It is the natural order of things: a wine from a certain wine region gets hot, its star rises on the international market, and its prices rise too. Sometimes prohibitively! Then, miracle of miracles, just as loyal purchasers of the first wine are getting priced out…a new wine is discovered nearby, with a regional name no one has heard of! And, at least in the initial stages of marketing…the “new” wine has a gentle price! And lots of new fans, among those lucky enough to know it!
This is a perfect description of various situations in Tuscany, home to hundreds of central Tuscan reds made from Sangiovese. Some of these denominaziones have soared over the years, in some cases ending up at auction houses next to first-growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundies. A textbook example is Brunello di Montalcino, from a gorgeous hill town in the southern part of Tuscany; it has a relationship to nearby Chiantis of stature, but is always thicker, more extracted, more structured…more ready for the long haul. And for international auction houses! Since it was introduced by the winery Biondi-Santi in the 19th century, it has become one of the true legends of Italian wine. And not just from Biondi-Santi, the originator. Other high-quality producers, older and younger, have been cashing in for decades on Brunello di Montalcino.
Then there’s me…in Tuscany…looking for wine that I can afford, which doesn’t wear a purple crown and a gold ribbon! And for wine that’s excellent, but wine I can sell at a reasonable price in the US. In November, 2013, I found my way to a Tuscan wine organization that agreed to hold a buyer’s-search tasting for me, in a castle in Siena, which included a few hundred Tuscan reds from scores of producers in about ten Tuscan wine regions (Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Senesi, Brunello di Montalcino, etc.)
And lo and behold! I love one of the regions in the tasting I had never heard of before (“it’s up-and-coming,” they told me), and, even better, included a producer whose wines I turned out to adore!
The region has a funny name: Montecucco, pronounced mon-tay-COO-co. Like much of Tuscany, it produces Sangiovese reds for both short-term consumption and long-term consumption. The nearest famous wine is, believe it or not, Brunello di Montalcino; Montecucco lies southwest of the hill town of Montalcino, about halfway to the Tuscan coast. Limestone soils, high elevations, and proximity to sea breezes create a wine that, in my tasting experience, can have the sex and nuance of Brunello di Montalcino, but is racier, more elegant, softer. And the price!!!
When I was there, I discovered a terrific producer named Basile—a company formed by two brothers from Naples who own this place, which they purchased in 1999, a spread of 85 acres. That’s right: they are not Tuscan! Could it be that the firm Etruscan spine of wines like Brunello di Montalcino softens a bit in the hands of two boys from the south???
It seems to have softened in this wine. It’s a mainstream five-year-old Tuscan red: moderate garnet depth, fairly deep and ripe red fruit on the nose, with wild strawberry hints. Remarkably suave entry, and dry, well-balanced middle palate. Lovely rich carry-through to slightly tannic finish, with hints of graphite. It is so gentle, I would even risk it next to a medium-rare steak…bistecca alla fiorentina, of course! Also great for a big bowl of warm white beans with young extra-virgin olive oil and fresh sage!