Morellino Means Sangiovese
In the Morellino di Scansano region, and by extension the area of Italy called the Tuscan Maremma of which it is part, the word Morellino is used synonymously to identify the locally grown Sangiovese grape. Literally translated it means "little morel" referring to the local morel cherry.
(A view from Morellino. Photo reused with permission from Consorizo Tutela Morellino di Scansano)
One of the most beneficial aspects of the choice to write about my food & beverage adventures has been press invitations to tastings of wines from all over the world. The world of wine is diverse as we all come to know, and having some help experiencing wines from regions big and small goes a long way to fill in the many blanks. And you also get to learn neat facts like what I shared in the first paragraph.
I was recently invited to a lunch and tasting of wines from Morellino di Scansano, a sub-region in the Southwest part of Tuscany in Italy. I have very little experience with Italian wines. I have tasted, and maybe only once in some cases, all of the well known styles and few lesser known ones. The most recent Italian tastings that have stuck with me were the Nero di Troia wines from the Puglia region that I first encountered at a WGBH Boston tasting in 2011.
I had never had the wines from Morellino before and it is precisely these types of "new" experiences that really amp me up to do what I do. And I only do this part time so I really don't get out to do this type of thing all that much!
Do these experiences influence my home winemaking projects? Absolutely, but I'll get to that in just a moment!
(Vinyards in Morellino. Photo reused with permission from Consorizo Tutela Morellino di Scansano)
One of the downsides of press events is that they often go by so fast that you are swamped with all the information presented. Luckily a press kit is typically available. The sponsors of this event provided a digital kit (on a thumb drive, which is reusable no less) that included both a presentation and a document containing maps as well as an overview of the region, people, wines, regulations and methods. I encourage readers not familiar with this region or the information made available at these types of events to click both links and check it out for yourself.
To summarize what I learned about the wines and the region I offer the following:
>Winemaking in the region is ancient. It did fall prey to the rise and fall of the populations in the area, having grown to worldwide recognition since the late 1970's.
>Morellino is in Tuscany, but it is not Chianti and the wines aren't the same.
>Sangiovese is the predominant grape (it must make up 85% of wines that carry the DOCG labeling) and both well known red grapes like Caberbet, Merlot, Syrah and indigenous ones, including Alicante and Malvasia Nera, make up the remaining amounts in blended bottlings.
>The wines don't see a lot of wood, which results in fruit forward and fresh red wines.
>The majority of the wines, excepting some of the reserve and special bottlings, are crafted to be consumed young and with food.
How do tastings like this influence my home winemaking projects? There are a couple of potential sources of inspiration from such experiences. From this tasting specifically I got to thinking about making Sangiovese-based wines without oak, wondering if I could craft wines that required relatively short aging times (in carboys or bottles) netting the same fruity and fresh results.
In general the more distinct and different wines I taste the more ideas I have about the different aromas, tastes and textures that I can make and add to my cellar.
Blends are always a source of inspiration, and something home winemakers should consider. Blended wines came to be because of experience trying to make the best wines from all of the available grapes, where some varietals might not work on their own due to weather or just because they need a partner. I am thinking about making a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend in the Fall of 2013 so in the next year I fully expect to gravitate to tastings that have red blends from the Rhone, Australia and California where similar wines are produced. I hope to strengthen my knowledge of what is possible with this type of wine and use that information to make the best version I can the first time around.
Tasting (tasting with focus and attention, specifically) wine often and of as many styles as possible makes one's tasting skills more potent. I've written about how important that has been to my own winemaking many times. I'm more objective about my wine than I would be if I didn't have as many examples and experiences to fall back on. I know just how far I need to go to make better wine and that is experience we should all strive to have
(Two of the wines we tasted.)
So what did I think of the Morellino wines? You didn't think I was going to leave you without even a word did you?
Our tasting included wines from vintages of 2008 through 2011, with 5 of the 7 coming from the 2010 and 2011 harvests. Two of the wines were 100% Sangiovese, where the others were blends.
The brightness and fruit character of the younger wines was immediately accessible. I recognized the wines as being predominantly made from Sangiovese from what little experience, Chianti mostly, with the grape that I do have. I personally liked the blends with indigenous grapes best, they tasted wilder and more nuanced. I imagine these wines reflect the place in subtle, but more historically respectful ways. That could be a bit of romanticism, but that is part of loving wine so I am going to stick with it.
(The sunflower appetizer at Erbaluce.)
Cherry and other red fruits predominate, and I found some dry, dusty soil as I am coming to find in many Italian wines. The aged and wooded versions also projected some plum, spices and gentle wood notes. There were nuances of minerality, cured meats and herbs in a few of the wines. I can see why much of this wine has historically been consumed in the local area, it most likely pairs with the cuisine really well!
The wines were dry with low to moderate tannins and healthy acidity that really put them in a good place with lunch.
(Not my thing, but the calamari was both visual interesting and demonstrative of the pairing potential of wines from Morellino.)
Lunch is a whole other story, one that is best told with a few of the pictures included in this article, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed both roasted sunflower and slow-cooked wild boar for the very first time. Morellino is located near the ocean so seafood is frequently found on dinner plates, and is typically served with simple preparations. The un-oaked reds from this region historically pair very well with seafood, and from the one bite pairing (not a fan) I tried with the calamari & lobster sauce that we were served confirmed that there is plenty of pairing potential here. Pasta is of course also popular in Morellino with a larger ravioli style pasta, called a tortelli, a particular favorite. Commonly stuffed with herbs and cheese I can easily imagine a solid pairing with these wines. The slow cooked boar was not hugely gamey and had been cooked so long that it fell apart. The richness of the sauce, and I never did ask how it was prepared, was a slam dunk with the wines!
(Erbaluce Chef Charles Draghi talking about the inspiration for the meal.)
A big thank you goes out to the reprasnetatives from Consorizo Tutela Morellino di Scansano, Vigneto Communications, restaurant Erbaluce and my fellow attendees. Lunch was educational and fun. In doing some Internet searching to develop this article I found a link to a blog post from a Texas-based blogger, Wine Thoughts, who experienced the wines from the Texas leg of this road show at the Texas Wine School. You'll note the similar tasting experience even thought the wine list is not identical. I also found out that Mario Batali is partners in a Maremma-based winery, La Mozza, launched in 2000 that has two bottlings available.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”