The other Tuscany: Maremma on the Sea
Mention Tuscany, and visions of the quaint hilltop towns, the Black Rooster that signifies the classic wines of Chianti, and perhaps Montalcino, the quintessential wine town, come to mind.
Here, ancient vineyards are planted almost exclusively to the sangiovese (the grape name translates to “blood of Jove”) that has long been the identity of this extraordinarily beautiful wine region.
But, a couple of hours drive to the west, in Maremma, where the coastal region of Tuscany borders the Mediterranean Sea, the wines are markedly different.
Maremma is home to a relatively new wave of wines, many produced by old wave Italian families. They’re thriving under cloudless skies where the sun shines, well, nearly all the time.
In Maremma there is sangiovese, but the focus is on the “international” varieties. That is the word the winemakers in the region use to signify the Bordeaux grapes — cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc — that thrive in the sunshine and soils of Maremma.
It is here that the famed “Super Tuscan” wines, blends of international grapes that flaunted the then-standing Italian wine laws, were originally conceived.
GAJA IN MAREMMA
I visited Ca’Marcanda, the Maremma outpost of Piedmonte’s Angelo Gaja, whose family has been making wines in Piedmonte since the 1850s and is revered as one of the Italy’s most renowned and meticulous producers. In 1996, Gaja came to Bolgheri and began a search for the perfect plot to place a new winery.
Doing his due diligence, Gaja went to the regional hall in Bolgheri, where he was shown a map that organized the soils of the region based on color.
There were splotches of yellow and green and blue. One yellow portion on the map was overlaid on the land that hosted the vineyards of Sassicaia, the original Maremma producer of international varietals.
“The yellow stain on the map. That is what I want,” said Gaja. With that he set out to find land that met those specifications and complete the arduous process of purchasing nearly 300 acres to try his hand at the new varieties.
Eighteen meetings followed before he was able to purchase the property he dubbed Ca’Marcanda, or “house of endless negotiations.”
Gaja planted 150 acres with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and syrah vines. He then built a winery that set an example for those who would follow to respect the region and the land.
Other than a stone façade, which stands behind a row of olive trees (Gaja does not make olive oil, as he wants total focus on his wines, and gives the fruit of the trees to others), the winery is invisible. That is because Piedmont-based architect Giovanni Po submerged the entire structure under the earth.
It is a brilliantly efficient and beautiful winery that allows the harvest to flow with gravity from the crush pad into the steel fermentation tanks that are set below the earth.
There are various sizes and sources of wood for aging the wines and a recent experiment sees a few large concrete tanks as well. Other than select pieces of art, all of which compliment the design perfectly, the winery is spare, clean and structured.
AS FOR THE WINES…
Only four wines are made at Ca’Marcanda. A white, monikered, appropriately VistaMare, or “sea-view,” is a rich, fish-friendly blend of vermentino and viognier.
The three red wines, Promis, Magari and the flagship wine Ca’Marcanda, are all led by merlot and feature varying percentages of the other three international varieties and a small bit of sangiovese is also in the Promis.
For me, the revelation is the Ca’Marcanda. Sourced from a vineyard above the winery, where the soils are marked by white rock that is an indication of the mineral and iron rich earth that hosts the vines, this wine is peppery, spicy and rich.
It does not taste like a Bordeaux, or a Napa wine, but has the sensibility and the flavors of this region of Maremma. I see that Gaja has a vision that, in generations to come, the Maremma will produce the age-worthy wines that he came for.
Bolgheri, a village close to Ca’Marcanda has become a wine destination for producers and dreamers from other regions and is now itself a legendary wine town, surrounded by Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole and a growing number of newcomers.
These blends are magnificent and the region is not dissimilar to the Napa Valley of California, another region that is dedicated to, and predicated on, the production of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Both are influenced by strong coastal winds. In Maremma, the breezes blow off of the Med all day long and are a distinguishing feature.
And, like Napa, the region is worthy of a journey.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo., with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.