Apr
2005

Maremma

toscano

The name, Maremma, suggests the sea, or mare, and when you talk about the wines of the Tuscan Maremma you’re talking about wines that are shaped by the heat and light of a maritime climate and infused with the flavors of the nearby sea.


But what is the Maremma, exactly? As people have gotten to know the great-value red wines of the Morellino di Scansano DOC, they’ve come to think of the Maremma as the southern-most reaches of Tuscany — in short, the province of Grosseto, which reaches down to Tuscany’s border with Lazio. But, as the name suggests, the Maremma is really about the coast, and it’s a frontier that extends from those southerly border towns all the way up to the port city of Livorno. This coastal stretch, dotted with wetlands that give way to rocky, low-rising hills, was once a real backwater — an area rife with mosquitoes and malaria that wasn’t widely habitable until the Fascists, of all people, reclaimed much of the coast by draining the marshes in the 1930s.


In wine terms, it’s easiest to break the Maremma into two provinces: Livorno, which is typically referred to as the alta, or upper, Maremma; and Grosseto, which is considered the bassa, or lower, Maremma. In the alta Maremma you’ve got the legendary wine town of Bolgheri, made famous by the pioneering Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, creator of Sassicaia. In the bassa Maremma, you’ve got the village of Scansano and its surrounding environs, where the hot, dry climate and relatively cheap real estate have attracted big-name investors from all over the Italian wine world, and where new and noteworthy wines are as plentiful as the wild boar who love to hide in the scrub-brush of these coastal hills.


In wine terms, it’s easiest to break the Maremma into two provinces: Livorno, which is typically referred to as the alta, or upper, Maremma; and Grosseto, which is considered the bassa, or lower, Maremma. In the alta Maremma you’ve got the legendary wine town of Bolgheri, made famous by the pioneering Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, creator of Sassicaia. In the bassa Maremma, you’ve got the village of Scansano and its surrounding environs, where the hot, dry climate and relatively cheap real estate have attracted big-name investors from all over the Italian wine world, and where new and noteworthy wines are as plentiful as the wild boar who love to hide in the scrub-brush of these coastal hills.


In the alta Maremma, the wines to look for are those from Bolgheri (which now has its own DOC designation) and those from Suvereto (a village just south of Bolgheri that anchors the Val di Cornia DOC zone). Bolgheri, of course, is loaded with famous names: Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Grattamacco, Guado al Tasso, Le Macchiole, and Michele Satta are some of the best known, and more recently Piedmontese Barbaresco-master Angelo Gaja joined the fraternity with his new Bolgheri estate, Ca’Marcanda. As Mario Incisa della Roccheta of Sassicaia proved decades ago, the sandy, rocky soils and hot (yet moderated) maritime climate of Bolgheri drew more than a few comparisons to Bordeaux, and his success with cabernet sauvignon in the area effectively shaped the wine culture of Bolgheri. Before Sassicaia, in fact, Bolgheri had no wine culture, but today that culture is defined by big, velvety red wines made in a slick, “international” style. Bolgheri was where “super-Tuscans” were born, and while the phenomenon has since spread to every corner of Tuscany, this is still the place where cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and, more recently, syrah, have made their biggest splash. Recently, we added the top wine of Gaja’s new Ca’Marcanda estate to our list (called “Ca’Marcanda,” it is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc), and it joins an ever-expanding roster of slick, velvety Bolgheri reds that includes giants like Ornellaia’s “Masseto” (a merlot that is as rich as dark chocolate); the Rosso from Guado al Tasso (a spicy mix of cabernet, merlot, and syrah); and Le Macchiole’s “Scrio” (a meaty syrah). From Suvereto, meanwhile, the superstar is the boutique estate called Tua Rita, whose tightly allocated “Redigaffi” is a little too pricey but undoubtedly delicious.


Down in the bassa Maremma, the international varieties like cabernet and merlot are less dominant, as sangiovese (known here as morellino) remains more on center stage. There are also some great local varieties, such as the berry-scented ciliegiolo and the tangy alicante (grenache), which give some of the reds down here a spicier, tangier, more Mediterranean flavor. No doubt the sangiovese-based Morellino di Scansano is the best-known to Americans, who have come to appreciate the softer, more fruity contours sangiovese takes on in Scansano’s hotter, drier climate. With producers working on a larger scale on cheaper land, the economics of Morellino di Scansano work out in favor of the consumer: you get ripe, rich, ready-to-drink red wine at, for the most part, a fraction of what you’d pay for a Brunello di Montalcino or Chianti Classico.