Morellino di Scansano is a wine region that provides exactly the kind of QPR we’re all looking for. Yes, good Sangiovese values can be found in some of the better known regions, such as Chianti, Vino Noble di Montepulciano, and even the Rosso di Montalcino DOC. But the ease of finding value in those areas cannot compare to Morellino di Scansano. My impression of the Morellino wines was consistent (and sometimes very high) quality, always at an attractive price.
Located in the southwest corner of Tuscany, about 100 kilometers south of Siena, this picturesque DOCG area (DOCG is the highest quality assurance level in Italy) is a great source for top values in Sangiovese wines. Morellino is what they call the local clone of Sangiovese, and Scansano is the small town located roughly in the middle of the production zone. This region benefits greatly from its close proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea, located just west of the zone, providing a regular fluctuation of temperature between day and night and giving balance to the maturation of the grapes. The resulting wines generally have finesse, nice acidity, and good balance.
The laws of this DOCG require a minimum of 85 percent Sangiovese, allowing 15 percent of other varietals to be included, although some producers prefer 100 percent Sangiovese in their expression. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Balbino Terenzi, whose family winery is one of the top producers in the region. He indicated that they prefer not to “use other grapes as a shortcut to character, but rather to let the expression of the Sangiovese come through on its own.” The Terenzi “Madrechiesa” Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2009 was awarded Tre Bicchieri by Gambero Rosso this year. (My notes on their Riserva are included below.) But even as fine as this bottle is, it will still only cost you about $23, an outstanding value, and about as high a price as you will see. In fact, most Morellinos run between $11 and $20, and they are readily available from most good wine retailers.
There is a fairly broad range of quality levels that can bear the name Morellino Di Scansano, with approximately 520 different producers currently making the wine. By law, the wines can be sold as early as March 1st of the year after the vintage on the label, so many are straightforward and uncomplicated. Still, most of the base level entries, around 11 bucks each, are well worth the modest outlay—you could call them great pizza wines. As I tasted through the examples below, and searched for them online, I was consistently surprised by the low prices, especially in comparison to wines of similar quality from other regions.
If you're willing to spend just a few dollars more, excellent, complex wines of depth and character can be found here as well. With little effort, some very fine examples, like the Terenzi mentioned earlier, can be had at a great price. So if you like the profile of Sangiovese, and Sangiovese blends (think “Super Tuscan”), with good acidity and tannins, nice cherry fruit, and a silky texture, try a couple bottles from the Morellino Di Scansano region. It’s not difficult to find a satisfying one, so you’re working with pretty safe odds. And isn't that the idea behind a DOCG designation anyway? To assure quality and consistency? It seems to be working in this case.