Touring Tuscany: Carmignano, Montecucco and
BY ERIC GUIDO | FEBRUARY 21, 2023
makes it one of my favorite regions to taste in Italy. Putting aside the
established names of Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Maremma and Montepulciano
leaves us with a kaleidoscope of small towns and unique terroirs that add
incredible diversity to the bigger picture that is Tuscany. While Sangiovese is
undoubtedly the king of varieties in the region, Tuscany also excels with a mix
of indigenous and international grapes that is staggering.
The Colline San Biagio vineyards in Carmignano.
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and even Tempranillo can all find a happy home
throughout the different corners of the region. While these are often used for
blending with Sangiovese to create the wines of Chianti Classico, Carmignano
and Montecucco, each can also shine in pure form, displaying a fascinating
blend of varietal typicity and Tuscan terroir. I often gravitate to mature
Bordeaux varieties and blends from Tuscany before looking elsewhere. The Super Tuscan
movement heavily popularized this category, but as the style lost some of its
international appeal, many wines were overlooked.
But let’s not forget
that this is Tuscany, and in the minds of consumers worldwide, that means
Sangiovese. It’s amazing to taste Sangiovese broadly throughout central Italy. More
often than not, I find myself looking back to Tuscany when the time comes to
pick a bottle for the cellar or dinner table. That’s not to say that Sangiovese
from Umbria, Abruzzo, Marche and Romagna isn’t worthy of consideration, but rather
that in Tuscany, even the majority of entry-level bottlings are more often
balanced and enjoyable, not to mention the quality when looking at the exhaustive
list of world-class wines made here.
Much of this has to do
with a steady increase in quality that has been noticeable across the region over
the last twenty years. A combination of technology, cleaner cellar practices,
higher-quality (including synthetic) corks, better use of clones and an
understanding of where and how to plant them has transformed the region's
landscape. The days of opening twenty bottles of Chianti Classico only to find
four or five of them to be corked are thankfully far behind us. There are also
significantly fewer Brett-infected and rustic wines crossing my path. Then
there is value. Consumers can still find a serious bottle of wine for the
dinner table or the cellar in the $20-$30 range. In the end, Tuscany has a lot
A Deeper Look at Emerging Denominations
In many cases, producers
included in this report fall outside of the more established DOCs and DOCGs, or
exist in a region that doesn’t have the marketing budget to promote itself on
an international scale. Many of these are worth hunting for, and a few
represent my highest-scoring wines. The regions of Valdarno di Sopra and Val di
Chiana alone, in the extreme southwest of Tuscany, are home to several estates
that bottle under the designation of IGT Toscana, as their production doesn’t
fit into any of the approved DOCs. The Orcia DOC is another excellent
example. It encompasses 30 miles of diverse territory south of Siena that bridges
Montalcino and Montepulciano. While high-quality wines are being produced here,
how does one begin to quantify the terroir and style of wine from such a large
swath of land? Nonetheless, these regions are full of producers who make
tasting wines for a report like this one so enjoyable. With that said, I
decided to touch on two regions that are especially hard at work to prove
The Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro winery.
If I had to name one appellation
in Tuscany that doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of attention that it
deserves, it is Carmignano. While the region itself is very small, literally
around 116 hectares under vine, the wines make a big impact. One of the major
things that separates Carmignano from most other Tuscan Sangiovese-based wines
is the percentage of international varieties permitted in the wines. The blend
for Carmignano calls for at least 50% Sangiovese, with 10-20% of Cabernet
Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, and up to 20% Canaiolo. While many consumers have
been trained to think that blending international varieties with Sangiovese in
Tuscany is a negative thing, Carmignano producers are happy to prove otherwise.
It’s worth mentioning that, unlike most of Tuscany, Carmignano has a rich
history with Cabernet Sauvignon, going back 500 years. Single-variety bottlings
of Cabernet Franc and Merlot are also very impressive.
Vineyards are located on
the eastern hills of Monte Albano, about 12 miles northwest of Florence, at
generally low elevations that range from 53 to 216 meters above sea level. The
soils are free-draining and rich in limestone, with a mix of clay, schist and
marl. Here the days get very warm, yet the nights are much cooler than
expected, influenced by the Apennine Mountains to the north and east.
The percentage of
high-quality wines produced in Carmignano is high, especially considering that
there are only 11 wineries registered with the Consorzio. Readers can expect
rich, full-bodied, fruit-focused reds elevated by a core of Sangiovese acidity,
yet with noble tannins that help them mature effortlessly for over a
The diversity of Carmignano soils includes clay, sands, galestro and even quartz.
Producers in Montecucco
are determined to prove the quality of their terroir. Seldom do I see such a
well-organized attempt to educate and inform both consumers and the trade.
Montecucco begins at the
southwestern edge of Montalcino and spreads west toward the coastal region of Morellino
di Scansano. This is an extremely diverse area, shaped by Mediterranean
influences of the Tyrrhenian Sea on one side and a rain shadow effect of Monte
Amiata on the other. Closer to the coast, elevations start at just 50 meters
above sea level with sandstone and gravel soils. From here, the wines come
across as quite Mediterranean, and sun-kissed in style. However, moving further
inland, the terrain becomes more volcanic in origin, mixing red clays, loam and
limestone, along with a steady increase in elevation up to 500 meters. At its
most eastern tip, it’s difficult to discern between the hills of southern
Montalcino and Montecucco, which is likely why several Brunello producers have
planted stakes in the region.
the wines of Montecucco do communicate regional character. These are not
Brunello look-alikes. For one thing, even from the highest elevations, the region's
warmth shows in the wines. These are richer and bolder wines, with a darker
fruit profile and dusty tannins. There are also two completely different styles
of red wine within the region. The usually easier-drinking Montecucco Rosso (or
Rosso Riserva) is a blend of at least 60% Sangiovese and 40% other red grape
varieties, which often includes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This category
can be a mixed bag. Some producers work hard to make more serious wines and
often succeed in doing so, yet others lack that drive. The more prestigious
Montecucco Sangiovese category, which gained DOCG status in 2011, appears to be
the appellation's future. It’s important to note that even Montecucco
Sangiovese can contain up to 10% other red grapes, but I’ve yet to see one that
does. There are a number of excellent examples of Montecucco Sangiovese from
the higher elevations in the east of the region, along with Riserva-level and
single-vineyard bottlings that are of note. Best of all, prices for Montecucco Rosso
and Sangiovese remain incredibly fair. This is a region to watch.
the wines included in this article were tasted in Tuscany during the summer of
2022 and in our New York City office during the fall of 2022.
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