Carmignano, Montecucco and Tuscany’s Unrivaled Diversity


Keeping track of the many appellations within Tuscany is no small task. New projects begin, while others reinvent themselves in what feels like a constant exploration and discovery of the potential of the region’s unique terroirs. Each year, Antonio and I delve deeply into the most well-known areas and producers, yet it is impossible to give each region its own focus, hence this combined report.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the Piaggia vineyards.

Carmignano and Montecucco receive a detailed overview in this article because of a surge in quality and consistency across a number of producers that are bringing increased visibility to those areas. However, that in no way detracts from producers scattered throughout Tuscany that are featured in this report, but from regions that are not specifically addressed in this introduction, such as Valdarno di Sopra, Val di Chiana, Cortona and Valle d’Orcia. My tastings included wines from both indigenous and international varieties from all corners of Tuscany, ranging from Tempranillo in Pisa to varietal Sangiovese on the border of Umbria and Lazio. 

Many of these wines also represent unparalleled value. This is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with many emerging producers who simply don’t have the name recognition of a well-established DOCG to elevate their global exposure. To the adventurous lover of Sangiovese, Super Tuscans and everything in between, these notes are for you.

Iron-rich Galestro in the vineyards of Basile.

Carmignano: Bucking Trends

Circling back to Carmignano has long been one of the highlights of my year. It’s incredible to think that a region so small can make such a big impact. This is a result of quality-minded producers, led by two long-time icons, Piaggia and Tenuta di Capezzana, who made their mark on the world stage, and a terroir that allows them all to create a unique style that thumbs its nose at the trends in Tuscany. 

Carmignano excels with blending Sangiovese and Bordeaux varieties, a practice that most other regions of Tuscany shrugged off over time, instead pushing to change rules and regulations toward creating more varietal Sangiovese. I can’t help but feel that the recent success of Carmignano is deeply rooted in the uniqueness of its blends, which often sit comfortably with at least 50% Sangiovese, 10-20% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet Franc and up to 20% Canaiolo. For the most part, producers settle at an average of 70% Sangiovese, balanced primarily by Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety with which Carmignano has 500 years of experience. Many producers will tell you it’s that long history that allowed Cabernet Sauvignon to adapt to this location, but following the pre-phylloxera epidemic, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the Contini Bonacossi family of Tenuta di Capezzana reintroduced the variety and its modern-day success began.

The expansion taking place in Carmignano is incredible, as producers look to unearth new and exciting terroirs throughout the region. Just two years ago, the Consorzio reported 116 total hectares under vine and 11 producers, which has grown to 200 hectares under vine and 13 producers as of today. During my visit to the region last year, I observed much of this expansion while touring vineyards with Fabrizio Pratesi and Silvia Vannucci of Piaggia. Both sought to diversify their current holdings with a mix of various soil types, of which Carmignano has plenty: from limestone to sandy clay, galestro and layers of primary rock mixed with quartz. Elevations start surprisingly low in the region, ranging from 53 to 400 meters, yet still, this is hilly terrain with steep inclines and varied exposures. It’s also particularly secluded—north of Chianti Classico with Monte Albano on its western border, which blocks warming air currents from the Tyrrhenian Sea. While it will be many years before this expansion translates into the finished wines, I look forward to the emergence of an array of single-vineyard bottlings, which producers suggest is on the horizon.

For anyone just getting into Carmignano, look forward to rich, fruit-focused Sangiovese with a solid core of limestone-infused minerality and a backbone of Cabernet tannins. The wines age remarkably well; I’ve experienced many fine examples beyond 20 years old. As a trend, new oak has been on the decline, yet even when used throughout an individual portfolio, I find the integration to be expertly done. Also of note, a hidden treasure of the region is Capezzana’s Vin Santo, which ranks among the top dessert wines I taste each year. 

The massive barrel aging cellar at Collemassari.

Montecucco: Untapped Potential

For the past three years, I’ve closely followed the wines and overall progress in Montecucco. It’s a region I find to be very interesting, less for its production as a whole and more for its untapped potential. Don’t get me wrong—many excellent wines, past and present, hail from Montecucco. However, to truly realize that potential, there would need to be more widespread success among the region’s producers, as opposed to two or three quality leaders that hit it out of the park vintage after vintage. Montecucco really has a lot going for it, but there are just as many challenges as well.

First and foremost, it’s nearly impossible to speak about a uniform terroir within the region. Montecucco runs from elevations around 500 meters in the extreme northeast to as low as 50 meters in the southwest. Moreover, in the northeast, vineyards are planted in volcanic soils leading up the slopes of Mount Amiata. To the southwest, the region abuts Morellino di Scansano, which lies near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Considering this, it's easy to see why the wines are so variable and how they can succeed in either location depending on the desired style. For consumers seeking ripe, plump Sangiovese with a Mediterranean feel or juicy, fruit-forward Vermentino (a strength in Montecucco), the lower elevations are a perfect place to look. The northeast is the area to explore for profoundly complex and age-worthy wines. These drastic differences create a lot of consumer confusion.

It should come as no surprise that the lion’s share of Montecucco’s great wines hails from the northeast. As in Montalcino, which runs parallel to Montecucco’s northern border, producers continue to turn to higher elevations to find balance and complexity. The similarities to southern Montalcino are noticeable as one skirts the border between the two regions. In the northeast, home to standout producers such as ColleMassari, Basile and Salustri, Montecucco is defined by peaks and valleys, hillside vineyards and large outcroppings of thick forest. Red clay, loam and limestone soils are abundant, along with warm temperatures. The confluence of air circulating between Mount Amiata and the Tyrrhenian Sea is noticeable, even on the calmest days. This same circulation helps to bring cool conditions at night. 

The Vineyards of Montecucco looking out toward the Tuscan coast.

For the most part, producers are betting on the relatively new Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG (as of 2011) to prove the region's potential. This is, without a doubt, their primary focus, and as a result, it represents the majority of the most successful wines in this report. During my recent trip, I had the opportunity to taste several back vintages to get a feel of how well the wines develop over time. Overall, I was very impressed. One immediate takeaway is the reduction of small-format oak over the past 20 years, which helps to deliver the purity and classic Sangiovese structure. Montecucco Sangiovese could very well be the region's claim to fame as time passes. 

Beyond pure Sangiovese, the traditional Montecucco blend, known as Montecucco Rosso, remains a mixed bag. Montecucco Rosso is a blend of at least 60% Sangiovese and 40% other red grape varieties—often Merlot, Ciliegiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Montepulciano. Typically made in a more approachable style, in some cases, Montecucco Rosso can also be quite formidable. Unfortunately, the open-ended blending regulations make it nearly impossible to form generalized observations about these wines. Producers to look for include Poggio Trevvalle, Le Pianore and Tenuta L'Impostino.

Montecucco is an appellation full of promise, yet its potential remains unrealized outside of a handful of wineries and some new winemakers who are looking to join that small group. I hope producers can swallow their pride, keep their minds open and look to the successful estates as exemplars of what’s possible. There will always be overachievers and those who lag behind. Still, the scales are far off balance. If Montecucco is ever to prove its worth to the world, there must be a large-scale quality revolution. 

I tasted the wines for this article in Tuscany during the summer of 2023 and in our New York offices during the fall of 2023.

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