did not reach ripeness and was wasted. Vintners decided to skip the vintage on some important wines, or they severely reduced production numbers. The 2013 vintage is similar to 2015 and 2016. This is a classic vintage with wines that show enormous power and depth. I loved the wines from this vintage and have awarded some of my highest scores ever for Coastal Tuscany. There is a healthy handful of wines between the 98 point and the 95 point range among this selection.
Summer Fun The Tuscan Coast is a summer paradise for wine-loving travelers. The destination is never crowed even in the most popular months of June, July and August. Beaches are wide and spacious and there is no shortage of excellent restaurants from which to choose. The local fare is based on the fresh catch of the day, which can sometimes be difficult to pair with the robust red blends made in this part of Tuscany. But I have encountered many excellent chefs who find a way to make it work. Coastal Tuscany is one of Italy’s most irresistible food and wine destinations. Salute!