Giovan Battista Basile looks at his friend, Christian Trotta, and tries to find the right words to explain the point he is making to an interviewer.
“What is it you say in America about the politics being close to home?,” asks Basile.
Trotta quickly responds: “All politics is local.”
“Yes,” says Basile, adding, “In Italy, all wine is local.”
The point hits home like a glass of “Amiata Sangiovese” and a bowl of Toscana bread and bean soup.
The Montecucco DOC/DOCG region, stretching inland near the southwest Maremma Coast to Monte Amiata in central Tuscany, has its own identity for producing quality wines, especially those made from Italy’s noblest of all red grapes – Sangiovese.
Basile is president of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montecucco, an organization representing 68 wine producers in one of Italy’s most exciting and emerging districts. In 2022, consortium members cultivated a total of 1,250 vineyard acres and produced 1.2 million bottles of red, white, rosato and Vin Santo dessert wine.
Trotta is sales director of Fantasy Fine Wine of Boston and the sole Massachusetts distributor of Montecucco wines.
Click on the link below to watch a 2-minute video with Basile promoting Montecucco’s attributes:
Of Italy’s 178 wine appellations, Montecucco is one of the youngest. The Montecucco DOC, founded in 1998, is celebrating its 25th year; Montecucco DOCG earned its more restrictive and qualitative status in 2011.
We’re sitting in Trotta’s office on Commercial Street along the Boston waterfront for a private tasting of four Montecucco DOC/DOCG Sangiovese-based wines.
It’s a new experience for me.
Although I’ve previously studied about the region, I’ve never tasted a Montecucco wine. (Now that I have, I’m a convert: The wines sampled were well-made, elegant and fairly priced when compared to other prestigious sangiovese-based wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.)
Despite a weeklong promotional tour to New York, New Jesey and Massachusetts, Basile appears as fresh as a Mediterranean sea breeze. He calmly tells a wine story – Montecucco’s – that is full of passion and pride.
The region, he said, has a good pedigree: It sits between two outstanding appellations for producing sangiovese-based wines, Morellino di Scansano DOCG to the south and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG to the north and east.
In addition to its proximity to the Maremma Coast and Tyrhennian Sea (19 miles) and a warm, sunny climate, Montecucco sticks out for its gently rolling hills, higher elevations (vineyards range from 450 feet to 1,500 feet above sea level), wind currents, and Monte Amiata. The latter is a 5,700-foot volcano on the region’s eastern border that blocks inclement weather and recirculates fresh air, keeping vines dry and disease free. Most of Montecucco’s DOCG vineyards are located on or along the slopes of Monte Amiata.
Grapes are cultivated in seven municipalities – Arcidosso, Campagnatico, Castel del Piano, Cinigiano, Civitella Paganico, Roccalbegna, Seggiano – containing quaint, medieval villages. Most countryside wineries sit on small farms that have retained their traditional agricultural roots, sharing vineyard land with livestock, olive groves, chestnut trees, and other vegetable plantings.
According to Basile, the average winery cultivates eight to 16 acres of vines.
The region’s landscape is largely unspoiled, with 85 percent of Montecucco wineries having earned certified organic farming status. It is one of the highest percentages in all of Tuscany’s wine zones.
“The wine industry is important but it has not changed Montecucco,” said Basile, a lawyer-turned-winery owner. “Here, the farmers, winemakers and people work in respect to the land. That’s what makes this territory so unique, so beautiful. We keep it as it always was … and we make wines in a healthier way.”
Up until the 1990s, when the area’s wine-making potential generated new investments in the land, Montecucco was a hidden gem. Now it’s becoming a destination for wine lovers and tourists, said Basile.
“You can stay in a bed and breakfast, enjoy the sunshine, walk through the vineyards and taste the wine and eat the food. It’s a wonderful experience,” said Basile.
And there’s still a lot of room for growth.
“As more new members join (the consortium) together (under the DOC/DOCG designations), Montecucco’s production would increase,” said Basile, noting that 5.5 million bottles a year is not out of reach.
“Montecucco produces really good sangiovese with nice acidity and freshness in the wine,” said Basile. “The wines are top quality (and sold) at a value price.”
For purchase information, contact Christian Trotta at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.fantastyfinewine.com. The following wines sampled also available at Boston Bottle in the North End (www.boston-bottle.com)
Le Pianore Tiniatus 2018 Red Montecucco DOC, SRP: $34, abv. 13.5% – Tiniatus is the Etruscan name for Jupiter, the king of all gods in ancient Roman mythology. This juicy, ruby-colored blend of sangiovese (60%) and merlot (40%) certainly would meet Jupiter’s favor for its savory fruit tastes: Raspberry, cherry, plum with a mix of rustic herbs and anise. The palate is smooth.
Le Pianore’s vineyards are situated on the slopes of Monte Amiata, about 1,600 feet above sea level. Sunny daytime exposure gives way to cooler night air that allows “the vines to rest,” said Basile. “In Montecucco, we don’t have to rush the grapes,” he said.
The result produces fresh, lively wines with balanced acidity and ageability.
Le Pianore produced 7,000 bottles of 2018 Tiniatus, which received a commendable 89 rating from Vinous Media wine critic Eric Guido.
Basile Cartacanta 2018 Montecucco DOCG, $24, abv. 14% – In Naples, “Cartacanta” is a phrase used when a document is signed or an agreement made and translated to “the paper sings”. In the Montecucco version, according to winery owner Giovan Battista Basile, the “wine speaks by itself.” Yes, it does – it speaks loudly for its refined, lovely nature.
Cartacanta is made from 100% organically grown sangiovese grapes. Vineyards sit 1,000 feet above sea level in the Cinigiano production area.
Following vinification in steel tanks, Cartacanta is aged 12 months in large French oak barrels and six months in bottle.
Sangiovese Grosso – the varietal’s most productive and quality clone -is known for its expressive adaptability. That’s why sangiovese-based wines crafted from the same clone in other Tuscan regions – Chianti Classico and Brunello come to mind – perform with a distinct identity. The flavor is local, as they say.
And so it is in Montecucco. The region’s sense of place is instilled in the wine through its tart fruit flavors, citrusy components, wild herb traits and marine minerality. A special energy is produced, reflective of “Amiata Sangiovese”.
The minerality arrives from sea breezes that deposit salty sea spray over the vines.
“The sea brings the moisture and then the winds come from Amiata and dry the vineyards,” said Basile. The minerality is absorbed by the vine and transferred to the grapes.
Cartacanta, like other Montecucco rosso wines, expresses the terroir in appealing fashion and a consumer friendly price point.
Podere Montale 2016 Sangiovese DOCG, $26, abv. 14% – This wine shows the versatility of Montecucco’s top-tier quality designation. It’s an oakier 100% sangiovese that stimulates the mouth with concentrated, slightly sweeter red fruit flavors, a touch of mushroom, balanced acidity and a long, uplifting finish. The texture is smooth.
Podere Montale’s sloping vineyards are located on high ground (1,400 feet) near Monte Amiata and benefit from stoney (galestro), well-draining soils.
The winery takes care to extract color and tannin though a cold-controlled fermentation process. Skins sit in contact with the pressed juice for 15-20 days.
The resulting wine is aged for 12 months in 3,000-liter oak barrels and later sees at least 4-6 months in bottle.
I detected more fragrance in Podere Montale than the other wines sampled, as well as a California-style woody spiciness. It’s enticing, especially for wine drinkers who prefer a rounder taste.
Overall, there’s plenty to like in Podere Montale’s harmonious wine.
Basile Ad Agio 2016 Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva DOCG, $49, abv. 14% – Despite a rainy season in 2016, Basile winemaker Maurizio Saettini didn’t have to lose any sleep in crafting this superb rosso riserva. Montecucco’s built-in ventilation, courtesy of the area’s swirling winds, kept vineyards reasonably dry leaving grapes to mature steadily.
For Ad Agio, Saettini selects the choicest grapes from different sections in Basile’s 16 acres of vineyards, which sit at the 1,000-foot level in Cinigiano. The grapes are all organic and picked manually.
Unlike Basile’s Cartacanta which is initially fermented in steel, Ad Agio grapes are vinified in large oak barrels for 30 days. This tends to create a soft texture while adding aromatics and flavor. The wine then ages for 48 months; first in 500-liter French oak barrels for 24 months and then in bottle for 24 months – the latter is 18 months longer than required by DOCG riserva regulations. Ad Agio is a patiently made wine!
My first impression of Ad Agio was – wow! – this is a Brunello di Montalcino in disguise.
It just proves the point that Montecucco winemakers are making outstanding, quality wines.
Gambero Rosso, the global authority on Italian wine, food and travel, awarded the 2016 Ad Agio its highest honor, Tre Bicchieri, which goes to 1% of the 45,000 wines its experts taste annually.
Eric Guido, Vinous Media’s Italian wine reviewer, gave Ad Agio 91 points, writing: “Masses of black cherries complemented by sweet herbs, dusty rose and flowery undergrowth. Silky with depths of dark fruit contrasted by bright acidity a mix of salty minerals and grippy tannins collect toward the close.”
Montecucco DOC/DOCG Fast Facts
Montecucco DOC categories are:
A rosso with a minimum of 60% sangiovese that can be combined with other authorized red grapes, including ciliegiolo and merlot;
A rosso riserva with a minimum aging of 12 months in oak and six months in barrel;
A rosato of sangiovese and/or ciliegiolo;
A bianco wine of Trebbiano and/or Vermentino.
A Vin Santo sweet dessert wine based on Malvasia, Grechetto and Trebbiano; and the Sangiovese-based pink version, Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice.
Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG red wines must be produced from at least 90% sangiovese and be aged for a minimum one year in oak and six months in bottle.
The DOCG riserva must have a minimum 13.5% alcohol level and be aged at least two years in oak and six months in bottle.