Maremma masterclass report: In the zone

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Podere San Cristoforo

Podere San Cristoforo is a much smaller estate in Maremma that is owned and managed by Francesco’s cousin, Lorenzo, and run according to biodynamic farming principles. It has been cerfified organic since 2008. Acquired by Lorenzo in 1999, it is different from Rocca di Montemassi in that Podere San Cristoforo is closer to the sea, and situated in a flatter area on top of an ancient river bed, while it was bought with established vineyards. On behalf of his cousin, Francesco recalls the existence of 40-year-old vineyards, the best of which are planted with with indigenous white varieties, such as Vermentino and Malvasia. Today, Podere San Cristoforo focuses mostly on Sangiovese, but Lorenzo was the first in Maremma to produce a 100% Petit Verdot.

Pointing out how particularly well adapted it is to warmer climates, Francesco added: “When you talk about Tuscany, people immediately think of Chianti Classico and Montalcino, which produce wines that are high end and delicate, but you need to think that in June in Chianti Classico it is 25°C-28°C and 30°C-31°C by August. Then by October it is 12°C. But drive one hour west to Maremma and in June it is 32°C- 35°C, and even hotter in August. Vermentino adapts so well to a warmer climate. It has the texture and the acidity and freshness of a wine from Fruili or Veneto, yet it is grown in an area where the climate is like Puglia, Sicily or California.” Alessandro then said: “We believe a lot in Vermentino, which is why we have 30ha at Rocca di Montemassi.

Francesco then continued the comparison with Chianti Classico, but used the example of Sangiovese. “You don’t get the spice of Chianti in Maremma, where you get more red fruit, which dominates the wine, and if you were to chew a berry [at harvest time], you would find that you could chew the seeds of Sangiovese in Maremma, but with Chianti Classico, you cannot – the tannins need time to mature in the wine.” Alessandro then defended the use of French grapes in the Italian soil of Maremma. “We produce a blend of international varieties that takes the name of the estate – Rocca di Montemassi – because we think these grapes show the terroir of Maremma – a wine that gives power, strength and elegance as well.

Petit Verdot grows very well in the area, it is smoother and more gentle in general, with spicy notes, and Cabernet Sauvignon gives shoulders and elegance to the wine.” But Maremma, he added, is “one of the few areas in the world where Petit Verdot is grown and presented on its own. We have found that the Petit Verdot is most consistent vintage to vintage, whether hotter or colder or more or less rain, and the second most consistent is Cabernet Sauvignon, then Syrah, then Cabernet Franc, while the Merlot is sometimes good, sometimes less so.” He then said: “If I were asked what wine best represents our unique microterroir, I would say it is a blend with a beautiful link between Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and a bit of Merlot or Cabernet Franc, depending on the vintage.”

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