Montecucco Sangiovese Comes of Age

11 vintages of Montecucco DOC
20 years of Montecucco DOC in a vertical tasting of Montecucco Sangiovese

Montecucco Historical Tasting

In 1998, a small appellation for Sangiovese-based wines was carved from the Maremma. Forged on the slopes of Mount Amiata, the extinct volcano that is also the hallmark and birthright of Montalcino, Montecucco DOC celebrates 20 years of appellation status this year. The elevation of Montecucco Sangiovese to DOCG, now the calling card of Montecucco, was granted in 2011, further acknowledging the ambitions of this fledgling zone.

Last week there were a number of activities organised to commemorate these auspicious events, including dinners and vineyard visits. Chief among them? The vertical tasting: 11 wines from 11 estates representing vintages going from 2012 back to 1998.

Vertical Tasting

Oh, how I love having the opportunity to do vertical tastings! There is no better way to get a handle on how vintages vary and how wines develop with the years. Ideally, a vertical tasting should be done from a single estate, using grapes from the same vineyard parcels – and even with the same winemaker. But it is also very useful to have a cross-section of wineries from a particular appellation – in this case Montecucco – from which to get a feel for a zone.

The Appellation Rules

Due to the elevation of Montecucco Sangiovese to DOCG status, things have changed in the zone a little bit since the beginnings twenty years ago. For a good overview of the appellation, the wine styles and the associated rules, have a look at my longer article about Montecucco. For the purposes of this tasting of old vintages, only Montecucco Sangiovese and Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva were tasted – with one notable exception: the Montecucco Rosso called “Impostino” from Tenuta l’Impostino.

The current rules for Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG and Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva state that the wines must be made from at least 90% Sangiovese. The rosso must be aged in barrel for at least 12 months, followed by at least 4 months in bottle before release. The riserva must be aged for at least 24 months in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle.

The Verdict

Can Montecucco Sangiovese age?

In my opinion? Absolutely. In fact, most of these wines tasted significantly more youthful than comparable wines from the same vintages I have had made by respected producers in both Chianti Classico and Montalcino. This fact alone is quite remarkable.

Overall, the wines show plenty of colour – including the ones that are 100% Sangiovese. Sangiovese from Montecucco tends to be darker than it is in Chianti in any case, despite the relative lack of compounds leading to stable, dark colour inherent with the grape. The wines also present – even at twenty years of age – plenty of fresh fruit, while always maintaining the spiciness and floral character that the region can offer. Acidity remains good, tannin as well. These are all ingredients for a wine to not only be long-lived, but also to be able to improve with age. And these wines are definitely living up to that potential.

Add this to the fact that there is a long history of winemaking in this part of Tuscany, but a short history for the appellation. Vineyards and estates are generally young, as are most of the vines planted at them. As the vine material moves out of youthfulness into middle-age, and as the winemakers, themselves, get enough vintages under their respective belts, the wines are only going to get better. The zone, already attracting talent and attention due to the climate and soil conditions, its prime location on Montalcino’s doorstep, but with more reasonable prices for land, has the potential to become a Sangiovese powerhouse – and very much deservedly so.

The Wines

These are the wines we tasted at the event, in the order – youngest to oldest – that they were presented. Numbers correspond with the numbering on the glasses, and do not indicate a ranking of my preferences.

Eleven glasses of Montecucco Sangiovese for the eleven vintages presented at the vertical tasting
Fairly dark, for Sangiovese – particularly for the age of some of these wines!

#11 Poggio al Gello – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOCG 2012 “Rosso del Gello”

This is a very small estate that works organically. The wine is 100% Sangiovese.

Lovely, dusty fruit and violet, with red cherry, sour cherry, coffee and a bit of black plum. A sweet fruit attack with oily tannins in the finish to accompany the black pepper and black olives, and the barest hint of gaminess. One of the cleanest and best wines from the estate that I tried while in the zone.

#10 Tenuta l’Impostino – Montecucco Rosso DOC 2011 “Impostino”

A very new estate and with all-new vineyards. I had the pleasure of visiting them after the vertical tasting. As I said, the wine is the only one that was not Montecucco Sangiovese DOC(G). In this case, it is because the wine is not at least 90% Sangiovese. It is 80% Sangiovese, with the rest a balance of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. 22 months of barrel ageing.

Lots of black berry fruit, the wine is a bit looser on the palate than expected, and a hint metallic. There is some stalkiness and wood spice, with black pepper and orange peel. A bit austere and very vertical, there is a lingering impression of orange creamsicle.

#9 Campinuovi – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2010

The wine is 100% Sangiovese coming from volcanic soils and aged in small barrels. And 2010 was a good vintage.

More plum, more cedar, more clove. Violets to spare. The palate is peppery and with fine, grippy tannin. A bit broader in the mouth, but good and taut, too. There are red berries and coffee with even a hint of chocolate, but this is quickly pushed aside by a finer, altogether more balsamic character leading into a nice, long finish.

#8 Peteglia – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2009

I had the pleasure of tasting several wines from this estate over the course of my time in Tuscany, and I liked them all. This wine is 100% Sangiovese aged in large casks. 2009 was a challenging vintage, with high heat and rain at harvest time.

There is a clear savoury character to the wine. Rounded and a bit softer, with hickory smoke and a dash of mint in the finish. The wine is in excellent balance, nothing sticking out – like a sphere. Fine tannin, smooth and elegant, and a good finish.

#7 Amantis – Montecucco Sangiovese DOC 2008

2008 was another good harvest. This wine is 100% Sangiovese, coming from Montenero in the Val d’Orcia.

Red flowers and a very lovely balsamic character underlay juicy red plums, cherries and red currant. Tannins are soft, length is good. The wine is fresh, and there is some leather and toasted bread to make things interesting.

#6 ColleMassari – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2007 “Lombrone”

This estate is one of the biggest and most-exported in the zone, and they work organically. They also now own the Tenuta di Montecucco, which is also on this list of wines from the 2001 vintage.

A little closed at the start, the wine opened a bit to reveal soft red fruit, a bit of wood spice and delicate floral aromas. Cool and very drinkable, the tannin seems not to show up until the end. Good length and easy to enjoy.

#5 Perazzeta – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2006 “Licurgo”

One of the historic producers in Montecucco, whose founders were behind the push to create the DOC. I had the opportunity to visit the estate, which is under new ownership since those days, and try all of their wines – which made a very good impression. I even had the opportunity to taste their 1998 vintage, which was excellent. This wine is 100% Sangiovese aged in big casks.

Ah, now this is what I think of when I think of aged Sangiovese typicity: dusty leather and tobacco. Roasted fennel, but very sweet cherry fruit – almost as sweet, in fact, as the 2003 vintage of this wine that I was able to try while visiting the producer the day before. But let me be clear: the wine is dry. Sweet spice, like cinnamon and a hint of clove, but also wood spice. The finish is sleek and there is still plenty of tannin.

#4 Parmoleto – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2005

Yet another wine made, happily, with 100% Sangiovese.

Restrained in the nose, but a sumptuous palate of spice and firm, fresh fruit. Leather and juniper adding interest – followed by even more spice. Great acidity, lovely, fine tannin and good length. Hard to believe it is already 13 years along.

#3 Tenuta di Montecucco – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2001 “Rigomoro”

Also 100% Sangiovese. The estate still exists – in fact, I stayed there while in the region this time – but it is now part of ColleMassari. 2001 was one of the best vintages for Montecucco since the appellation was created.

A bit smoky, with mint leading the nose over a background of fruit and cedar. Good black plum, lots of sweet spice. The wine is dense, with particularly compact tannin and acidity in fine balance. A lovely, filigree finish leaving a hint of cherry popsicle. One of my favourites from the tasting.

#2 Le Calle – Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOC 1999 “Poggio d’Oro”

Only 2500 bottles made of this 100% Sangiovese wine from the DOC’s second vintage. This small, organic producer has old-school labels, and excellent quality.

This wine is a bit broader. A bit more leather and tobacco, and very good length. Moving into more tertiary territory, there is plenty of dried fruit accompanying the spice – and mouth-coating tannin still present, without being grippy. A fine, well-ageing wine.

#1 Salustri – Montecucco Sangiovese DOC 1998 “Santa Marta”

Salustri is likely the oldest estate in Montecucco and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the appellation. The wine is 100% Sangiovese. 1998 was one of the finest vintages for the appellation.

Soft plum and cherry fruit despite the two decades since it was made. Lovely spice, good tannin and even a juiciness that I wasn’t expecting. Very complete and well-balanced, this is a wine without any rough edges or sharp corners – and still with good length. You couldn’t wish for much of a better portrait of the first vintage for the zone.

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