(Excelsior Wine & Spirits, $20):
Italy currently has 353 DOC/DOCG wines--wines named after regions, more often than not without an indication of grape variety; wines that you somehow are supposed to know what they are. How can you possibly keep up, unless you're an Italian wine aficionado? And if you aren't…then of course you can't be blamed if you've never heard of Morellino di Scansano.
Morellino di Scansano is in fact one of Italy's elite DOCG wines, as of 2006. The Scansano wine production zone is in Tuscany, not in the heartland area where Chianti lies, but rather in the south and towards the sea, in the district called the Maremma. The term Maremma once applied to almost the whole Tuscan coast, up to the border with Liguria, but now as a wine area it refers specifically to the province of Grossetto. The Maremma today is actually a hotbed of wine excitement, because so many good wines from small producers are emerging from there. Most of these wines have a decidedly international flair, with obvious new oak aging and other popular modern taste signatures.
Which brings me to the 2004 Val delle Rose Morellino di Scansano. One of the reasons that I like this wine is that, despite being very modern--fresh, clean, with bright fruit character--it is also very typically Italian, in its trim cut, its fairly high acidity and its firm, characterful tannin. To maintain the traditional and yet incorporate the modern is an admirable trait.
'Morellino' is actually the local name for Sangiovese, and this is a 100% Sangiovese wine. True to its grape, the wine is not extremely deep in color, is dry, has firm tannin that brings the rear-palate experience alive, and has a suggestion of fruit tartness. The wine is medium-plus in body and has terrific concentration of red berry and cherry flavor, with a slight note of tobacco; you can smell the concentration, and you can taste it, even if the overall wine is not huge. As a riserva, this wine aged two years before release, one of which was in oak. The oak seems to have brightened the fruit character.
The Maremma area has quite a few of what would be called, in residential circles, 'second-homers.' These are successful wine producers who branch out to new territory and try their hands at new wines. Val delle Rose is such an operation, owned by the Cecchi family, which has long been producing Chianti Classico.
Another part of the story of this wine is the vintage, 2004, which was relatively cool in Tuscany, a welcome relief to growers after the hot 2003 and rainy 2002 vintages. The wine's fresh, vivid aromas and flavors and its balanced alcohol level are both signatures of the vintage.
This wine is completely enjoyable now but will hold and, who knows, perhaps gain a bit of aged complexity, over the next 5 years. It has the right balance to age. For drinking now, choose a large glass to soften the wine's texture; a narrower, smaller glass enhances its flavor concentration but also its tannin. Good food pairings include pork chops, simple roasted meats, grilled fish, portabellos or cassoulet.