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The new face of Maremma

Published:  05 December, 2018

Maremma in the past decade or so has emerged from the shadow cast by the neighbouring and much-feted Bolgheri, which rather than imparting its prestige to the relative Italian backwater, had instead created for it an expectation of achievement that the region hadn’t so far managed. But this is changing as an exciting medley of wines come to the fore.

Shifting economic priorities since the 2008 economic downturn has spun attention onto Maremma, supported by the hard work by its vintners to overturn those previously unfulfilled expectations. Maremma’s panoply of both indigenous and French varieties, coupled with naturalistas and forward-thinking transplanted urbanites making evermore contemporary wines, have since worked in Maremma's favour. As has the pressure of demand on the more monied producing heartlands of Tuscany.

These is still some way to go, as Georgia Dimitriou, the newly ensconced winemaker at Antinori's Le Mortelle property, pointed out.

"Maremma still needs to find its identity, and with so many distinctions within it's not easy to achieve clarity, when compared to its more famous neighbours of Scansano, Chianti and Bolgheri,” said Dimitriou.

However, this region is coming of age, set against a hotbed of winemaking experimentation and innovation, which could well become its hallmark calling card –rather than any given variety or style.

Established in 2014, with 304 members spread over 14 climatic sub-zones, there’s much development. An early investor was Piero Antinori, of the Marchesi Antinori Tuscan winemaking dynasty, who purchased a fruit orchard here in 1999 with a vision to produce high-end wine.

Antinori added to its seal of approval, buying a second estate, Aldobrandesca, which sits on local tufa and pumice soils between 200 and 290 metres, with much of what is grown there now forming the backbone of the company’s DOC Toscana line. Malbec, planted in 2002, was another intriguing and ultimately successful addition.

Coinciding with Antinori's 1999 foray into Maremma was Zonin's purchase of its Rocca di Montemassi, 530ha surrounded by hills on two sides and by manmade lakes on the other two. Native Italian varieties Sangiovese and Vermentino are most prominent, but Syrah, Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Viognier are also grown.

Maremma is biased towards red production, led by Sangiovese, although 2018 has been difficult. The Consorzio's director Luca Pollini confirmed that for the latest vintage, "41% of the harvest was red, a considerable drop from the more typical 67%" - a significant fall in a region where that Sangiovese accounts for 48% of the vines.

Other red varieties are much in evidence though, as is a more natural approach.

With guidance from noted consultant Stefano Bartolomei, Milanesi Stefano and Chiara Casali planted 14ha of Syrah along with 2ha of Viognier and Sangiovese near their Muralia estate when they invested in the region in 1997. The viticulture is both cutting edge and naturally-biased, as increasingly the case throughout Maremma.

In order to combat the recent pressures from climate change the Casalis spray an algae-based product helping leaves to open and shut when temperatures rise too high in order to ameliorate the development of unripe tannins. "If I have a sweet sensation in my wine it must only come from the tannins, not sugar; I like all of my wines very dry," said Stefano.

Elsewhere, former finance manager turned winemaker Gregorio dell'Adami de Tarczal employs techniques such as utilizing indigenous yeasts and following moon cycles in transferring and bottling wines for his Il Civettaio wines, but has also developed organic olive oil alongside his growing agriturismo business.

On the promising progress of tourism in the Maremma, Tarczal said: "In late 1990s tourists were focusing upon Siena and Rome, sometimes stopping at Brunello di Montalcino. Now we're a regular stop for those passing between."

Maremma is not all about reds, either - whites are making their presence felt, again often resulting from non-interventionist and ‘natural’ winemaking techniques.

Certified organic since 1994, and biodynamic since 2007, Carla and Edoardo Ventimiglia's Sassotondo is the most natural of the Maremma’s producers. And, unlike many of the whites from elsewhere in Italy, these are also wines built for ageing.

"Italy doesn't have a culture of aging and selling its white wines, but we're trying to change that," said Edoardo, who holds back 500 bottles annually of the estate’s Isolina to sell five years later. Comprised mainly of Trebbiano with some Grechetto and Sauvignon Blanc, its ability to age well warrants greater attention.

As does Maremma itself, at a time when the classics from Italy are edging ever upwards in price, while consumers are readily engaging not just with Italy, but more specifically showing greater adventurousness and acceptance of more off-piste and original varieties, styles and regions of Italian wines. Wines that Maremma appears to be producing increasingly well.