Little known wine regions can sometimes produce very fine wines at surprisingly affordable prices. Tuscany is the home of a number of stellar household name wines led by the iconic chianti, and chianti classicos along with lesser-known but highly sought-after luminaries brunello di montalcino and vina nobile di montepulciano. However, a number of smaller appellations make worthwhile, interesting wines that fight for the respect they deserve.
We stumbled on a lone bottle of red wine several months ago that impressed us and we were puzzled as to its origin. It was labeled Montecucco DOC and a mystery to us. A little research led us to southern Tuscany in the Maremma region.
The Montecuccco region is nestled next to Montalcino, home of the famed brunello di montalcino. Here, like most of Tuscany, sangiovese dominates.
Montecucco produces a total of four DOC and DOCG red wines. At a recent tasting, we were able to taste the entry level Montecucco Rosso, as well as the oak-aged montecucco sangiovese riserva, which can rival the brunello di montalcinos from across the Orcia River that separates Montalcino from Montecucco.
The prices for Montecucco’s red wines are a bit less pricey than their much more established and revered neighbors in Montalcino. However, the quality and interest level of their wines approach their neighbor.
We started our discovery tasting with the montecucco rosso. This DOC mandates that at least 60 percent of the blend consist of sangiovese grapes, and their prices per bottle are almost always under $20 with many under $15. One cautionary note: montecucco distribution in the U.S. is somewhat limited but appears to be increasing, so be patient. Your best bet may be searching in stores that emphasize Italian wines.
Following are our tasting notes:
Auspicium De Vinosalvo Montecucco Rosso 2016 ($12). This wine is 60 percent sangiovese and 40 percent syrah. Very ripe berry fruit with some cassis and herbal elements. A great value!
Palmoletino Scarafone Montecucco Rosso 2016 ($17-25). A blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. This wine is very chianti-like with very ripe dried cherry and leather notes and a subtle hint of oak in the finish.
Tiniatus Le Pinore Montecucco Rosso 2018 ($35). This offering is a bit more expensive than the other montecucco rossos and the most different. A blend of sangiovese and merlot, this red wine expressed a floral nose with tart cranberry fruit flavors. It needs food to offset tartness.
Le Maciarine Montecucco Rosso 2018 ($15). Made entirely from sangiovese, this bargain wine was one of our favorites. Very rich and round with cherry and plum notes in a very harmonious quaffable style.
Basile Ad Agio Mon Montecucco Riserva DOCG 2016 ($30-40). The montecucco sangiovese riserva requires a minimum of 90 percent sangiovese grapes and two years of oak aging. This example had an oak expression that reminded us of a Spanish rioja. However, the fruit notes were pure Tuscany: dried cherry with a hint of leather. A very classy wine.
Castello Collie Massari Poggio Lombrone Montecucco Riserva DOCG 2016 ($50-60). The fruit in this example of the montecucco sangiovese riserva runs more to ripe black cherries, and is a bit more reticent. More tannins than the Basile wine — just give it some time and it should blossom.
Dry Creek Vineyards
We have been fans of the amazingly consistent Dry Creek Vineyards white wines over the past several decades. We recently had the opportunity to sample two new releases from this long-established wine producer.
The Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley 2020 ($20) is another winner although this release stands out. A light touch of classic grapefruit is balanced with peach elements grassy notes and a whiff of violets. Absolutely delicious.
The Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc Clarksburg 2019 ($16). This modestly priced white wine made from the not often used chenin blanc grape of Loire Valley fame is a must for wine lovers. A complex mélange of peach, lime and passion fruit elements blends in an unctuous wine with bright acidity balancing everything. Another winner for summertime sipping.
Niner Wine Estates
We recently sampled two new releases from Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, a part of California’s Central Coast wine region. As fans of white Rhone varietals we especially enjoyed the Niner Wine Estates Silhouette Du Coeur Estate Paso Robles Reserve 2017 ($30). Composed of marsanne, grenache blanc and roussanne, this wine displayed lovely notes of lemon curd, and peach with an enticingly appealing creamy mid-palate.
The Niner Wine Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Reserve 2017 ($45) presented the classic bright cherry cassis fruit notes that we find very appealing and frequently find in Paso Robles cabernet sauvignons. Deep and satisfying.
- The Paring Red 2017 ($25). This is an easy-drinking blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot. Forward black berry and cassis notes with a hint of chocolate and fine tannins.
Pfendler Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir 2019 ($65). We liked the depth and character of this delicious pinot from an often-forgotten area on the Sonoma Coast. Blackberry, cherry and tea dominate the broad palate of this wine.
- Kosta Browne One-Sixteen Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019 ($85). Among the best in the premium chardonnay field, this gem from cool-climate vineyards has the combination of native and barrel fermentation to drive home a luxurious and rich mouthfeel. Apple and pear notes with subtle hints of vanilla and almonds.
- Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($25). A good value in this varietal category, this wine from Chile’s Apalta Valley is medium in body. Generous dark fruit aromas are chased by cherry flavors. A little cabernet franc and carmenere is blended.
- Ponga Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($13). This New Zealand sauvignon blanc reveals the varietal grapefruit flavors and crisp acidity.
- Sosie Rossi Ranch Red Blend 2017 ($43). We loved the exuberant and juicy fruit from this blend of grenache, syrah and mouvedre. Great for barbecued meat.