Maremma and its red wines

It’s not rare for parts of Italy to be distorted in shape and substance by arbitrary, administrative borders, dividing the integral and blurring the distinct. This has happened in the Romagna, the Garfagnana and the Lunigiana, to name but a few. And the same fate has befallen the Maremma, which follows the southern Tuscan coast down to Lazio, at the gates of Civitavecchia.
Maremma is a land apart, compared to the Tuscany of the Crete Senesi, the Chianti area, or touristy Florence. In that sense, it’s a bit like the Casentino. It was and is a hugely varied place, with some of humanity’s most profound, most unique stories: from its butteri (mounted cowherds) to its miners, from the Etruscans to the swamps. It’s an area that has been born and reborn time and again, and one that has changed radically over the course of the centuries, from the pre-Roman ‘golden age’ to its medieval nadir, to its modern rediscovery as a place brimming with life and adventure.
There are two possible origins of the word Maremma: one is the Latin word maritima, and the other is the Castilian word marismas, which means “swamp”. Both theories have legs, because in the Middle Ages the changing formation of the Tuscan coastline did indeed make the rivers back up and spill into terrible marshlands: hotbeds for malaria and other illnesses for centuries to come. From the "breadbasket of Etruria", it became a wet waste land, which Dante invoked in his depiction of Hell. Only in 1828, at the behest of Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, did the Great Reclamation get underway. A canal, known as "Seggio Nuovo", was dug, and by 1830 some 5,000 workers had successfully drained the marshes. The Maremma’s heavy agriculture is a modern phenomenon.

It’s no surprise that the Maremma expresses itself through an important range of wines, for wines often tell the story of their mother earth. We tend to think of white wines when we think of the Tyrrhenian coastline, but it’s the reds that have flooded the collective consciousness in recent years, making a name for themselves among critics and connoisseurs alike. These include the more romantic denominations, like Montecucco, Monteregio and Sovana, and the explosively popular Morellino di Scansano. Then we have Sassicaia, where the southernmost spit of Bolgheri meets the Livornese Maremma. There’s more than one Maremma, but that’s a story for another day.

Morellino di Scansano DOC has proven to be a resounding success, both critical and popular. This unusual interpretation of Sangiovese involves a fusion of traditional, local red grape varieties - “Canaiolo”, “Ciliegiolo”, “Malvasia”, “Colorino”, “Alicante” – and more recently, international cultivars have been added too, sparking great interest in Morellino’s increased versatility and character. The historic production area, according to the Consorzio del Morellino website, covers the entire municipality of Scansano and parts of Campagnatico, Grosseto, Magliano in Toscana, Manciano, Roccalbegna and Semproniano. It’s a huge territory, with a wide scale of pedoclimatic conditions. Some Morellino vineyards are practically standing in the sea, while others are ranged across the slopes of hills. The variety is almost infinite.

This makes it quite hard to talk about Morellino’s sensory profile, as the wines can take on so many different forms, tastes, olfactory notes. But they are always an intense ruby red, with a dark heart and a bright rim. They are fresh on the nose, with hints of plum and marasca cherry. Suave tannins are also a common trait to all Morellino. Production is limited to 8 tons per hectare, which has recently allowed winemakers to pursue wines of huge depth and density.

Scansano itself is a village full of gorgeous views and other reasons to visit, and Morellino is its finest embodiment.

Ruffino has recently launched its Morellino di Scansano DOCG Rosso di Marte.

 

Marshes, wild cattle, cowherds, malaria, bandits. A jumble of ancient civilization, untamed existence and Mediterranean mythology
[Guido Piovene, 1960]