Wednesday, April 11, 2007

There's More to Sangiovese Than Chianti

Do you love Chianti? I do, too. It was one of the first wines that caught my imagination, that made me think, oh, this is wine. Chianti is made with sangiovese, and this varietal makes up the heart of those smoky-sweet cinnamon and plum beauties. What's more, Chianti runs the gamut from simple, food-friendly table wines bound up in rush fiascos with a bit of rusticity to complex, expensive reserve bottlings. But the popularity and name-brand appeal of Chianti has been driving prices steadily upward recently. And if you like Chianti, you will probably like other wines made predominantly or exclusively from sangiovese grapes, such as Vino Nobile de Montipulciano and todays pick, Morellino di Scanscano.

Far, far to the south of Chianti--but still in Tuscany--lies Scansano, a town in view of the Tyrrhenian Sea. They cultivate morellino there, a strain of sangiovese grape that goes into wine that has many of the earthy and sweet characteristics of a good Chianti at a fraction of the price. The 1998 Cantina Cooperativa Del Morellino di Scansano "Vigna Benefizio" ($14.99, Colorado Wine Company; ) was an outstanding example of an older sangiovese with excellent QPR. A robust deep ruby color blended towards brick-redness at the edges where the wine touched the glass--a classic indication of an older red wine. But the age of this wine did not diminish the aromas of black cherry, cassis, and herbal aromas, nor did it blunt its full flavor palate. Even more surprising, there was still lots of acidity in this wine, so much so that when it was first opened you got the merest hints of spritziness, which abated as soon as the wine was poured. As you drank this wine you felt that you could smell and taste the sun-drenched fields of the Maremma region, and that acidity brought to mind open vistas of ocean and salt spray.

Morellino di Scansano wines, like Chianti, are excellent with grilled meats and tomato-based pasta sauces. Their earthiness, combined with just the right amount of acidity, stands up to this traditional Italian fare. We had it with a North Beach chicken and pasta dish that had spinach, mushrooms, a tomato ragu, and spoonfulls of ricotta cheese to stir in at the table. Unfortunately, the recipe isn't online but you can find it in Brian St. Pierre's excellent cookbook, The Wine Lover Cooks Italian.

You probably won't be able to find this vintage of Morellino di Scansano, or this exact maker, but you will be able to find a bottle of Morellino in good wine shops if you look for it. Easy to find brands include Fattoria le Pupille and Cecchi, and Terry Hughes of Mondosapore reminds all of us to keep our eyes peeled for other importers, like Poggio Argentiera, too. These bottlings provide a good value way to begin exploring the world of Italian wines and native varietals, so remember: Sangiovese. It's more than just Chianti.


Joe said...

I have only had the Belguardo from Morellino, and it is a spectacular wine.

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Joe. I'll keep my eye out for that one. I've got plans to buy morellino when I see it and put it away for the fall. Thanks for the tip!