Among the five principal wine producing areas in Tuscany, Montecucco is one of two located in the southernmost realm of Maremma, abutting Brunello di Montalcino to the south and west, and lying directly north of Morellino di Scansano; further west is Bolgheri, and a ways north is the Chianti Classico region – thus, it’s unsurprising that the primary grapes grown there are Sangiovese. As with all things agricultural – particularly in Italy, but truly everywhere, given the demand by an increasingly informed public for assurance of the sourcing of any products they consume – a reliable means of certification is the guarantee that what you’re getting is both authentic and meets the standards of quality established by producers in any region or realm. So, it was that in 1998 the Appellation (DOC) of Montecucco wines was born, with Consortium for the protection of these wines founded two years later, and to mark the “20 Years of Designation of Origin” the Consorzio gathered an international group of wine aficionados to help celebrate the anniversary and provide their guests with an opportunity to discover and appreciate the region and its wines in depth and up close.
Spearheading the Consorzio is Claudio Carmelo Tipa, who not only serves as its President, but also with his sister Maria Iris operates the ColleMassari Domaine, which is comprised of three estates. Two of these Tuscan estates – Grattamacco, located in the Bolgheri region; and Poggio di Sotto, in Montalcino – are in areas neighboring Montecucco, while Castello di ColleMassari is one of the foundational producers of the Montecucco Consorzia Tutela, begun in 1998 and producing its first vintage in 2000. (ColleMassari is perhaps the Montecucco brand best known stateside, as I found their wines at several New York stores, including Enoteca Di Palo and Eataly.) Also in the “Domaine” of the Tipas is the Azienda Agrituristica Montecucco – several inns which provide first rate hospitality and accommodations for visitors to the region, with the hacienda Tenuta Di Montecucco being the site for lodging, celebrations and a gala dinner marking the 20thanniversary festivities.
Though I’ve been to a number of regions in Italy over the years – Milano, Rome, Campania, Bolzano and elsewhere – I’d only traveled through Tuscany before, without spending any time in the region. Unquestionably,it’s as dramatic and remarkable as in all the postcards and films. I found that, unlike in previous travels to places like Switzerland, where it seems like every cow in the Bernese Oberland has a local rail depotnearby, in Tuscany one must navigate to smaller towns and villages by motorcar. The jitney from Fiumicino got us to our resting place only after traversing a seemingly endless series of switchbacks over the hilly landscape. (But of course, once you’ve arrived, you don’t want to leave.) Beyond the century-old cypress trees which flank the roadway leading to the property, you find the Tenuta Di Montecucco grounds overlook a stunning vista from one of the higher points of elevation beneath the volcanic Monte Amiata, and include not only lodging, dining and event spaces, but also a charming semi-secluded swimming pool. As I walked near the vineyards directly to the south of the lodge I noted the presence of a rabbit traipsing the area, possibly before or after seeking a snack from the tomato plants nearby. Also on the grounds is a chapel – built in the 15thcentury, and most recently renovated in 2011 – where visitors often convene to get married beneath stained-glass windows featuring images of saints; the marble plaque there (reading “In memoria de Conte Pietro Piccolomini Clementini’ Questo oratorio a S. Pietro Apostolo – a. S. Antonio Abate 1943”) indicating two of them, with Santa Margherita and Santa Marta also depicted. In the yard between the main buildings there is a collection of olive trees, and in the western area of the property there are cactus plants to complete the ambiance.
Considered the historical estate of the Montecucco Appellation (to which it has given its name), it has a long and fascinating history, beginning in 1106 when the children of Corbulino of Montecucco donated the property to the Camaldolese monks – who even then spoke of the quality of the soil and the production of “Vino Bono”. A typical example of old Maremma farms, the group of stone buildings and country villa within the parcel form the old village of Tenuta di Montecucco, with the church in the center; its winemaking history is attested to by a cellar dating to 1300 and jars dating from 1600. While the rusticity of its past is preserved in the architecture and plan, the space within, accommodations and accessories are fully up-to-date: a billiard room, fitness room and a Turkish bath enable guests’ relaxation and restoration during their stay, and all apartments and suites are equipped with television and Wi-Fi access. An additional enhancement is the jars of fragrance placed in hallways to lend the interior ambiance an aromatic and calming air.
Once settled in, we repaired to the ColleMassari ristorante “I Granai”. The ‘Menu’ Pranzo’ repast settled any road-weariness that may have been remained from our travels, and gave us an opportunity to sample the ColleMassari wines prior to visiting the production facility, which we would do shortly thereafter later in the day. Our meal consisted of Antipasti Misti a Buffet (mixed buffet appetizers, which included prosciutto frittata, tomato with basil & olive oil and greens); Penne Con Pomodorini Freschi Basilico (penne pasta with tomatoes & basil); and a fruit Salad ‘Macedonia’, which included pineapple, kiwifruit, peaches & pears. The wines paired for the meal were one white and three reds. As for the former, the standard white grape planted in the region is Vermentino, and the 100% Vermentino produced by ColleMassari is named Melacce; the 2017 vintage we sampled was a good medium-bodied spirit, with a light citrusy acidity, and a fruitiness of a tart character, suggestive of young white gooseberries and white currents. As for the reds, the Rigoleto Montecucco Rosso DOC 2016 is produced from 70% sangiovese, 15% ciliegiolo and 15% montepulciano grapes, and had a nose of blackberries with a hint of spice; it opens drily on the palate, with a fruitiness of very young berries, seasoned with some acidity and peppery notes and a hint of leather. The ColleMassari Montecucco Rosso Riserva DOC 2015, made with 80% sangiovese, 10% ciliegiolo and 10% cabernet sauvignon grapes, had a big nose that recalled rhubarb and tapered with some astringency; as expected, the tannins were more pronounced here, with peppery, leathery and tobacco aspects closing a fairly big opening on first taste. Also offered was the Poggio Lombrone Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2013, a single vineyard 100% sangiovese wine which had a nose of lighter character, somewhat grassy in nature over berries; a puce-colored wine, it comes on dry on first taste, with a lighter and spicier finish than the other two reds, with red currents and pomegranate apparent.
It was then time to trek over to the production facility. The estate of Castello ColleMassari extends over 1,200 hectares, with 110 hectares of vineyards, 60 hectares of olive groves and 400 of mixed crops (the remaining land being woodlands, with the whole farm surrounded by a state forest), and we were able to survey these along our jaunt. The soil is comprised of five main types of soil – cracked sandstone, sea gravel, limestone and clay, red clay and clay loam – and in addition to the aforementioned grape varieties, Greco bianco white grapes are also cultivated therein. As with the lodge buildings, the cellar is an intriguing mixture of the rustic and the modern; excavated from the natural rock, it has formed concrete walls and terra cotta tiled flooring – yet its brutalist elements are refined by wooden slatting which frames both the cellar itself and the tasting room windows. Designed by Edoardo Milesi, it is considered “a monument of modern architecture” and one of the ten most beautiful buildings of its kind, visited by architects and designers. The vats are operated on a computer-controlled system, and the casks are transferred from the vat room to the barrel storage via a large elevator. We were informed that Europe – and particularly Switzerland – and Japan are the most important markets for the ColleMassari wines, with 60% of the total production destined for these.