Etruscans and Wine around the Maremma (Tuscany)

I’ll soon be heading back to one of my favorite areas of Italy: the Maremma. It is a beautiful part of Tuscany, including a large portion that borders the Tyrrhenian Sea. As always, I’ll be working in Ansedonia at the ancient Roman site of Cosa. That means many forays into the Ager Cosanus, about which I’ve written previously. This ancient zone was a prodigious producer of wine, a lot of which was exported further west, into modern France, via the port at Cosa (read more, here). Production and export of wine out of the Maremma was not unique to the Roman era, however, but already occurred during earlier Etruscan settlement; winemaking occurred across Etruria (‘home” of the Etruscans), which included the modern Maremma – and Tuscany, generally – as well as parts of Lazio and Umbria.  Shipwrecks along the French and Italian coasts (from as early as 600 BC) attest to the transport of goods – including wine – in amphorae made locally in Etruria at Vulci, Cerveteri, Tarquinia, and other places.

*The Maremma is a roughly triangular area extends from south of Fufluna to Velch, and east toward Clevsin and Velzna (though not reaching those sites). The numbers show the locations of: 1-Morellino di Scansano; 2-Montecucco; 3-Monteregio di Massa Marittima.

 

Great wine is, of course, still produced here today, and it is a fantastic region to explore for both wine and culture.

The Maremma’s hilly interior is home to one of Italy’s more recent DOCG; the high-quality of the Sangiovese-based wines of Morellino di Scansano were recognized with an upgrade to DOCG status with the 2007 vintage. The appellation requirements for this wine enable a fresher, younger product to reach the customer; non-reserve wines have no oak-aging requirement, and the vintage may be released in the first March after the harvest. The result is a summery red that can be sipped in the Tuscan heat, and can be drunk with the region’s fish and Maremmana-beef specialties.

Countryside around Scansano

Many wineries in this appellation reference their Etruscan past – a case in point being Fattoria di Magliano, which has a Morellino di Scansano named “Heba” – the Latin name for the Etruscan city founded beneath Magliano in Toscana. So, too, does Poggio Trevvalle, whose 2012 “Santippe” wine knocked my socks off with its wild-strawberry and white pepper notes. That wine also drew on an Etruscan past, though not directly. Santippe is a variation of Xanthippe – the wife of Greek philosopher, Socrates. How is that “Etruscan”? Xanthippe lived in the 5th/4th centuries BC, a time when the larger Etruscan influence had probably passed its zenith, but in which the influence of Greek art and culture remained strong.  The site of Vulci (Etruscan Velch), which – along with Vetulonia – was one of the largest Etruscan settlements in the region, demonstrated both prosperity and Greek affinity particularly in its necropolis (eg. the Francois tomb). Despite its more pedestrian name, Poggio Trevvalle’s “Passera” Morellino di Scansano DOCG is a compelling expression of the appellation’s fresh acidity and bright fruits.

Watch out, Poggio Trevalle, I have every intention of visiting in a few weeks!

An even more-recent sangiovese-based DOCG is found just north of the Morellino di Sacansano region; Montecucco is a DOC created in 1998 (requiring 60% sangiovese), and the Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG was added in 2011 (requiring 90% sangiovese). These wines are a little darker and riper on the palate, and have a bit more softness than do the fresher ones of Morellino di Scansano. Castello ColleMassari is a producer whose name comes from the medieval castle settled on their estate. They make a DOC “Rigoleto” – 50% aged 10 months in used oak – with some tea and tobacco added to the fruits.

Beneath all those Medieval walls and cathedrals in the Montecucco area is an Etruscan past. That past is largely known through the many necropoleis that dot the landscape, including those of Vetulonia (Vatluna) and Roselle (Rusellae). Further west on the coast (but outside of the appellation) is one of the main necropoleis of Etruria, at Populonia. The Etruscan name for Populonia was Fufluna, likely meaning “city of Fufluns”.  Fufluns – like Greek Dionysus and Roman Bacchus – was the god of wine, vines, and feasting. In other words, the significance of wine in this land was recognized long ago…

Fufluns as an infant…

…and Fufluns as risqué adult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another sangiovese-based appellation is found in the Maremma: Monteregio di Massa Marittima DOC. These medium-bodied wines are a little wilder and a little bolder than those from either Morellino di Scansano or Montecucco, and also influenced by the metal ores found through the soils. The soils also hold numerous Etruscan settlements, though the obvious Medieval presence is a constant reminder that Maremman history certainly didn’t end with Classical Antiquity.

Conti di San Bonifacio makes wine in the Monteregio di Massa Marittima appellation.  It is dominated by Sangiovese (85%) and aged for a year in oak. The resulting wine is – as typical of the region – fruity and bold with darker berries, and with a lush and long finish. The Count of Bonifacio proudly states that winemaking has been a tradition in his family for 1000 years, taking us back to the early 2nd millennium AD, and the beginnings of a long battle for political power between the pope and adherents of papal primacy, on the one hand, and the Holy Roman Emperor and his allies, on the other. In the 12th and 13th centuries, this battle was taken up by the imperial Ghibellines and the papal-supporting Guelphs, with resulting battles and skirmishes to conquer cities and vanquish territories. Massa Marittima – of the eponymous DOC – was not spared the controversy, but managed to free itself of the Ghibelline influence of Pisa in the 13th century, remaining a “free” commune – with Guelph sympathies – for about 75 years. During that time, the fresco L’Albero della Fecundita (The Fertility Tree), more commonly known as “The Penis Tree”, was painted near a public water and grain storage facility in the city. The objects depicted are not in question, though the interpretation of the subject matter is rife with speculation, and ranges from narratives of witchcraft to anti-Ghibelline propaganda. The recently-restored fresco can be visited today, which I intend to do since I seem to have missed it on my last visit to Massa Marittima!

 

Albero della Fecondità

I’m still trying to visit- and taste wine from – all of the appellations within the Maremma, and enjoy the rich – and sometimes peculiar – history of the area, as well.

 

 

*Map by NormanEinstein [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons. Appellation locations added by the Wining Archaeologist.