June 20, 2021

Uncorked: Italy’s Montecucco region small but mighty

As the new chairman of the Montecucco Consortium, Giovan Battista Basile is ready for growth.

There are 1.5 million bottles produced in the Montecucco region of Italy every year. Basile joked that it’s like the output of “a big winery in Chianti.” Located in the southwest corner of Tuscany, sangiovese has thrived in a community where vineyards don’t blanket the countryside.

For Basile, it’s a strength that farmers also produce extra virgin olive oil, milk, meats and nuts. Montecucco received DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) status in 1998, and is wedged between the mountainous influences of an old volcano standing 5,000 feet tall, and the marine influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Sangiovese ripens during the day’s warm temperatures, and retains its acidity at night, when temperatures can shift as much as 30 degrees.

Local producers have leaned into the family-like nature of their wineries, as well. More than 75% of farmers are certified organic. The largest winery owns just over 400 acres, while most have fewer than 25 acres.

It’s a dynamic that can be a challenge for wineries. Whereas larger regions focus attention on standing out among their peers, Montecucco producers don’t want to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of colleagues from other regions.

“We’d welcome big groups, but, at the moment, they are investing in newer areas,” Basile said. “The quality of our wines is very good though. In a short time, we can have more investments and bigger wineries.

“Also, being so small can be a problem,” he said. “You are not strong enough to be sold in the international market. To get recognized by the American press and critics isn’t easy. The goal is to produce 1.5 to 4 million cases, and we have that potential with our vineyards.”

The Consortium was founded in 2000, and the DOC and DOCG guidelines stipulate everything from yield per acre, amount of sangiovese required in a final blend, and time spent aged in oak, to time aged in the bottle. The acre requirements are comparable to the higher-priced Brunello di Montalcino wines whose vineyards are located across a river that borders the two regions.

While there are similarities between Brunello and Montecucco wines, Basile said accessibility is of paramount importance.

“We prefer to sell drinkable wines to the market,” Basile said. “Other regions have wines that are more expensive to buy, and then wait a long time to open them. We want to make wines that are ready to drink.”

Like the Palmoletino Scarafone Montecucco Rosso DOC ($17), which is 90% sangiovese and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Its flavors of cherry and wild strawberry are mixed with leather and spice rack. It is best enjoyed with a charcuterie board or grilled sausages. It’s a wine that is easy to drink, with soft, supple tannins.

“It’s a question of style with cabernet; tannins are part of sangiovese and can be quite strong,” Basile said. “Some wineries like to cut with other grapes to help the wine be more drinkable.”

Also tasted was the Tenuta L’Impostino Sangiovese Riserva Montecucco DOCG 2015 ($19). Its flavors of currant, tar, leather and wild rosemary made for a full-bodied red that could pair well with grilled red meats or aged hard cheeses. It’s one of the bigger wineries in the region, Basile said, at about 50 acres.

“Sangiovese is in all of Tuscany, but when tasted, you can see the difference between the areas,” Basile said. “The climate and soil are different. Sangiovese in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, we know that already. Merlot, cabernet and syrah can be produced all over, but I don’t think sangiovese and vermentino can be cultivated in many other regions.”

“The mission is to maintain our identity as a small appellation with a small production of wine. We want to grow. Ideally, our appellation will be more known, not only in Italy but around the world. We are growing slowly. Step by step, we can be more recognizable though. We do have a strong organization, as almost 80% of the wineries are in the consortium, where we try to communicate the quality of our brands and the appellation.”

At very affordable prices, Montecucco is an easy region to taste through this summer.

Tasting Notes

Here are highlights from a tasting of French wines from Michael Corso Selections, an importer with deep roots in Chicago and the Midwest.

Camille Braun Crémant d’Alsace Rosé N/V ($24.99): A creamy texture with green apple flavors and a yeasty, wet-dough note.

Château Laronde Desormes Bordeaux Superieur 2018 ($16.99): Fresh-brewed coffee and dusty milk chocolate on the nose; there are dark fruit flavors. Grabby tannins that would welcome a rib-eye steak.

Domaine des Blais Rosé 2020 ($19.99): A nose like a sauvignon blanc, with aromas that are tropical, mango, pineapple and tennis ball. Salty strawberry mixed with tropical fruit flavors.

Domaine Dozon Chinon Clos du Saut au Loup 2018 ($22.99): Flavors of dark chocolate nibs, espresso, hints of green pepper. Bold, big tannins, yet perfectly balanced with the wine. A favorite of the tasting crowd.

La Plage Rosé 2020 ($16.99): This could easily be the rosé of the summer. A rich, round mouthfeel, ripe melon aromas and flavors.

Vigneau Chevreau Cuvée Silex 2019 ($24.99): Loved the Bosc pear fruit flavors that mixed with lime and lemon zest.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.