Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Cantina Vignaioli Wines of the Maremma Paired with Acquacotta

In 2024 I plan to focus on more Italian food and wine pairings that are unique to the region.  This month, I’m highlighting the Maremma wine region, often overshadowed by its neighboring wine regions to the north.  Located in southern Tuscany, the Maremma is a stretch of territory between Pisa and Livorno from the north down to the northern part of the Lazio region.  Let's learn all about the Maremma including some wines from a cooperative, Cantina Vignaioli Scansano, along with a traditional soup called acquacotta.

The wine region of the Maremma

Although you will find wine produced all throughout the Maremma, its main focal point is the central zone within the Grosseto province.  Maremma stems from Marittima due to its proximity to the sea.  What used to be an area of poverty and swamplands has become a landscape with an untouched countryside.  From the coast to the inland the land is filled with gentle hills containing sheep, vineyards, olive groves and wheat crop with dotted hilltop villages like Scansano that we're highlighting today.   

The Maremma has the influences of Monte Amiata to its east and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west. You'll find a Mediterranean climate on its coast with a more continental climate inland.  Areas with higher altitudes face colder winters.

Today I am focusing on the area of Scansano, one of the known places for wine production in the Maremma.  Italy is comprised of a number of cooperatives from north to south that are producing quality wines including today’s feature on Cantina Vignaioli Scansano. 

The winery – Cantina Vignaioli Scansano

Cantina Vignaioli is located near the historic center of Scansano.  Although the coop began from a few  farmers banding together to form the winery, the Etruscans had first realized the potential of this area when they began producing wines there in the 3rd century BC followed by the Romans.  Cantina Cooperativa Vignaioli del Morellino di Scansano, the officilal name, started in 1972.  Some years later in 1978, this area was granted the designation Morellino di Scansano DOC.  The winery continued to invest in their quality production and as popularity grew for the wines of Maremma a new bottling plant was built to increase their production along with providing an aging cellar.  

In 2010 the winery focused on sustainability and limiting their environmental impact and carbon footprint.  Over the years they have received a number of certifications to include the Carbon Footprint certification, VIVA Sustainable Wine certification and PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) from the European Union that certifies their efforts and process throughout the entire supply chain.

Today Cantina Vignaioli produces over 5 million bottles with 2.3 million bottles of that production labeled under the upgraded Morellino di Scansano DOCG that took place in 2007.  This represents 20% of the production under the DOCG designation.  The coop is comprised over 170 families and members that represent about 1,730 acres averaging about 7.5 acres per family.

I had the opportunity to connect with Cantina Vignaioli directly and ask them some questions about their wines and territory.  I hope you enjoy!

How does the cooperative best define their wines' quality and uniqueness as it
relates to the characterization of wines from the Maremma?

In our wines, our main focus is on indigenous varieties that are typical of the
Maremma area, starting from Sangiovese and Vermentino, but also including
Ciliegiolo, Ansonica and others. We aim to make neat and pleasant wines,
regardless of the specific label, trying to preserve the features of the wines
during the wine-making process, and limiting the use of oak to selected labels.

What does the winery pride themselves on? Is it special flagship wines or is it
a unique landscape, soils, etc?

As a co-op winery we’ve been working for over 50 years to represent our
vintners and market the wines made from their grapes. We are proud of the
economic and social role we have in our community, making it possible for 170
families to pursue their farming activities while making sure consumers can
enjoy the fine wines that result from this work. While economic and social
responsibility have been part of our DNA right from the start, for 15 years now
our attention has also focused on environmental sustainability, to safeguard our
territory and its community.

How would you best describe the wines of Maremma in comparison to
neighboring wine appellations within Tuscany especially?

Maremma is a very different area compared to other appellations in Tuscany.
The sea is closer, to begin with, and the climate is generally speaking drier and
warmer. The landscape is also more rural. This makes the area perfect for
white grape varieties like Vermentino and Ansonica, which thrive on coastal
areas and has an impact on Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo too, favoring ripe
tannins and round and easy-to-drink wines without the use of oak.

Can you tell me more about the governo all'uso toscano and why you chose to
use this method?

This method was traditionally used by local farmers to ensure they had a
production of wine before Morellino would be ready. We’ve recovered this
technique by dividing the grapes into two batches. One undergoes fermentation
right away while the other is left to whither in crates in a ventilated room for a
few weeks. When the grapes have lost approximately 15% of their weight, they
are pressed and once they reach full fermentation the fermenting batch is
gradually added to the rest. The result is a fruity, round wine that highlights the
features of the grapes.

The wines

My preferred wine of the 3 I tasted from Cantina Vignaioli Scansano was the 2020 Cantina Vignaioli Roggiano Morellino di Scansano DOCG.  Again, it's all about personal preference here, but I enjoyed them all in their own right.  This wine is made of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Alicante and comes from their line that they best feel represents their territory.  The grapes are harvested and preserved with carbonic snow and spend 12 hours in hot macerations.  In controlled temperatures the wine is fermented and spends 7 days on the skins with 4 months aging on the lees in stainless steel and 3 more months in the bottle.  

The wine was ruby colored with a touch of garnet.  A rustic, dusty nose of red cherries and blackberries.  Dry and medium-bodied with a pure, clean expression of Sangiovese.  Cherry notes with elegant tannin.  A wine where all the elements seemed to be in harmony.  ABV 14%. SRP $24

The other wine, the 2021 Cantina Vignaioli Sangiovese "Vin del Fattore" Maremma Toscana DOC, was also based on 95% Sangiovese with 5% of Cieligiolo.  I was intrigued by the term "governo all'uso toscano" found on the label , which as you read earlier was a ancient technique used during vinification where in this wine the Sangiovese grapes withered in refrigeration until they lost 15% of their weight.  The Ciliegioli grapes withered for 4 weeks.  After fermentation the grapes are blended and spend 3 months in stainless steel tanks on the lees.  

Ruby colored with slight purple hues.  Juicy, ripe aromas of ripe blackberries and cherries with baking spices.  Dry and medium-bodied with moderate tannin.  Richer in dark berries on the palette.  ABV 14.5%

Cantina Vignaioli Scansano sangiovese wines
The NV Cantina Vignaioli Scansano "San Rabano" Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC Brut is made of 85% Vermentino and 15% Chardonnay.  The grapes were harvestedd and preserved in carbonic snow.  The Vermentino was fermented in stainless steel and the Chardonnay in barrique.  It was matured on the lees for 6 months and then blended and went through secondary fermentation for 5 months.  It was further refined for 6 months after the beginning of the secondary fermentation.  

This wine was brilliant straw colored with a floral nose of apples and some stone fruit.  Nice crispness on the palate with a touch of sapidity.  Lemon and apple notes.  Good body and the Chardonnay helps add some roundness.  Fine and persistent bubbles throughout.  ABV 12%

NV Cantina Vignaioli Scansano "San Rabano" Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC Brut

Food and wine pairings from the Maremma 

In researching the food of Maremma I stumbled across a hot bread based soup that originated from the Maremma.  With winter upon us in the northeast I always enjoy making a soup once a week if I can.  Acquacotta translates to "cooked water".  This was tradionally a peasant food made from the poor farmers and shepherds that were trying to find ways to utilize their stale bread during their travels.  The main ingredients in this dish historically were water, bread, olive oil, tomatoes, onions or whatever leftovers they had to throw in.  Today folks have added a number of additional ingredients, myself included, to be able to make it a more robust soup to give it more greens.  You will see additional ingredients today to include porcini mushrooms, beans, leafy greens, cheeses, eggs, etc.  

It was a relatively easy soup to prepare and gives you a good daily dose of your vegetables.  Plus, I always find soups so filling so it's great way to eat healthy and stay on track in the new year.  I first started sauteing my onions and garlic in some extra virgin olive oil for about 3-5 minutes.  I then chopped up some carrots and celery to add to the mix cooking further for an additional 5 minutes.  I used Italian peeled tomatoes and cut them up adding salt, pepper and basil to the pot.  I brought these ingredients to a boil and then down to a simmer adding in the escarole and cannellini beans. I saw many recipes with poached eggs on top, which I think would be a delicious to this dish.  

wine pairing with acquacotta from the Maremma

I enjoyed acquacotta with the Cantina Vignaioli Scansano sparkling Vermentino.  Originally I was going to choose their red wines, but decided to save those for some bacon wrapped filets I had planned for later in the week.  Since the soup was relatively light with the vegetables and beans I would say the two went together just fine.  Although, the bites of pecorino I had while sipping on the Vermentino while cooking complemented each other well.  Sometimes you find some delightful treats when you least expect it.  

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are my own.  The importer is Nicola Biscardo Selections.

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