A Wine Lover's Guide To Maremma

Tuscany's wild frontier now offers fine hotels and great restaurants
Jo Cooke
Posted: October 31, 2006

Everyone knows Tuscany: the art and architecture of Florence; the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti—not to mention the elegant and romantic culture that has been luring visitors from around the world for centuries.

But Tuscany still has surprises to offer, places overlooked by most travelers and unknown even to many Italians. For example, when was the last time someone told you they had visited Maremma? Only 20 years ago, this region along the Mediterranean coast had little to offer tourists beyond the unspoiled natural beauty that earned it the reputation as Tuscany's "wild frontier." But today it is flourishing, with great restaurants, fine hotels and a treasure trove of new wineries.

The heart of the Maremma region, near the village of Magliano, is a terrain of softly rolling hills covered by olive groves and vineyards, oak and cypress woods and wide-open fields of poppies and cornflowers. To an American, it may look more like coastal California than traditional Italy, and indeed, it could one day become the Napa Valley of Italy.

Maremma, only a two-hour drive southwest of the city of Florence, covers an area that roughly corresponds to the coastal province of Grosseto. An extensive and largely undeveloped territory, it stands in stark contrast to the compact, ordered Chianti hillsides around Florence and Siena that have, until now, been the major draw for visiting wine lovers.

"Everyone knows the Chianti, but Maremma is something new," says Erik Banti, one of the pioneer winemakers in Marem-ma, who set up his winery outside the town of Scansano in 1981. "In Maremma, we have much more than just wine to offer our visitors."

Banti could be referring to any number of Maremma's attractions, both natural and cultural. The Parco della Maremma is a vast natural reserve hugging the coast from Principina a Mare to Talamone. The Terme di Saturnia is a spa resort built around one of Europe's most historic and prestigious thermal sources, the Saturnia hot springs. There are Etruscan tomb sites. And local rodeo shows feature the famous Butteri, Maremma's answer to Buffalo Bill and his crew.

As with most of Tuscany, the next vineyard is always just around the corner. The Maremmani—as the locals are called—have been making wine for centuries, mainly working with Tuscany's staple red grape, Sangiovese. The local clone, known as Morellino, is used to produce the region's mainstay red, Morellino di Scansano. Morellinos are mainly early-drinking reds that are a softer and moderately priced alternative to other Tuscan Sangioveses, such as Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.

"Maremma has a particular microclimate," explains Adolfo Parentini, manager of historic Morellino di Scansano producer Moris Farms. "It's similar to that of Sicily, but less severe, which makes it more manageable for a wine producer. The sun gives soft tannins, and this is what the modern consumer is looking for. But the softness here is a product of the vineyard, not the winery."

Morellino di Scansano may be the region's most widely produced red, but what has put Maremma on the wine map recently is the influx of many of the top wine producers from other areas of Tuscany, such as Chianti, and farther afield. Investors include the Widmer family of Chianti Classico's La Brancaia; the Mazzei family from Fonterutoli; Antonio Moretti of Sette Ponti in the Valdarno; Roberto Guldener of Terrabianca in Chianti Classico; Francesco Bolla, ex-director of the Bolla winery in Veneto; Frescobaldi; Stefano Cinelli Colombini of Fattoria dei Barbi; Jacopo Biondi-Santi of Brunello di Montalcino and New York restaurateur Joseph Bastianich, who produces a Morellino di Scansano on his La Mozza estate, in Maremma's heartland.

These latter-day pioneers are today crafting some of Maremma's best wines, usually sold under the Toscana IGT or Maremma Toscana IGT appellation. These can be anything from Cabernet to Canaiolo and just about any blend imaginable. Moris Farms, for example, makes Avvoltore, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blend. Brancaia's flagship Maremma red, Ilatraia, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, local Sangiovese and a dash of Petit Verdot. Sette Ponti's Poggio al Lupo is another Cabernet-based red, with Petit Verdot and Alicante rather than Sangiovese. Mazzei's top wine in Maremma, Belguardo, blends Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese and Merlot.

However, blended reds are nothing new in Maremma. The father of all "super Maremma" reds, Fattoria Le Pupille's Saffredi, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and local Alicante. It has been the region's top wine for nearly two decades, and it sets a high standard for the new winemakers to follow.

The Le Pupille winery has been around since 1982, and owner Elisabetta Geppetti is now opening the winery doors to tourists more frequently. "Tourism is an important part of our operation, and we try to make our visitors feel at home," she says. "If they want to end their tour and tasting with lunch or dinner at the winery, we can lay it on."

Maremma's red wines, from fruity Morellinos to full-throttle Cabernets, make an ideal complement to inland Maremma cuisine, which is largely meat-based, from pigeon and rabbit to pork and wild boar. At the best restaurants in the region, such as Caino in Montemerano, traditionally rustic Maremma food is being given a new style. Take, for example, one of Caino's entrées, carpaccio di piccione, where thinly sliced squab, looking rather like prosciutto, is laid on the plate to create an almost animal shape, with foie gras as the head and an onion "chutney" as the body. It's a delight for the eye as well as a delicate, well-balanced and very tasty meat course.

If you want fish, then head for one of the coastal towns, such as Castiglione della Pescaia. This quaint, well-kept fishing port is transformed every summer into a bustling beach resort. There are a lot of tourists here, but also mile upon mile of beautiful sandy beaches and the warm Mediterranean to accommodate them. Most of the many restaurants are touristy, but a few, such as Vòtapentole, serve top-class seafood, featuring fresh Mediterranean fish (red and white mullet, sea bass, sea bream and tuna), prawns, octopus, squid and mollusks of all shapes and sizes. Try one of the local specialties, such as octopus cooked in Morellino wine, or pasta with baby squid.

Switzerland-born wine producer Roberto Guldener is one of the newcomers to the region, arriving in 1997. At first he was looking for reasonably priced vineyards to supplement those in his Chianti Classico estate, Terrabianca. But he soon fell in love with a 257-acre abandoned estate called Il Tesoro, located in the little-known Monteregio di Massa Marittima denomination, in the beautifully hilly countryside around the town of Massa Marittima.

Guldener was quick to see the opportunities for blending winemaking with tourism there. "We had the opportunity to create a haven where our guests can enjoy peace and quiet within the context of a working wine estate," he says. The result is an exquisite conversion of the central villa and farm buildings at the heart of the estate into Villa Il Tesoro, a hotel complex with luxury rooms, suites and a small restaurant, Il Fiore del Tesoro, for guests and the general public.

New investments in Maremma are also arriving from more unlikely sources. In 2001, Paolo Panerai of Chianti Classico winery Castellare di Castellina struck a deal with Bordeaux first-growth Château Lafite to develop Rocca di Frassinello, a 1,235-acre wine estate in the Monteregio di Massa Marittima area near Punta Ala. The estate is still in the fledgling stages, and the first wines, labeled Maremma Toscana IGT, are due on the market in 2007.

One of the most widely publicized developments in Maremma in recent years is the La Badiola wine and olive estate, near the fishing port of Castiglione della Pescaia. Industrialist Vittorio Moretti of Bellavista sparkling wine bought the 1,235-acre estate in 2000 and teamed up with Alain Ducasse to open L'Andana, a luxury hotel at the entrance to the estate. The hotel has been open since 2004, but work is still in progress on the estate, with plans for an 18-hole golf course and a full-blown Ducasse-experience restaurant to go along with the current country-style Trattoria Toscana.

With wining and dining, hot springs, the sea and the marvelous countryside already in place, golf seems set to become a major tourist attraction in Maremma. New golf courses are springing up throughout the region, or are being planned for the near future, to join the ranks of established 18-hole courses like the Punta Ala Golf Club in Punta Ala and the Golf Club Toscana in Gavorrano, north of Grosseto. "We want Maremma to be the golf destination in Italy," says Cinzia Fanciulli, the official in charge of tourism for the province.

Maremma has come a long way in a short amount of time. Indeed, in the not-too-distant past it was even dangerous country, preyed upon by bandits and malaria-infested mosquitoes hovering over stagnant marshland. But today the marshes have been drained, and wine producers, restaurateurs and hoteliers have replaced the bandits. Maremma may still be considered off the beaten track for many visitors to Tuscany, but it's well worth the exploration.

Note: The following restaurants and hotels accept all major credit cards unless otherwise noted. Prices have been converted from euros to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate at press time, US$1 = 0.78 euros, and rounded to the nearest dollar.

WINERIES TO VISIT

Erik Banti
Località Fosso dei Molini, Scansano
Telephone (011) 39-0564-508006
Web site www.erikbanti.com
Open Visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings free

Erik Banti started bottling Morellino back in 1981, making him one of the pioneers in the Morellino di Scansano-designated area. But this ex-photographer, race-car driver and golfer was also among the first producers in the area to grasp the growing importance of tourism for the local wine industry. The proof of his conviction is the recently completed and well-equipped tasting room, which has pretty much doubled the size of this small winery, located just outside Scansano, the capital town of Morellino country. Regular wine tastings are on offer here, as well as courses in wine and food tasting. The winery also produces a line of traditional local food items, for sale in the shop.

Brancaia in Maremma
Località Poppi, Radda in Chianti
Telephone (011) 39-0577-742007
Web site www.brancaia.com
Open Visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings $15

Perhaps no estate in Maremma better illustrates the dynamic winemaking force that has hit the area since the late 1990s than Brancaia in Maremma. This estate, southeast of Grosseto, was wilderness until 1998, when it was bought by Swiss family Widmer, owners of the Brancaia estate in Chianti Classico. Eight years later, 90 acres of newly planted vineyards have yielded one of Tuscany's best wines, the 96-point, Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese-Petit Verdot blend Ilatraia 2003. The brand-new, squeaky-clean winery includes a small, well-lit tasting room where you can sample Brancaia wines from both Maremma and Chianti Classico.

Tenuta Marsiliana
Località Marsiliana
Telephone (011) 39-055-268123
Web site www.tenutamarsiliana.it
Open Visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings free

This huge, 6,915-acre estate belongs to the Corsini family, which has been influential in Tuscany since Renaissance times. Until recently, the family's winemaking activity was concentrated in its Chianti Classico estate, Le Corti, but their Marsiliana Toscana IGT, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend made from the Marsiliana estate's 50 acres of vineyards, has put the Corsini name on the Maremma wine map too.

Here you are in the heart of Maremma, 20 kilometers from the sea, amid hills covered by woodland, brush and the occasional vineyard. There's a hunting-lodge atmosphere up in the beautiful old castle, where you'll find the large, rustic-style tasting room and the cellars. The estate contains a number of houses available for rent during the holidays, including the castle itself.

Moris Farms
Località Cura Nuova, Massa Marittima
Telephone (011) 39-0566-919135
Web site www.morisfarms.it
Open Visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings free

To get the real flavor of Morellino country, visit Moris Farms' Poggio La Mozza (no connection to the Joseph Bastianich estate La Mozza), 20 minutes inland from Grosseto. This 140-acre hilltop estate offers stupendous views of the whole area, and its simple stone-and-tufo cellars add to the peaceful, homey atmosphere. The Moris family (of Spanish origin) has been working the Maremma soil for more than 200 years, but Poggio La Mozza is a relatively recent acquisition, bought in 1971. The family's historic 1,037-acre estate is farther north, near Follonica, in the Monteregio di Massa Marittima wine-producing area, where Moris makes the winery's top label, the Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blend Avvoltore. The estate's 3,600 cypresses are the legacy of a tree-loving Moris ancestor.

Poggio Argentiera
Località Banditella di Alberese, Grosseto
Telephone (011) 39-0564-405099
Web site www.poggioargentiera.com
Open Visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings free

This boutique winery is one of the success stories of the "new" Maremma. In 1997, local agronomist Gianpaolo Paglia and his British wife, Justine Keeling, acquired the estate, located about 15 minutes south of Grosseto on the main coastal road, and started making Morellino di Scansano from the 15 acres of existing vineyards. The estate has now grown to 57 acres of vineyards, in two locations. The cozy tasting room, perched above the fermenting cellar, offers a good introduction to the local red and white grape varieties.

Fattoria Le Pupille
Località Piagge del Maiano, Istia d'Ombrone
Telephone (011) 39-0564-409517
Web site www.elisabettageppetti.com
Open Monday to Friday; visits by appointment only
Cost Tastings free; lunch or dinner $50

Le Pupille is probably the most famous wine estate in Maremma and visiting is a must. Its fruity Morellino di Scansano is one of the best-known Morellinos in the United States, while Saffredi, the estate's flagship Cabernet blend, sets the quality benchmark for the region. Owner Elisabetta Geppetti was born and bred in Maremma and has run the 60-acre family-owned estate since it was established in 1982. The winery is well-equipped to accommodate visitors, with a comfortable tasting room and a boutique that sells wine, oil and other food and clothing products.

WHERE TO EAT

Il Fiore del Tesoro
Località Valpiana, Massa Marittima
Telephone (011) 39-0566-92971
Web site www.villailtesoro.com/it/restaurant.html
Open Dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $33-$39

This small restaurant is set amid the olive groves and vineyards of the Villa Il Tesoro wine estate, in the hills that lead up to the historic town of Massa Marittima. Two dynamic 25-year-old Neapolitans hold the reins: the chef, Massimo Mammano, and his friend, restaurant manager Diego Cortese.

There's an intimate atmosphere in the dining room and a homey touch to the cooking, from simple, fresh fish cooked in sea salt with steamed vegetables to a roulade of local pork, cooked with local herbs and served with a Chianti Classico sauce. The small wine list favors the bottlings of Villa Il Tesoro and its sister estate, Terrabianca, in Chianti Classico. When you're done, cross the courtyard to the salotto, and relax with a Cognac or whiskey and an after-dinner cigar.

Il Pelicano
Porto Ercole
Telephone (011) 39-0564-858111
Web site www.pellicanohotel.com
Open Dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $44-$54

Sitting outside on a warm summer's night overlooking the quiet sea and dining alfresco on the terrace of the restaurant at Il Pellicano hotel has to be one of the most pleasant experiences in Tuscany. The food, service and wine list are all excellent.

The list is extensive in Italian and other European wines, and all are reasonably priced. Everything that comes out of the kitchen displays chef Antonio Guida's light touch. A starter of raw and steamed summer vegetables with an arugula pesto was tender and flavorful, while a main course of roasted dorade with braised leeks and mussels in a delicate curry broth was tangy and fresh. The service is top notch, both attentive and quick, and sommelier Costantino Russo is knowledgeable and friendly.

Il Vòtapentole
Via IV Novembre, Castiglione della Pescaia
Telephone (011) 39-0564-934763
Open Lunch and dinner, days and hours vary seasonally
Cost Entrées $22; prix-fixe menu $50

Run by husband-and-wife team Massimiliano and Monica Ciregia, Il Vòtapentole is a relaxed and informal place where you can enjoy some of the best and freshest seafood on the coast. This tiny restaurant spills out into the noisy street during the summer months, so book well in advance to ensure a table inside.

To get a real feel for Massimiliano's cooking, try the prix-fixe menu. You might start with his version of pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup), which he stuffs into thin phyllo pastry tubes and serves with a fresh basil sauce and a Parmesan crisp. Then move on to mazzancolle (local prawns), cooked three ways—steamed, breaded and fried, and grilled with unrefined salt—each with its own vegetable accompaniment. It's all well-planned and delicious. The wine list features about 350 labels, including reasonably priced Italian and French whites, a good dose of Champagne, and local reds.

Ristorante Bracali


Via di Perolla 2, Località Ghirlanda, Massa Marittima
Telephone (011) 39-0566-902318
Open Lunch, Thursday to Sunday; dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $45-$54

Tuscans are famed for their preference for simple food with simple ingredients, but that's not Luca Bracali's style. Tasting this dynamic, self-taught chef's food is like tasting a good wine: There's a gradual accumulation of diverse aromas and flavors that push through to a long, clean finish. The chickpea ravioli, for example, was stuffed with spinach and coffee-flavored pork meat and served with finely diced melon and a fresh garlic sauce. It was a complicated, intriguing mouthful, perfectly cooked and very satisfying.

In the rather difficult task of pairing such food with wine, you will get good advice from Luca's brother, Francesco, a very able sommelier who has amassed an extensive cellar of Italian, French and trophy wines from around the world since the restaurant's opening in 1997. The dining area has a classically elegant feel, and you can finish off your evening in the adjacent cigar lounge. Bracali's elaborate style of cooking is not for everyone, but if you enjoy experimenting with flavors, it's worth a visit.

Ristorante Caino
Via Canonica 3, Montemerano
Telephone (011) 39-0564-602817
Web site www.dacaino.it
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $45-$49

Long considered one of the best in Tuscany, this tiny restaurant is nestled on a medieval street at the entrance of the small hilltop town of Montemerano, just a few miles down the road from the Saturnia hot springs. Chef Valeria Piccini turns meticulously chosen local ingredients into elaborate yet perfectly balanced dishes.

Baccalà, salted cod, is one of the specialties of the house. Strips of baccalà, almost jellylike in consistency, are served with crispy cheek of pork, mushrooms, fresh shallots and a caper paste. It's an unusual juxtaposition of tastes, but it worked well. Service and wine are in the capable hands of Piccini's husband, Maurizio Menichetti, whose 1,600-selection wine list contains the best from Maremma, Tuscany and beyond. He sets a leisurely pace for the meal (perhaps too leisurely for some), but if you can't face the drive home after a good three-hour stint at the table, book one of the three double rooms above the restaurant for the night ($230).

Trattoria Toscana
Tenuta La Badiola, Località Badiola, Castiglione della Pescaia
Telephone (011) 39-0564-944800
Web site www.andana.it/it/restaurant.php
Open Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $25

French superchef Alain Ducasse couldn't have picked a better spot for his debut on Italian soil. Housed in a converted barn, against the background of the gently rising olive tree- and vine-clad hills of the Tenuta La Badiola estate, his country-style restaurant has a simple elegance, with orange tones adding brightness and warmth. The service is attentive, and the small but growing wine list features bottlings from the Bellavista estate of Ducasse's partner, Vittorio Moretti, in Italy's northeast, and from Petra, Moretti's Tuscan estate. There are also benchmark whites and reds from the rest of Italy.

The food, executed by Ducasse understudy Christophe Martin, is based on the local cuisine; it's not a three-star dining experience à la Ducasse. The lunghetti (homemade pasta strips) came with an Italian salsa verde (parsley, anchovies and capers) blended with a pistachio paste, which made the dish rather muddy and uninviting. Portions tend to be on the large side; a very appetizing cured meat platter of cinta senese (a local breed of pig) could have served a table of six. This is reasonably priced, hearty country food, but for now it's rather underwhelming, considering its pedigree.

Trattoria Verdiana
Località Ponticello, Montemerano
Telephone (011) 39-0564-602576
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $20-$25

Flipping through the first few pages of the 500-label wine list, you might think you're in the heart of France rather than Tuscany. Owner Sergio Ciampani is a Burgundy buff, and he's evidently fond of Champagne, too—there are more than 60 labels from which to choose. Ciampani suggested a glass of Knoll Riesling Federspiel Trocken Loibner 2004 to start the meal; it was so crisp and fresh that one glass followed another until the bottle was empty.

Ciampani directs the dining room of this homey, elegantly furnished restaurant, while his wife, Annarita Fontecchi, directs the kitchen. As with all well-prepared traditional Tuscan food, the dishes are deceptively simple. Try the delicious and filling bean soup with bottarga and a trickle of extra-virgin oil. Or the exquisitely light lamb filets with roasted tomatoes and wild fennel, accompanied by a glass of Alicante Selezione Verdiana, which a local producer bottles especially for the restaurant.

WHERE TO STAY

Gallia Palace
Punta Ala
Telephone (011) 39-0564-922022
Web site www.galliapalace.it
Rooms 79
Suites 4
Rates $333-$870

A child of the booming '60s, the Gallia Palace near Punta Ala harbor has a slightly dated look, but it's clean, comfortable and very convenient both for the beach and the Punta Ala Golf Course, to date the best course in Maremma. As befits a seaside hotel, all 83 rooms and suites have private balconies, with either a sea view to the isle of Elba, or a view of the parkland surrounding the hotel. A shuttle service runs all day between the hotel and the private beach, where there's an attractive beachside restaurant serving light, informal meals.

Il Pellicano
Porto Ercole
Telephone (011) 39-0564-858111
Web site www.pellicanohotel.com
Rooms 32
Suites 19
Rates $436-$2,150

What began its life 40 years ago as a haven for a pair of lovers, British pilot Michael Graham and American socialite Patsy Daszel, is today one of the most-sought after holiday destinations on the Mediterranean coastline.

Il Pellicano is perched on a cliff on Monte Argentario, a rocky coastal outcrop in the southern part of Maremma, and overlooks a bay dotted with moored private yachts. The hotel comprises a central building and six cottages, which together house the 51 luxury rooms and suites, a first-class restaurant, a spa and a boutique. A heated seawater swimming pool, poolside bar and barbecue adorn the compact terrace, from which an elevator, hewn into the rock, takes you down to the private waterfront terrace that serves as the beach. Il Pellicano is 15 minutes away from wine territory in the southern part of Maremma and is near the new 18-hole Argentario Golf Club.

L'Andana
Tenuta La Badiola, Località Badiola, Castiglione della Pescaia
Telephone (011) 39-0564-944800
Web site www.andana.it
Rooms 20
Suites 13
Rates $416-$1,612

Alain Ducasse and Italian industrialist Vittorio Moretti set their sights on luxury at all costs in building a hotel to complement the beautiful and peaceful rural setting of the surrounding estate, which is located just a few miles inland from the fishing village of Castiglione della Pescaia.

The hotel consists of two buildings, the Villa and the Fattoria, both of which have swimming pools and house luxury rooms and suites that have been carefully restored to retain many original features, such as wooden beams and stone fireplaces. A small spa and fitness center was completed in 2005. The current restaurant, Trattoria Toscano, is rustic; if you want the full-on Ducasse dining experience, you will have to wait until the luxury restaurant comes to fruition in the next couple of years. Plans are underway for an initial nine-hole—and eventual 18-hole—golf course.

Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Resort
Terme di Saturnia, Saturnia
Telephone (011) 39- 0564-600817
Web site www.termedisaturnia.it
Rooms 65
Suites 75
Rates $235-$485 (per person)

No visit to Maremma would be complete without a day spent at the hot springs at Saturnia, which have been bubbling up for at least 3,000 years and today attract a quarter-million visitors per year. Whether you choose to base your Maremma holiday on the on-site luxury hotel or just take a break from winery visits, you'll find everything you'd expect from a first-class spa. The four thermal pools are surrounded by buildings equipped for fitness, wellness and beauty treatments. The luxurious hotel offers a choice of restaurants and bars, and the comfortable rooms are bright and airy. Some good news for golfers: The spa's current practice course is scheduled to become a full-fledged 18-holer by next spring.

Villa Il Tesoro
Località Valpiana, Massa Marittima
Telephone (011) 39-0566-92971
Web site www.villailtesoro.com
Suites 20
Rates $210-$556

In 2000, when owner Roberto Guldener started renovating the buildings on his newly acquired wine estate, he had in mind a few rooms for visiting guests from the wine trade. But before long, he'd enlarged his plans, and today, the complex of farm buildings has been transformed into 20 modern, elegantly furnished suites, a small restaurant, a reception area, a boutique and a lounge-cum-breakfast area with bar. Those who enjoy peace and quiet will find Villa Il Tesoro much to their liking, with acres of vineyards and olive groves in which to stroll. A round pool is too small for actual swimming, but offers a pleasant place to cool down and relax.

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