Ampeleia- The Real Tuscany

The Place

I have been to Tuscany a few times but always felt that I never found ‘La Vera Toscana’, the Real Tuscany.  The tourist honey pots of Florence, Siena and San Gimignano, particularly at the height of the season seem to destroy the history and beauty of their ancient environment, now awash with poor quality ‘Ristoranti', bars and gift shops, all selling the same cliché and the same dumbed down experience, a bit like Venice or Rome.  If you go to the heart of Chianti, the scenery can be spectacular, but the wine tourism is big business and you know that underneath the veneer of Tuscan artisan charm, there is hell of a lot of inauthentic wine churned out by the hectolitre by the big name Tuscan producers.

But do not despair, the real Tuscany is still out there and one place you can find it is the stunningly beautiful town of Roccatederighi.  This amazing little place is nestled in the hills in the province of Grosseto, the southern end of the Maremma.  The town is 500 metres above sea level and looks out over the hills to the plain and on a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean only about 20 km away as the crow flies.  The sun provides a stunning light and colour palate and the aromas of woodland herbs and grape harvest lingering in the air are intoxicating. 

It is here that Ampeleia have their Biodynamic farm of approximately 30 hectares over multiple sites from just above sea level up to 500 metres.  The purity of the air and the isolation helps to maintain the chemical free environment, there is not much around at all, not even many vines. This is not the Tuscan heartland, but a relatively new area for grape growing where the main red grape is not Sangiovese and producer’s can write their own new story for Tuscan wine making.

The People

The original property was taken over by Elisabetta Foradori (well established Biodynamic producer from the Trentino), Thomas Widmann and Giovanni Podini in 2002.  They had a vision for the property; to demonstrate the diversity and potential of the Maremma, particularly in the Colline Metallifere mountains which surround Roccatederighi.  

Entrusted with realising this vision are Marco Tait and Francesco Pascucci.  The route to their vision has been 20 years of passion, hard work and of course a rigorous commitment to natural production and biodynamic farming.  Marco who is responsible for the vines and wine making is singular in his approach, a serious man who takes his work and his soils very seriously.  When you ask Marco a question about Ampeleia, it needs to be the right question.  He is a man obsessed with his art and tasting the different wines from different parcels with him, you come to understand how viticulture and wine are truly in the blood of these passionate artists.  Francesco is responsible for the commercial side of the winery and is a much more approachable, easy-going guy but nevertheless, his dedication to Ampeleia and the pursuit of their combined vision is without question.

The Grapes and the Vines

The land is spread over 3 distinct altitudes, each with different soils which suit the different grapes cultivated.  The main grapes are Alicante (Grenache), Sangiovese, Carignano (Carignan) and Trebbiano for white.  However the signature grape and that which excites them the most for its potential in the area is the Cabernet Franc.  The plots are spread around the hillsides, but the Cabernet Franc is generally higher up as this grape really benefits from the diurnal temperature differences created by altitude.  

During my visit, we tasted the three plots of Cabernet Franc, harvested and vinified separately.  The difference was enormous, the higher site was fresher, the lower sites richer, rounder but all three were superb.  Marco’s plan is eventually to create separate Cuvee from each vineyard site to demonstrate the impact of his terroir on wine style.  In his words, ‘this is the beauty of my job, to capture these differences in the flavour of the wine, like an artist’.

Of course, the only way to capture terroir is through natural production.  Ampeleia have been following biodynamic principles pretty much from the outset although Marco said it took quite a long time for the soil to really benefit and come back to life.  After over 20 years the terroir is really starting to show its promise and the wines are simply delicious.  There is no funky here, however virtually no sulphites are used, in Marco’s words, ‘I don’t need them, we use a bit if I feel it helps but I don’t concern myself with the issue of sulphites, it is a small thing.’  Most of the wines are well under 50 milligrams per litre and are clean as a whistle.

This is what you can achieve when you allow nature to do the work and you don’t interfere.  Despite the elegance of the state of the art winery and tasting room, you feel the presence of nature as you walk around the vines, and you taste Tuscany in every glass.

The Wines

At present, Ampeleia produce 5 wines, but as described, there will be more in the future. 

The white mainly from Trebbiano has a touch of skin contact which adds a delicious texture and flavour.  Marco is a purist and although the skin contact has added some personality to the wine, he intends to make pure white going forward from the 2023 vintage as he feels the skin masks the terroir a little.  Watch out for that one, it will be superb.  

The Rose has got to be a highlight, simply delicious and the current 2020 and 2021 vintages show how a little age can add a gorgeous layer of complexity and ripe red fruit to a quality Rose.  

Then 4 reds, the excellent and super friendly Unlitro comes in a litre bottle and is a blend of the other red grapes including Sangiovese.  It is pure Tuscan charm and anything loosely based on Pasta, Olive Oil, hard Cheeses, Charcuterie, light red meats and roasted vegetables are its friend.  In the summer, chilled, it is a belter, the perfect high quality Party wine.

The final three red wines are a level above, single varietal and all stunning examples of how Tuscany can do elegance just as much as power.  The Alicante (Grenache at only 12% abv) is incredibly supple and soft, almost a Tuscan ‘Le Vallon’, another of our superb Burgundy style Grenache wines from Provence.  

The Cabernet Franc.  I find it tricky to get rid of the notion that Cab Franc is not a great grape variety, probably because Paul Giamatti slates it in Sideways and I have just never got over it.  In reality, this is one of the world’s great red grapes.  It can do the full spectrum of styles from young to age worthy, light to full, crunchy, soft and round and everything else.  At Ampeleia, they capture its heart of crunchy red fruits and herbaceous characteristics and wrap it in Tuscan sunshine.  A really delicious red, again will go with most decent main courses as long as the sauce is not too heavy or rich, and we think this would make a great red for Christmas day.  This is a must try wine from Buon Vino and one we always open with confidence for our customers.

Next time, you are in Tuscany, head to Roccatederighi and Ampeleia, you will find the ‘Real Tuscany’ and it is delightful.