The ColleMassari group encompasses three Tuscan vineyards. Grattamacco, one of the first wineries to be established in Bolgheri; the iconic Poggio di Sotto in Montalcino and Castello di Collemassari, in Montecucco, south of Montalcino. The group is owned by brother and sister duo, Claudia Tipa and Maria Iris, who, in turn, was married to the late Fabio Bertarelli, the first person to bring genetic engineering to Italy and took the family’s small pharmaceutical business to a global biotech player.
Keen to learn more about ColleMassari after a couple of tastings in London, we recently visited Castello di ColleMassari which is nestled in the hills of Cinigiano, inland from the Maremma coast. Montecucco became a DOC in 1998 and has been dubbed as the last piece of undiscovered Tuscany. Looking inland from the winery, you can see the extinct Mount Amiata volcano towering into the distance, which has played an important role in creating the terroir, just as the proximity to the sea has too.
It felt like a terrifically windy day during our visit, but apparently these gusts are typical and very welcome: not only do they increase the diurnal range but they help to stop mould, making it easier for the winery produce organically. Weathering the elements is one of the reasons why the winery’s beautiful, ultra-modern buildings are made out of teak – teak is a particularly eco-friendly choice of wood given its incredible durability and very long life span, which reflects ColleMassari’s ethical values.
The winery’s interior is also high tech, although on their top wine, a lot of the processes are performed manually. ColleMassari only uses natural yeasts present in the vineyard rather than buying any active dry yeast preparations – which tends to be the norm amongst the majority of wineries today.
ColleMassari’s oenologist is an employee of the company as opposed to a consultant and they have a lab on site so the results of any tests on the plants, grapes and blends are available as soon as possible rather than having to be processed by a third party.
Tasting notes include wines from all three sites.
- Grattamacco Vermentino – 100% Vermentino
Grattamacco was the first winery in Bolgheri to produce Vermentino commercially. Altitude is the key for freshness, which the winery benefits from in the relatively flat area. The resultant wine is light and citrusy – green apples, saline and a smudge of vanilla – but will age quite well, taking on more floral and petrol Riesling characteristics. What’s very noticeable is the minerality; Bolgheri was once covered by the sea and then became an important mining region (Grattamacco means iron).
- ColleMassari Irisse 2014 – 100% Vermentino
Another Vermentino but grown inland in Montecucco, and at higher altitude. Grapes are hand selected and just 6,000 bottles are produced per annum. It’s a richer, heavier wine than its coastal counterpart; full of golden apples, pears and a bit of perfumed ‘grapiness’ (akin to Muscat), yet still has that lovely crispness. There are more floral notes and you can imagine some hay and honey emerging with age.
- ColleMassari Poggio Lombrone – 100% Sangiovese
Produced from the best red grapes from the Montecucco vineyards, this wine is fermented in open cone shaped casks and the punching down is done by hand. The wine spends 18 months in large barrels and then at least 8 months in the bottle. It smells woody, but also of plush red fruit. On the palate, there’s velvety cranberries, violets and sweet ripe cherries, a bit of candied plum with a streak of peppery tannins and liquorice. You can tell that this wine will keep for a long time, but after just 4 years, it’s drinking pretty well already.
- Grattamacco Bolgheri Rosso Superiore 2011 – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Sangiovese
A hallmark of a Grattamacco red wine is the use of Sangiovese, a grape that doesn’t thrive particularly well close to the sea. However, Grattamacco’s vineyards are some of the highest amongst the flattish flood plains of Bolgheri, enabling them to pay homage to Tuscany’s classic grape. The relative altitude comes with a bit of a breeze to assist in producing organically, and ultimately the use of Sangiovese differentiates Grattamacco from its peers.
This well-structured wine is quite burly, with its plummy, blackcurrant nose and use of oak, but equally fresh tasting with perfumed, crunchy red fruit. There’s a bit of green pepper and violet before a hit of tobacco, vanilla and spicy tannins. Bizarrely, there is also a slight perception of salt – something I haven’t often encountered in red wines before. This saline tang is another USP of Grattamacco’s wines and often gives the game away in those blind tastings featuring wines from Bolgheri.
Poggio di Sotto
Finally, switching to Montalcino, the hottest, driest part of Tuscany. This little town is famous for Brunello, which is made with that Tuscan stalwart, Sangiovese, albeit a different clone to what is used in Chianti Classico in central Tuscany. I attended a tasting at London’s Uncorked shortly before our Maremma trip, where I was thrilled to meet the group’s head wine maker, Luca Marrone. These are the best Montalcinos I’ve ever tasted, including the simpler Rosso, which is an earlier maturing, easy drinking, less complex version of Brunello.
Like Grattamacco, ColleMassari’s Montalcino winery – Poggio di Sotto – also has some distinguishing characteristics. All of their grapes are destined for Brunello – they start the cycle (harvesting, fermenting, maturation et al) with the mindset of never intending to make a Rosso. However, as time goes by – Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino need a minimum of 1 and 4 years’ of ageing, respectively – Luca and his team sample and then blend the casks that they feel are lively enough to release as a Rosso. As a result, Poggio di Sotto’s Rosso is released to the market after 2 years of barrel ageing. The remainder of the grapes that are still developing will be reserved for Brunello di Montalcino, which needs a minimum of 2 years in barrel.
- Poggio di Sotto Rosso di Montalcino 2011 – 100% Sangiovese
I love the contrast between the farmy(!), yeasty, oatmeal nose yet the fresh but ripe red fruit on the palate here. There’s an elegance with the cherries, concentrated red berries, violets and a darker, brooding feel from the oak.
- Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2011 – 100% Sangiovese
Whilst the DOCG rules around ageing in oak were relaxed in 1998, Poggio di Sotto leaves its Brunello to continue to develop in cask for the full 4 years, saving a small amount for a Riserva which requires at least 5 years of ageing before being released to the market.
Magic in a bottle: this richly textured wine is teaming with fresh sour cherries, candied red fruits, a smattering of herbs, vanilla and a bit of spice. 2011 was a very generous vintage, resulting in this concentration of fruit.
- Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2009 – 100% Sangiovese
More black fruit in this one – the grapes were picked later that year to get the concentration – but just as breath-taking. Floral on the nose and the palate, those plush red cherries again but also black cherries and bramble, along with a smear of liquorice and forest floor. There’s more tobacco and vanilla coming through with the wine’s evolution in the bottle.