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Touring Tuscany: Carmignano, Montecucco and Beyond
BY ERIC GUIDO | FEBRUARY 21, 2023
Tuscany's diversity 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 Sauvignon, 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 to offer.
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 themselves.
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 decade.
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.
However, 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.
All of 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.
© 2023, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.
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Show all the wines (sorted by score)
- Bibi Graetz
- Colline San Biagio
- Donatella Cinelli Colombini
- Fabrizio Pratesi
- Giacomo Baraldo
- Il Borro
- Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara
- Le Maciarine
- Le Pianore
- Podere Forte
- Podere Montale
- Podernuovo di Maremma
- Poggio Mori
- Poggio Stenti
- Poggio Trevvalle
- Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro
- Tenuta Ceri
- Tenuta di Artimino
- Tenuta Le Farnete
- Tenuta L’Impostino
- Tenuta Pierazzuoli
- Tenuta Prima Pietra
- Villa Bibbiani
- Villa Patrizia