Posts tagged ‘morellino di scansano’

Traditional Words of Wisdom from Gianpaolo Paglia

Gianpaolo Paglia, Poggio Argentiera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

During my most recent trip to Toscana in May, I spent some time with Gianpaolo Paglia, co-proprietor of Poggio Argentiera, one of the top estates in the Morellino di Scansano zone, in the area known as the Maremma. I’ve admired his wines for several years, so it was a great pleasure to finally meet him, taste his new releases in the cellar as well as see his vineyards.

Paglia is a fascinating example of a producer who has altered his style. While he once made wines that were aged in small oak barrels, he has now changed his approach. He got rid of the barriques at his winery and now only uses large casks for maturation. He firmly believes that tradition is the way to go when producing wines in his area – as well as other zones in Tuscany. By that he means not only aging in large casks, but also the varieties used, so for his Morellino di Scansano, he uses only local varieties such as Ciliegiolo and Alicante to blend with Sangiovese, opting not to include international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.

As Paglia drove me to one of his vineyards, he was only too happy to tell me about his winemaking philosophy.

GP: “There’s much better wine that can be made here if you stop following that kind of model (small oak). We don’t do those wines anymore and I can see the huge potential that there is.

“I think there are a lot of people who consciously or unconsciously doing that (moving away from producing international wines). Colleagues were coming to taste my wine at the last VinItaly. What is drawing them back is the fear that the market doesn’t want those wines (oaky, modern wines). They say, ‘I don’t want to make those types of wines (international styles), but that’s what the market wants.’ The market doesn’t want that at all.

The Maremma is a place where you can make beautiful, true Mediterranean wines without having to show the muscle, without all this new oak, without all this body from concentration. Just let the wines be what they are without forcing them. That can really show the true potential. And I can tell you that those wines are successful in the market as well, contrary to what they think. I’m proving that.

“We have had great success in the market and there are other people who said, ‘I was waiting for that.’ Especially the people in the trade. They said, ‘I don’t like the wines with oak, but that’s what the market wants.’ Actually, it’s not true. You ask those people what they like to drink and they tell you, white wines and sparkling wines. That’s because they don’t like heavy reds.

“We’ve been through that. I was at a wine dinner last recently. People who were there included local doctors, lawyers, notaries, retired professsional people, all of whom have a passion for wine. They’re not in the wine business. Several of the wines were light or pale garnet in color and people loved those wines. They told me, these are the wines we want to drink.”

“This is what can be done here. These wines are all successful and all demand a good price and are all true to the terroir.”

“I have received more accoaldes than ever this year. I think a lot of people will notice that and make wines like this. Once that happens, that’s good news for this area, because once you remove this structure of oak, the terroir really emerges in the wines.

“The more producers who make wine in this way, the more Scansano has an identity. Stop using a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It’s easier to work this way, because you are not following any model, you are following nature. That’s how the wines comes. OK, it’s not dark in color, but who cares? If the color’s not there, it’s not there.

“You go back to tradition and you make amazing wines. It’s like a pendulum. We’ve gone too far one way and now we’re going back.”

It’s only been for a short time that wines with small oak have been made here in Tuscany. They were made in a different way for hundeds of years. You can do a lot in ten years.  It takes a bit of money as well as encouragement. But money is constantly being spent on a lot of things.

“Replace all the Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and graft them over or replant Sangiovese. You can do that and reshape the image of your area. It takes a bit of vision, not a lot, just a bit.”

One of Paglia’s vineyards in the Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I asked Giampaolo about the so-called gurus who write for certain publications or websites who see themselves as opinion makers. Don’t they have a lot of influence on consumers and the way wines are made?


GP: Perhaps, but there isn’t all the power there. Yes, for some people. But the vast majority of people don’t read that, they’re not interested. If you make the wine with a strong character from that particular area, people understand that. If something is true, if something is real, whether it’s a tomato or a bottle of wine, you feel that. And I can see that more and more and more.

“I recently started selling wines at Majestic, a retail chain in England. These stores have thousands of labels from all over the world. 200 shops, they move a lot of wine. We are selling the regular Morellino, made with Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo, so no international varieties, nothing to appeal to the international markets.

“People that buy the wine, they do not read Parker. They taste the wine, they see that is is real. They like it because this wine reminds them of something. Maybe they’ve been to Tuscany, they can connect with the place.

“You can only do this if the wine is real. Because if the wine is full of Cabernet or Merlot, it doesn’t connect to the place, it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t connect.

“People love that. Give them something different. We notice that. Don’t give them what you think they want.

“I understand if you produce millions of bottles. If you’re somebody like Jacob’s Creek from Australia, you make wine a certain way. That’s a commodity. But we’re not in the same business.

“Take the wines as they are. Present them for what they are and people will see that you believe in them. People will taste them and see that they are real. They might not be to the liking of 100% of the people, but what is?

“People want to try something original. If you open a bottle of wine, you want, ‘Oh, this is the bottle of wine I tasted the last time and it tastes of something, it tastes of that place. It doesn’t taste like something else.’

“People who say that they have to follow the fashion (of making international wines) … it’s all in their minds. It just takes someone to show they can do it and they follow.”

We all owe a debt to Gianpaolo Paglia for making wines that reflect tradition, that show a sense of place. It’s true that there are many other producers that do the same; it’s just that they are not as outspoken on this topic as Paglia. But they share the same vision. As he says, “the pendulum is swinging back.”

It seems to me that the only way that Italy will continue to sell more wines in the world market is to make wines that are authentic. Bravo to Gianapolo Paglia and hundreds of other producers for understanding that!

Text and photos ©Tom Hyland, 2012

June 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm 6 comments

Little Known Gems from Grosseto

Marco Salustri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are countless treasures out there, if you only know where to look. This is true in many aspects of life; it’s especially valid when it comes to the subject of Italian wines. My most recent trip in mid-late May was an eye-opener, especially during my stay in the province of Grosseto.

Grosseto is located in the far southwestern reaches of Toscana; it reaches from the Tyrrhenian Sea east to its boundaries abutting the southwestern part of the province of Siena. There are numerous DOC and DOCG wine zones in Grosseto and many of them are a mystery to even the most avid Italian wine fan. These include Monteregio di Massa MarittimaBianco di PitiglianoParrina (with only one producer!), Sovana and Morellino di Scansano; this last is the most famous of the wine zones, yet even this is hardly a household name.

For five days, I learned a tremendous amount about this territory, truly one of the most beautiful wine areas anywhere in Italy. I spent two days in the Morellino di Scansano area, visiting several estates with Giacomo Pondin, director of the local consorzio, who took me to a few vantage points with splendid panoramas, situated at an elevation of 1000-1200 feet where we could look out past the gorgeous vineyards on rolling hills all the way to the sea. If heaven looks half this lovely, I’ll be a happy man!

I also tasted a vast array of wines – white, red and rosé – from Grosseto province at Maremma Wine Food Shire, a fair that focused on local wines along with some lovely olive oils, salumi, cheeses and even some excellent local beer. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with some of the area’s finest producers, taste their wines and get to better understand what the viticultural scene of Grosseto is all about.

I’ll write only about a few highlights in this post. Most impressive were two examples of Montecucco from Tenuta Salustri. The Montecucco zone, planted primarily to Sangiovese – as are all red wines zones in the province – is situated between Morellino di Scansano and Montalcino. I tasted several examples at the fair, but the Salustri wines were in a league of their own. The “Santa Marta” offering, made exclusively from Sangiovese has very good varietal purity, excellent persistence and fine tannins; aged for two years in grandi botti, this is a lovely wine with ideal balance. The 2009 I sampled is drinking nicely now, but will improve for another 5-7 years.

The “Grotte Rosse” bottling, also 100% Sangiovese, takes things up a notch. Produced from 70 year-old vineyards with the Salustri clone that features very small berries, this is medium-full with excellent concentration. The aromas are simply wonderful, with perfumes of morel cherry, red roses and strawberry preserves; also aged for two years in large casks, the wood notes are subdued, while the finish is very long and pleasing with excellent persistence. The 2008 was the version I tried and I rated this as outstanding, a wine that should be at peak in 10-12 years. I’d match this up with 90% of the examples of Chianti Classicos out there; this is not only a wine that is of equal or better quality as compared with the top Chiantis, it also much less expensive.

 Vineyard near Magliano in Toscana, Morellino di Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Regarding Morellino di Scansano, there are numerous styles of this wine, which must contain a minimum of 85% Sangivovese. One of my favorite wines made in a fresh, charming style with moderate tannins and supple, tasty morel cherry fruit is the Fattoria Mantellasi “Mentore”; the 2011, aged solely in steel tanks is a delight with a hint of tobacco in the nose to accompany the appealing cherry notes. Medium-bodied, this has typical tart acidity and modest tannins you expect from a young wine made from Sangiovese; enjoy this over the next two years.

Fattoria Le Pupille, one of the most celebrated estates in the zone, brought back a lovely version of their Morellino di Scansano Riserva; the 2009, which contains 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend has complex aromas of cherry, marjoram and clove and has excellent concentration. The entry on the palate is elegant, there is impressive persistence and very good acidity, which rounds out the wine and gives it ideal balance. This is a first-rate wine that will drink well for 7-10 years.

Other examples of Morellino that impressed were the Moris Farms Riserva 2009, a wine of ideal harmony and complexity that will drink well for 5-7 years; the 2008 Riserva Massi di Mandorlaia, a lighter-styled riserva that is a lovely food wine and the 2008 Riserva “Primo” from Provveditore. This small estate is one of the most consistent in the area and I love all their wines! Even their regular Morellino di Scansano displays wonderful character and balance (the 2011 is the current release), while the riserva combines richness, complexity, ideal acidity and impressive persistence just beautifully; this is a wine with every component in perfect harmony. Drink the regular bottling now and give the riserva another 7-10 years to round out and display its finest qualities. This is a wine of impeccable breeding, one that combines great focus and varietal purity with beautiful expression of terroir.

I’ll deal with the white wines that impressed me (especially the 2011 Fattoria di Magliano Vermentino) and a few other reds (including an amazing Ciliegiolo from Gianpaolo Paglia at Poggio Argentiera) in a future post. Just too many special wines for one post!

June 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Morellino di Scansano

Vineyard at Fattoria San Felo near Magliano

Over the past two decades, the producers from Morellino di Scansano in southwestern Tuscany have been producing a beautiful array of red wines in various styles, from offerings that have soft tannins and tasty cherry fruit that are best enjoyed within a year or two of the vintage to more-full bodied wines that can age for a decade or more. Even more impressively, these wines have remained fairly priced.

The Morellino di Scansano district is located in the lower portion of the Maremma, a somewhat wild (until recently) stretch of coastal Tuscany. Just southeast of the city of Grosseto, this area contains a number of different soils from sandstone to calcaire to clay and rocks. The topography changes quite a bit from west to east, as vineyards in the western reaches of this district – not far from the sea – sit at 30-100 feet above sea level, while the elevation becomes higher the further east or inland you go; some plantings are at 1500 feet above sea level. Generally the wines from the western part of the zone are relatively fruity with soft tannins and are meant for early consumption – these examples of Morellino di Scansano are charming wines and among the most typical of this area. Meanwhile the wines from the center of the district – near the cities of Scansano and Magliano – along with those from the far eastern reaches are richer with higher acidity and firmer tannins; these offerings can age for 10-15 years from the best vintages.

As with most red wines from Tuscany, Morellino di Scansano is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape. The regulations here call for a minimum of 85% of this variety, which is higher than even Chianti Classico (80% minimum Sangiovese) or any other Chianti wine (75%). Morellino, which meaning “little morel”, referring to the high acid morel cherry, is the local synonym for Sangiovese in this district. Other grapes that are used to blend with Sangiovese in this wine include local varieties such as Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo and Colorino along with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

When Morellino di Scansano was designated as a DOC wine in 1978, there were only 10 producers in the area who grew their own grapes or purchased them from 36 growers who were members of the local cooperative. Not long after, as the reputation of this district as a high quality area for Sangiovese, many producers from outside the district started to purchase land here and produce their own wines. This includes some of the finest vintners from other Tuscan zones such as Montepulciano (Poliziano), Chianti Classico (Fonterutoli) and Montalcino (Castello Romitorio, et al). Certainly the notoriety of such distinguished producers as these helped greatly when the Morellino producers sought the coveted DOCG classification, which was awarded to Morellino di Scansano as  of the 2007 vintage. Today in 2011, there are more than 200 wine firms in Morellino di Scansano.

Prices, as mentioned above, are quite reasonable with the basic Morellino bottlings coming in at retail prices of $12-16 on US retail shelves, while the finest Riserva bottlings, such as the Fattoria Le Pupille “Poggio Valente” selling for $30-$35. This last wine is among the finest bottlings of Morellino di Scansano each year; offering excellent depth of fruit and ideal balance and structure, this wine can easily age 12-15 years from most vintages, especially the most recent releases of 2007 and 2008.

Here is a short list of the finest producers of Morellino di Scansano:

Fattoria Le Pupille


Fattoria La Querciarossa

Az. Agr. Ugolini

Massi di Mandorlaia

Terre di Fiori – Tenute Le Coste

Az. Agraria Santa Lucia di Scotto Lorenzo

Fattoria San Felo

Fattoria Mantellasi


Azienda Bruni

La Mozza


Terre di Talamo

Poggio Argentiera

October 18, 2011 at 9:39 am 4 comments

2009- Shaping up to be a great year

Cutizzi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

It’s early of course, but it appears that 2009 may be judged a great year for Italian wines throughout the country. I’ve written earlier posts about the white wines and now that I’ve tasted a few dozen reds from this vintage, I’m beginning to think that you really can’t go wrong with just about any 2009 Italian wine type.

The Italian whites from 2009 are first-rate, offering the depth of fruit of the 2007s with the structure and acidity of the 2008s. I’ve tasted several dozen of these wines, predominantly from the regions of Friuli and Campania and many of the top examples show the potential to drink well for 3-5 years. Among the top 2009 whites I’ve tasted so far are the following:


  • Edi Keber Biano (Collio)
  • Gradis’ciutta Sauvignon (Collio)
  • Livio Felluga Sauvignon (Colli Orientali)
  • Isidoro Polencic Ribolla Gialla (Collio)
  • La Tunella “Biancosesto” (Colli Orientali)
  • Zuani “Vigne” (Collio)


  • Feudi di San Gregorio “Cutizzi”
  • Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra”
  • Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino
  • San Paolo Greco di Tufo “Montefusco”
  • Marisa Cuomo “Fiorduva”


  • Coffele Soave Classico “Ca’Visco”
  • Guado al Tasso Vermentino (Bolgheri)
  • Lunae Bosoni Vermentino Lunae “Etichetta Nera” (Liguria)
  • Malvira Roero Arneis “Trinita”(Piemonte)
  • Planeta Fiano “Cometa” (Sicilia)

Of course, many of the top whites, especially the blended whites and selezioni from Friuli, Campania and Alto Adige are yet to be released, so the list should dramatically expand.

Paolo Veglio, Cascina Roccalini (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for the reds, a few 2009s have been released, ranging from Dolcetto and Barbera in Piemonte to Valpolicella from Veneto and Chiantis of all types and Morellino di Scansano in Toscana. I love the purity of fruit, concentration and acidity of these wines. It was a warm year, especially in Piemonte, so there is an explosion of fruit in these wines. Yet as there were several cool spells during the growing season, there is beautifully defined acidity, as the grapes experienced a long hang time. Among my favorites so far are these:

  • Cascina Roccalini Dolcetto d’Alba
  • Cascina Roccalini Barbera d’Alba (arriving in the US market in a few months)
  • Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba
  • Fontanabianca Langhe Nebbiolo
  • Motta Morellino di Scansano

Of course, most Italian reds from 2009 have not been released and in some instances, such as Barbaresco, Barolo, Amarone, Taurasi and Brunello di Montalcino, we will not see them in the market for at least another 1-5 years. But based on what I’ve tasted so far, Italian wine lovers should be in for several years of finds from the 2009 vintage – white and red.

January 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm 4 comments

Tuscany’s Viticultural Coast

Last week at VINO 2010 in New York City, I attended several seminars, ranging from the wines of Calabria to one feauturing wines from Sardegna made from the Cannonau grape. For this post, I’d like to focus on the seminar about the wines of Tuscany’s western coast.

Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant moderated the seminar on the wines of Morellino di Scansano and Bolgheri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Led by Piero Selvaggio, the gracious owner of Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA (as well as Las Vegas), this tasting and seminar dealt with the wines of two separate zones in western Tuscany; Morellino di Scansano to the south and further north, the famous territory of Bolgheri. 

The wines from these areas are quite different in nature. Morellino di Scansano is made primarily from Sangiovese, while Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main types used in Bolgheri. Professor Attilio Scienza, arguably Italy’s most knowedgable authority on indigenous Italian varieties (his last name in Italian fittingly translates as “science”) spoke about the soils of these lands and why particular varieties were well suited to specific zones. He also asked all of us to note the youth of the producers who were present to speak about their wines. These young vintners, armed with the knowledge of their parents and grandparents, are forging new paths in Tuscan viticulture.

The wines of Morellino di Scansano (Morellino, or “little cherry” is the synonym for Sangiovese here) can be quite traditional, made with 100% Sangiovese and aged in large oak casks or they can be quite modern in their approach, often blended with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot or Alicante, a variety that adds very deep purple, almost black color to the wine. The wines selected for this seminar were primarily traditional in style; my favorites were the 2005 Villa Patrizia “Le Valentane” and the 2008 Celestina Fé. The former offers black cherry and tar notes with a lightly spicy finish and should drink well for another 3-5 years. The latter is a wine meant for earlier consumption (2-3 years), but one that shows remarkable subtlety, finesse and elegance. There are lovely strawberry and red currant flavors with silky tannins, subtle wood notes and lively acidity. I love wines like this, which display not only beautiful varietal character, but also a gentle hand of the winemaker. 

I’ve written previously about Bolgheri; this seminar showcased some of the area’s lesser-known producers. These estates, such as Guado al Melo, Batzella and Poggio alle Querce may never be as famous as Ornellaia or Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia), but they are first-rate and display the excellent to outstanding quality of this zone. My favorite wine of this seminar was the 2006 Guado al Melo Bolgheri Superiore, which is produced from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. Medium-full with flavors of marascino cherry and black currant, this is impeccably balanced and has the structure to age for 10-12 years and perhaps even longer. It is an excellent, almost textbook example of what a top notch Bolgheri red is all about. This estate, incidentally, is run by Michele Scienza, the son of Attilio.

Michele Scienza, Guado al Melo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Selvaggio made an important point; that despite the use of Bordeaux varieties, these wines had a Tuscan character. I agree and I believe a major reason for this is the fact that the vineyards are so close to the sea – usually 3-7 miles – which moderates temperatures and preserves acidity. 

This was an excellent look at one of Tuscany’s newest viticultural chapters and I want to thank the Italian Trade Commission, BuonItalia and the producers for making this event so memorable!

February 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm 2 comments

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