Scansano revisited 2019

I noticed with some surprise in July 2019 that my main pieces on Scansano are now a decade old.  The page was created in 2007 and was updated from visits in 2010. Of course nothing stands still over a decade and it clearly was time to take the temperature in this lovely part of southern Tuscany. 

The general vibe in the Maremma

Back in the 1990s, the Maremma was the bold, new region in Tuscany.  Chianti Classico and Montalcino were by then well established, the former with its 300-year history, the latter with its remarkable success in the export market. As entrepreneurs looked for the next new frontier, the relatively wide-open countryside of the Maremma beckoned.  Land here was available and much less expensive than in the well-known parts of Tuscany and there was plenty of hype about the Maremma being Tuscany’s ‘new world’. Sangiovese and Vermentino were to main local varieties, DOCs had been defined but there was also freedom to plant new varieties such as Petit Verdot, Viognier, Syrah and many more. Important producers from Chianti Classico and Montalcino and other Italian wine regions invested in  new estates in the Maremma. 

By the end of the second decade of this century, there has been a considerable shaking down of the rather wild predictions of the 1990s.  Walter Speller writing in the Oxford Companion to Wine (4th edition, 2015) concluded:

Bolgheri apart, the Maremma has not turned out to be the promised land it appeared to be in the mid 1990s, although it may eventually produce some excellent wines from vineyards planted with the right varieties and clones, and, crucially, in the best sites.

From an international perspective the overall judgement is correct.  However, it is wrong to say that excellent wines will only ‘eventually’ be produced if the right varieties, clones and sites are chosen.  Rather, I would say, individual excellent wines are being produced but the area as a whole — and Scansano as the leading Sangiovese denomination in particular — has failed to make a global impact. (This was in fact the view expressed in the 3rd edition of the Oxford Companion in 2006.) As examples of excellence, the wines of Fattoria Le Pupille, both the super Tuscan and the top Morellino wines continue to be regarded as world class and Morisfarms‘ Avvoltore or its Morellino di Scansano Riserva definitely repay buying and cellaring.   These long time players have been joined by ambitious projects such as the French-inspired Monteverro (first wines made in 2008) and by the establishment of Terenzi as a top Morellino producer. Despite these success, the question is: has the Maremma become a supplier of reliable, competently made warm-climate wines from a wide range of local and international varieties (basically the raison d’être of the Maremma Toscana DOC introduced in 2011) or has it made a reputation at the top table of the wines of Italy and indeed the world?  At the moment, the answer is definitely more the former than the latter. 

This is not to say that the huge investments in statement wineries in the 1990s and 2000s have failed. The ‘cathedrals of wine’, large scale, architect-designed wineries Petra, Rocca di Frassinello and Antinori’s more recent Le Mortelle (completed 2009) are fabulous places to visit and make very, very good wines.  But these wines have not received the sort of acclaim that would make the Maremma a truly world-class region. To take Le Mortelle as an example. While the winery is both spectacularly beautiful and highly energy efficient being mostly underground, its top wine Poggio alle Nane, is hardly a household name, even in households with extensive cellars of Tuscan wines.  The problem may simply be that there are already plenty of Bordeaux-inspired Super Tuscans in Bolgheri and in the hills of Chianti. Is the world of wine going to take notice of another Super Tuscan? 

Morellino mood

Much of the above paragraph about the Maremma in general is also true of Morellino di Scansano DOCG, the Maremma’s best Sangiovese denomination.  It was a buzz wine of 1990s and much appreciated in the UK. For example Poggio Argentiera’s highly approachable wines and eye-catching labels were successfully sold by Majestic. But since then, things have gone very quiet on the international front. This is in part just a matter of how fashions work. One minute you are all the rage, the next you are not on the radar at all.  But the region for whatever reasons failed to build on that initial success.

Today the goals are more modest: to build in the domestic market. As estate owners explained: half of Morellino is sold locally and in Rome. The capital city is only an hour and a half away and many Romans have holiday homes in the southern Maremma. Not surprisingly, once they return to Rome they want to go on drinking the ripe, fruity, good value version of Sangiovese that Scansano produces.  Alessio Durazzi, director of the Morellino consortium, confirmed this strategy when I met him in Scansano in July 2019. For a relatively small denomination, it makes sense to dedicate its effort and to use its limited budget to promote the wines in the domestic market, especially in Tuscany, Rome and Milan. 7075% of the wine is sold in Italy and 7080% of that in supermarkets and similar. Once a secure platform has been created, thoughts may turn again to the much greater challenges of export markets. The figures just quoted indicate that the primary challenge is to get a higher proportion of the wine sold in specialist wine shops and quality restaurants – and thereby increase the value of the wine sold.  As in so many wine regions, the aim has to be, in the jargon, premiumisation. 

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