Montecucco

Map of Montecucco DOCMontecucco DOC

Of the lesser known Tuscan regions I toured in February of 2014, Montecucco and Carmignano stood out for potential elevation alongside Tuscany’s more famous DOCGs. Montecucco (pronounced monty-koo-co), with its direct line of sight to Brunello, inevitably begs the question whether it’s destined to be seen as a ‘baby Brunello’ or as having a distinct regional style in its own right?

Where the two share a similar hilly exposition, Montecucco, with vineyards situated from 150-450 metres, is higher and much more mountainous. Soils are more volcanic and stonier, laced with friable, free draining tuffo compared to Brunello’s heavier clays. Elevation, coupled with prevailing sea breezes (40 minutes to the west) ensures that Montecucco generally has higher acidity than Brunello. Soil types there drive more minerality and lighter, finer boned textures.

Montecucco is a relatively young wine area with DOC granted in 1998 and DOCG in 2011.  Although small family focused vineyards always existed, the region was previously know for mining, chestnuts and, more recently, skiing. So far about 1000 hectares are cultivated by 53 producers making 2 million bottles. Significantly, Monetcocco has both Italy’s highest percentage of organic producers and its lowest average yields per hectare.

The primary red grape is Sangiovese, which fortunately survives in a number of pre-phylloxera clonal variations specific to Montecucco. These mother plants were sourced for much of the ensuing vineyard expansion, bolstered by imported, high quality Brunello clones. Although DOCG rules allow labelled Sangiovese to contain 10% ‘other’ grapes, an informal consensus believes 100% is the best way to establish a regional terroir identity. Alternatively, another local grape, Ciliegiolo (named for its cherry flavoring) has traditionally played a sympathetic, supportive role in the blend, prized for its flavors, fatter textures and lower acidity. Both styles seem successful in their own right.  Whites are based around Vermentino and Trebbiano Toscano, which for the more elevated Vermentino requires 85% of that grape.

The real challenge will be in creating and maintaining a distinct, regional terroir style with the other 10% grapes DOC allows. Invasive Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and Montepulciano tends to shade Sangiovese’s transparent nature, easily dominating varietal characters and spinning the wines off in quite different directions.  The issue becomes even more obvious in the 40% ‘other grapes’ allowed in the workhorse ‘Rosso.’  

After sampling wines from 15 producers, only a few wines stuck out as too oaky or over extracted.  Overall the vast majority showed good fruit to acid balance and clear varietal characters. While most wines hovered around 14% alcohol, a few peaked in the hot, overblown 14.5-15+ range suggesting the region, like most of Maremma, still has some alcohol issues to work through. Apart from this and the distortions intrusive French grapes created in some Sangiovese blends, the region seems on the right track to create something quite special in future.