Sangiovese is a grape variety whose history and lineage is, despite all of the research done on this world-class grape, still at least partially submerged in the deep past. The latest genetic research available on this grape shows that it is the forebear of multiple minor Italian grape varieties, and whose ancestors seem to be to be inextricably linked with a workaday Tuscan variety called Ciliegiolo and a very obscure Calabrian variety called Calabrese di Montenuovo, though there are other lineages that undoubtedly feed into what Sangiovese has become over the millennia, and indeed Sangiovese’s complete family tree has yet to be fully mapped.
But setting aside the vine’s parentage, under the Sangiovese rubric two branches in the “family” can be clearly noted: Sangiovese Grosso, which includes such sub-varieties as Brunello, Prugnolo, and Sangiovese di Lamole which are often cited as the finer or at least more complex and robust types. And despite the fact that the Italian word “grosso” means “large” or “major”, the berries produced by this cluster of sub-types are actually smaller with thicker skins and less juice, and it is precisely these features that lead many wine folks to cite this branch to be the finer of the two. The other side includes all of the rest of the varieties to be found in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Corsica and elsewhere, and perhaps not surprisingly these sub-varieties are known by the overarching name “Sangiovese Piccolo”, and the Sangiovese type that goes by the name of Morellino di Scansano falls within this grouping, and it is a Morellino that is up on the bench this evening.
If there is actually anything that constitutes a semi-distinctive Sangiovese sub-variety under the name Morellino, it is to be found exclusively in southwestern-most side of Tuscany close to the sea in an area called The Maremma. This slice of Tuscany is quite peculiar in terms of terroir which is what leads to the big, forward and lush characteristics of wines from this zone. This a region with a uniquely fine and dense combination of clay and limestone soil, more moderated temperatures from day to night as well as across the entire year, and more sunshine than most Sangiovese vineyards typically receive. These factors make for plumper, darker wines than are typically found elsewhere in Tuscany. In addition, a certain percentage of a local grape called Alicante (which turns out to be a peculiar clone of Grenache introduced to this region centuries ago) further contributes to the thicker, fruitier nature of the wines that come from the greater Scansano area.
This particular cuvee` is a wine that very deftly splits the difference between “modern” and “traditional” winemaking. It’s made from a blend of 85% Morellino, 12% of a semi-aromatic white grape variety called Malvasia di Toscana, and 3% Alicante which rounds out the blend. It is aged for a moderate 10 months in 350 liter French oak tonneaux (barrels that are about 50% larger than barriques) only 30% of which are new. The practical upshot of all this is a wine that is polished and modern but still clearly reflective of the Maremma’s unique terrain and stable of grape varieties.
I matched this lovely (not so) little wine with a a first course of rigatoni with a black-eyed pea, tomato, onion, thyme and marjoram sauce followed by a main course of sliced chicken breasts prepared in the Tuscan cacciatora style – with top-notch olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, red wine and red pepper flakes, and a side of cavolo nero (a.k.a. Tuscan kale) boiled then sauteed with oil, garlic and anchovies.
Azienda Agricola Mocali Morellino di Scansano 2011
Quite deep, purply garnet color. Elegant but definitely still bold nose of black cherry, black raspberry, cocoa, pipe tobacco, roasted fennel, clove, a touch of cumin, sandalwood and dried flowers. In the mouth the wine is full-bodied, supple and fairly rich with smoothly dry and chewy tannins and juicy acidity that advances crunchy fruit flavors of plum, strawberry syrup, red currants supported by notes of black walnut and sweetened chestnut paste. Lingering, complex finish.