It’s not often you have a chance to meet and taste with a winery that pioneered a whole region. But that’s what our members got to do when they joined up with Fattoria le Pupille this month.
People were, of course, growing grapes in this south-western corner of Tuscany when Elisabetta Gepetti took over the family estate in 1985, but fruit was just sold on to big national producers; nobody was making estate wine. But she trailblazed a whole new way of thinking, making the Maremma one of the most exciting, dynamic – and affordable – regions in Italy over the last 30 years.
Elisabetta’s children Clara and Ettore, who are now also firmly ensconced in the winery, talked us through the basics of the Maremma.
The first key point, they said, is that it is quite hilly, with many different aspects and microclimates – which makes it different from Bolgheri to the north. You’ll see that from the pictures in this article.
But the influence of the sea, they said, ‘is really what makes the wine special’. There is, of course, plenty of Tuscan sunshine, but as Clara pointed out, ‘We always have wind blowing. You never feel that really exhausting heat that you can get in places like Chianti and Florence.’
Poggio Argentato Bianco 2019
The indigenous whites in this area are Vermentino (‘not really our style’ said Ettore) and Ansonica, which was abandoned until ten years ago.
As a result the winery’s signature white wine is a really unusual four-grape blend of French varieties – 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Petit Manseng, and then roughly equal measures of Traminer and Semillon.
Key to the wine, Ettore suggests, is the Petit Manseng. ‘Its acidity is really incredible. It’s hard to manage the ripening. It gets to 14.5% abv easily, but the grapes still don’t look or taste ripe. It’s only when you analyse them in the winery you realise they are ready for harvesting.’
‘Really bright and fresh!’ said Emma Denney from Davies & Brook. ‘Lovely as an aperitif or with a summer garden salad or scallop crudo.’
Other members felt the wine would be excellent with oysters, salad with an acidic dressing and parmesan ravioli with white wine emulsion and purple artichoke.
Rosé has become more important to Fattoria le Pupille over the last couple of years, favouring a 100% Syrah over Sangiovese because of its sweeter tannins.
‘This is a wine made inside the press,’ said Ettore. ‘But it’s a really soft press and we don’t start it until the juice has stopped dripping out. As soon as the colour starts to turn to a more intense colour, we stop and use the remaining must for other blends.’
‘Good for both terrace and food. I love this rosé!’ said Gymkhana’s Alexia Gallouet who, being from Provence, knows a good rosé when she sees it.
Hawksmoor’s Eleanora Kausinyte felt it was ‘elegant and savoury – a food wine!’ and other members agreed, with Gaucho’s Andres Sossa saying it matched ‘wonderfully’ with his lamb skewers during the tasting.
Morellino di Scansano 2019
Morellino is the local word for Sangiovese and this is a really important wine for Fattoria le Pupille. Their biggest production, and also the label for which they are best known.
It is, as Clara put it, ‘a classic Morellino’: 85% Sangiovese, 10% Alicante and 5% Ciliegiolo from one of the best vintages of the last 10 years.
‘Morellino is probably the hardest wine to make,’ said Ettore. ‘It needs drinkability, juiciness, a bit of structure, soft tannins but present.’
Versatility is the key to this wine – it’s the kind of wine that you’d reach for during the week whether you were having pasta, venison or burgers.
‘Duck all day with this,’ said Andres Ituarte of the Tamarind Collection, while others could see it working with turkey and even spicy food.
Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2018
This is the first label the winery ever released. Now in its 40th vintage it is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and unlike the previous Morellino is designed for ageing.
‘We search for elegance from Sangiovese and power from the Cabernet,’ said Ettore. ‘They work well together in the ageing process.’ The Riserva is aged for one year at least in ‘botti’ of different sizes. But they are not looking for any overt wood influence.
Condita’s Konstantinos Katridis saw this as working with ‘partridge, mushrooms, boudin noir every night!’ while Hawksmoor’s Bradley Tomlinson matched the wine to an entire scenario.
‘Silence. A quiet room. Solitude. And then a friend strolls in with a plate of fennel salumi’.
Poggio Valente 2018
Our first and only 100% Sangiovese of the tasting, this wine comes from (and is named after) the same hill that creates their flagship Saffredi wine. Grown on sandstone soil, Ettore felt that this gives tannins that are ‘more gentle and silky, more fine. It gives wines that are elegant, not rich and austere.’
On a south-west slope, facing the ocean, the wind influence can be strong in this wine. But the slight complicating factor in this case was the atypically warm 2018 vintage, which saw temperatures during harvest in the low 30s.
‘It’s approachable now,’ said Ettore, ‘but it’ll close up for a year, because that happens with our wines in warmer vintages. They will come back in three years.’
Ettore suggested decanting the younger wines, but accepts that it’s a highly personal issue. Indeed, there was no consensus either between him and his sister (!) or the Sommelier Collective members, with decanting times ranging from ‘not at all’ to ‘half an hour’ and ‘two hours’!
The 2019 (a very good vintage) is due to be bottled shortly.
Le Pupille Syrah 2015
This was the oldest dry wine of the tasting and really unusual. Clara’s pet project, it’s made of 100% Syrah, but from two different vineyards: one above the current estate, and one from where the winery first began.
But the big difference here, perhaps, is not so much the vineyards, as the winemaking: one wine is fermented in open tonneaux, while the other is fermented in hand-made 500-litre ‘orchi’ (earthenware jars).
‘Syrah easily goes into reduction, and we use these two techniques – open tonneaux and orchi – to try and avoid this,’ said Ettore. ‘Oak gives you a finer, more elegant wine, the orchi give you a more structured and wider wine.’
The two are then blended together, aged in 300-litre barrels for ten months, and aged in bottle for a further three years, to give a very different, less primary more textural style of wine.
‘I am opening my barbecue and you are all invited!’ said Condita’s Konstantinos Katridis. ‘Cote de boeuf like no tomorrow! Such a lovely wine.’
The winery’s flagship, this owes its existence to Clara and Ettore’s grandfather, who was one of the first to plant Cabernet in Tuscany, in 1980 at the suggestion of Italian uber consultant, Giacomo Tachis.
His intention was to blend it with Sangiovese but died the year the vineyard became productive, so didn’t get a chance to implement his plan. After tasting the Cabernet his daughter Elisabetta decided not to blend it, but to vinify and bottle it on its own, though she did name the wine after her father!
Down the years she’s planted more Bordeaux varieties and the 2018 (the 31st vintage) is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. From the same sandstone soils as the Poggio Valente and a cool 10km from the sea, it’s a wine of length rather than sheer power, with red clay soils adding ‘a beautiful aromatic quality to the wine,’ according to Ettore.
‘The focus is to always to have elegance with power,’ he said. ‘You feel the tannins, but they don’t leave you with a dry mouth at all.’
With 18m in French oak, 70% of which is new, it has undoubted longevity, and a recent vertical tasting with top critics revealed that the early 90s wines were still showing beautifully.
‘This is a good competitor with other famous Super Tuscans for a more affordable price,’ said Zuma’s Vitaliy Yeresk’o
Berners Tavern’s Lorenzo Tonelli felt it was ‘closer to Napa rather than Bordeaux. The ripeness and woody tannins remind me of some wines from fresher areas in Napa valley.’
‘I like this comment,’ said Ettore. ‘This is the [impact of the] 2018 vintage… especially in its early phase, when you can smell a bit more of the oak. It can remind you of a Napa vintage. 2019 is more like a St Emilion.’
Our final wine was a sweet wine – a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, Semillon blend, from the same Poggio Argentato vineyard as the dry white.
With just 14g/litre of residual sugar, it was not especially sweet, and our tasters agreed with Ettore’s suggestion that it would be best with cheese, rather than desserts.
Though when pushed Clara suggested that Tuscan cantucci biscuits (again not too sweet) or ‘anything with ricotta cheese’ would be good matches too.
Either way, at £12.30 for a half bottle, it’s worth considering if you’re looking for a well-priced and not too sweet sticky for your list.
Fattoria Le Pupille’s wines are imported by Armit Wines