It's relatively easy to find superior, satisfying wine if you’re free to pay top dollar. But for most of us that's usually not the case. Instead, we have to find alternative ways to consistently fill our glasses with wine that pleases—without taking a beating financially. But then one of the most satisfying aspects of the wine hobby can be finding wines that provide a high quality-to-price ratio (QPR). And such wines often come from regions that are less known, and therefore less in demand.
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.Morellino Di Scansano DOCG
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.
Some General Impressions
Texture: I noticed a repeated smooth or silky texture in the wines, a characteristic often associated with wood contact during aging. But in most cases these wines had only seen contact with stainless steel. This, apparently, is a characteristic of the growing region.
Dried Herb Notes: There were a lot of underbrush/dried herb/aromatic wood notes that I personally love to see in Sangiovese-based wines.
Red and black cherry fruit: Classic Sangiovese fruit, with varying styles of cherry flavors and aromas, and excellent acidity, is ubiquitous here, as you will see in my notes.
Quality / Consistency: Tasting through more than a dozen different wines, I found almost every one of them worth drinking again, or sharing with friends; that says a lot.
2007 Mantellassi "Le Sentinelle" Riserva, Morellino di Scansano
Rich earth and mushroom notes at first, giving way to lovely dried herbs and dried red cherry skins. On the palate, elegant black and red cherry, with more dried herbs, black pepper (only on the palate), and a suggestion of tomato. Well-balanced, with an interesting charred wood bite in the acidity, and very fine grained, dusty tannins. There is a persistent finish, with good length, more dried herbs, some aromatic wood, and lean blackberry. The Le Sentinelle is an excellent wine; a nice combination of masculinity and elegance. This is Mantellassi's top of the line Morellino di Scansano, from a single 2.5 hectare vineyard, and aged for 20 months in French oak. Typically, its composition is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Alicante. This well-made, serious wine can be found for around $20. 91 Points
2010 Mantellassi "Mentore" Morellino di Scansano $14
Lean black cherry and brambles on the nose with a hint of funkiness. There's a subtle richness at the core of the nose as well, with a sort of crème brulée note and some Asian spice. The suggestion of vanilla is surprising here, since this wine sees no oak in its elevage. The palate has mouthwatering acidity, subdued tannins, sage, and some coffee. The composition is 85% Sangiovese, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo Nero making up the balance. 89 Points
2009 La Selva "Colli del Uccellina" Morellino di Scansano $20
Starts off with good depth of fruit on the nose, showing ripe black cherry, lovely perfume notes, sweet aromatics, and some vanilla. Very solid and focused at first. The palate is smooth in texture, with moderate acidity and limited tannins. There is black cherry again on the palate, with a hint of grilled meat, and a brief finish. Sadly, the initially beautiful nose faded significantly after being open for an hour or so. Persistent heat on the finish. 87 Points
2008 Azienda S. Lucia, Torre del Moro Morellino di Scansano $14
Starts off with a nice complimentary balance of dusty dried black cherry and underbrush on the nose with sage, and a hint of orange rind. There’s a nice full weight/texture on the palate, which is fairly big in character, with black berry flavors and black cherry as well. The balance is excellent. Later notes of eucalyptus show in the nose, with a bit of tomato juice on the palate. Generally very nice and complete, although there is not much finesse on the finish. 89 Points
2009 AgriMaremma "Vivesco" Morellino di Scansano
Red cherry skins on the nose, without much else. There is a metallic note at first on the palate that eventually fades, leaving lean red cherry flavors and minerals. A bit disjointed, with quite a bit of minerality on the finish. Perhaps a bad bottle, but no particular damage characteristics noted. 100% Sangiovese 80 Points
2010 Pietramora, Morellino di Scansano 14.5% ABV $18
Dense black cherry, a hint of violets, and a little funk at first on the nose. Mouthwatering, and a little chewy on the palate, with a smooth texture (yes, chewy and smooth) and big flavors of black cherry skins and blackberry. Notes of aromatic wood and charred wood float about on the palate. Overall this wine is big and solid, but not in a ripe or unbalanced way. Later, the funk turns into pleasant earth and forest floor aromas. Nice texture and moderate grip on the finish. Straightforward and satisfying. This wine spends seven months in French oak and three more in bottle before release. 85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot. 89 Points
2009 Terenzi Riserva Morellino di Scansano 14.5% ABV $18
Elegant nose of leather, tobacco, dried red cherry, dried flowers and soft perfume notes. The palate has a bit of softness at first, with pretty fruit: lean black and red cherry that has a clean and fresh quality about it. The finish is long and rustic, with plenty of grip and lingering notes of charred sandalwood and leather. This is a serious approach to Morellino that seems capable of development over time. 90 Points
2010 Querciarossa, "Rinaldone dell’Osa" Morellino di Scansano 13% ABV $12
Unusual, compact nose with interesting outdoorsy aromas, underbrush, seashells and a bit of herbaceousness. The palate shows nice red cherry and raspberry fruit that is slightly sweet, supported by good acidity. The texture is soft and velvety. The palate is more pronounced than the nose, which is a bit subdued. On the finish the tannins show themselves with a satisfying grip. 88 Points
2006 Terre di Talamo, "Tempo" Riserva, Morellino di Scansano 13.5% ABV $17
This one nicely outperforms its price tag ($16.99). Starting off with rich red and black cherry fruit on the nose, just after opening, then backing off to an elegant mix of lean black cherry, Asian spice, and light, but definite, rose petals, which persist over time in the glass. Despite the finesse, there is an impression of solidity underneath the fruit. The palate starts with a soft mouthfeel at first, and a subtle sweetness on the tip of the tongue. Next is savory, focused black cherry, with aromatic sandalwood, a nice easy bite of acidity, and powdery tannins. There's good length to the finish as the sandalwood persists, and the acid causes the mouth to water. Something about this makes me think it is lacking somewhere, but every step of the experience has distinct character, and complexity. I guess it's just the gentle touch in its style. Satisfying and complete. 91 Points
2010 Terre di Talamo, "Tempo" Morellino di Scansano 13.5% ABV $12
The dried herb notes are the first thing you notice on the nose, followed by blackberry, and a firm character. The palate shows roasted black cherry, sweet acidity, more dried herbs, and a hint of fat on the mid-palate. With time, distinct sandalwood shows up, and a hint of anise. The finish is modest, with tartness and spice. Very easy to drink. 89 Points
2009 Provveditore Bargagli, Morellino di Scansano $14
Dense dark fruit, but still rustic, with brambles, aromatic dried cherry skins and a bit of smoke. The texture is soft and pleasant, with moderate acidity blending with the lean black cherry and pronounced aromatic character. Finishes with satisfying grip and length. Aged seven months is large oak "botti," and 3 months in bottle. 100% Sangiovese. 90 Points
2008 Costa Terre di Fiori "Ventaio" Morellino di Scansano 14% ABV $25
Pretty blackberry fruit on the nose with lovely, fragrant and spicy dried herbs (sage?), with a dusty character. The palate continues the same theme with dried black fruit, dried rose petals, some allspice, good balance, and a fine-grained texture. Light- to medium-bodied, with a long finish that shows more dried herb notes. Cement tanks and bottle age only. 89 Points
2009 Costa Terre di Fiori "Ventaio" Morellino di Scansano 14% ABV $25
There is a core of dense blackberry/black cherry fruit to start on the nose, focused and solid with a suggestion of dark chocolate. The palate is nice and varied, first showing a silky texture, with grilled meats, aromatic black cherry pastry, some toast, smoke and a hint of cotton candy. Later, there is a sort of candied brambles note (sweet wood aromatics?), dried blackberry and some bacon. With all this opulence, it was surprising to not see heat on the finish. Cement tanks and bottle age only. 87 Points
2010 Vopte Ugolini Morellino di Scansano $23
Fresh red and black cherries on the nose with leather, supported by mineral and shale notes. The palate is savory and satisfying, albeit a little thin, with good baking spice, dried red cherry, incense, charred meat and sandalwood. The texture is great and chewy, with more savories and a medium length finish that reprises the grilled meat notes. 88 Points