By Rick Riozza

Attenzione! Montecucco, is a rising star in the Tuscan wine game with a “new and different” expression of Sangiovese that comes from an area of the famous Maremma region, nestled between the Brunello di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano appellations.

Most of you Italian wine lovers in our valley are continually thrilled to be notified of the new Vino Wine Kid in town. Well—this column does not disappoint!

The wines of Montecucco are not only one of the best-kept secrets in the Italian wine landscape but also, more importantly, among the truest expressions of the organic farming philosophy that has been blooming and thriving in Italy for the past two decades. Up to 70% of the Montecucco producers tend their land following respectful practices and a non-invasive approach to viticulture, representing one of the highest percentages of organic grapes’ producers in Tuscany, if not in Italy all.

Curled up in a little area on the western slopes of Mt. Amiata, the Montecucco appellation in the south of Tuscany has centuries of grape-growing pedigree, but recognition of the wines has increased in recent years; the region was upgraded to DOCG status in 2011. And, although each producer has its own unique story, the majority of them share the same commitment to growing grapes organically.

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Many of you true vino cognoscenti know that a “Rosso” on a DOC or DOCG Italian label tells you that one can get a great deal on a red wine from classic region. No need to pay the high prices when you wish for a table wine to meet expectations reflecting the famed vineyard area.

So how about this for some auspicious news: Today, the majority of Montecucco’s grapes are certified organic, with winemakers being also farmers and practicing both biodynamic and organic cultivation. And, so many of the area’s wine is designated as a “Rosso”!

Enter now Auspicium Montecucco Rosso 2016 ($22). If I had to describe this wine in one sentence—how about: Tart raspberry and blackberry flavors, rich fruitiness, savory, slightly herbaceous—a wonderful food wine.

You liberal Chianti lovers will enjoy the fact that Auspicium is an Italian blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah! You may then ask: Syrah in Italy!? And the response is Certo!—of course! Italy’s great wine makers have been using Syrah in their Super Tuscan wines for decades!

Auspicium’s winemaker says his wine is: “black-tinged, deep ruby-red with colour. Brooding initially, the bouquet unfolds to reveal dark and red fruits, cinnamon spice, violets and orange peel. Spiciness, stewed marasca cherries and cassis dominate the palate attack, giving way to more complex balsamic, cigar box and savoury-garrigue notes. A bright acidity, subdued alcohol and velvety tannins complete the structure.”

At an alcohol level of 14.5%, this wine is a compelling match for the strong flavors and textures of traditional Roman fare, full-on hunter-style game stews of the Maremma, and it would be a great pairing with the classic Roman dish, Pasta alla Gricia.

Here are a couple of Montecucco wines we reviewed last year:

Available now is the very good vintage year, 2015 Le Maciarine Montecucco Rosso. At $20, this is one of the best buys for a quality Sangiovese. We mentioned the “new and different” expression above—and I guess, it means that this Sangiovese is on deep dark fruits, spice, and is on the softer side: Not predominant on the acidity, with aromas of black cherries, raisins, light chocolate and licorice with a palate of red and black cherries, plums, pencil lead, and chocolate; finishes nicely with a mineral edge.

Its bigger brother, the 2015 Le Maciarin Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva, ($35), absolutely knocked our socks off! As soon as we took in the aromas, it brought us back to the times sitting at an Italian restaurant enjoying high-end wine. And the flavors sealed the deal; top quality Sangiovese with deep dark fruits, spices, and perfect food pairing acidity.

The Montecucco wine trail: For those planning to travel to Italy again in the next few years, we know Tuscany is always on the radar. For those preferring to slow the pace and avoid the well-worn tourist hot spots, in this quieter southwestern corner of Tuscany you’ll find an absorbing mix of fine local produce and sumptuous hospitality – all with a personal touch. Accommodations are extremely reasonable, great food, inexpensive and easy to get to wineries are very American friendly. Fly to Pisa, hire a car and it’s roughly a two-hour drive south, in the direction of Grosseto. From Rome airport, it’s a 2.5-hour drive north. Buon Viaggio & Saluti