VignaAlta, the flagship of Badia di Morrona
Badia di Morrona was featured in these pages last year with their I Sodi del Paretaio, a Chianti DOCG that comes in Annata and Riserva forms. You can read about those wines here. This article reviews their flagship wine, VignaAlta, a 100% Sangiovese designated as the up-and-coming Terre di Pisa DOC.
Terre di Pisa DOC
Wine growing in this area dates back to the Etruscans. However, Terre di Pisa is a relatively young DOC, only for red wines, established in 2011. It’s also tiny, with only 46 hectares of vines widely spread over sixteen villages. Fifteen wineries produce a yearly total of some 500,000 bottles.
Classic Tuscan rolling hills characterise this DOC, with an average altitude of 250 metres (and a maximum of 400). Typically, the soils are clays and sands, while the presence of marine fossils shows it was once a seabed. A benign climate encourages sustainable vineyard methods, including organic and biodynamic practices.
Besides Sangiovese, the only other authorised grapes for the DOC are Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines come in two distinct forms. The first is a Rosso with a minimum of 70% Cabernet. The other is Sangiovese, which must contain a minimum of 95% Sangiovese. As for the ageing rules, these are straightforward, with a minimum period of 16 months, of which 12 months is in the barrel and four months in the bottle. In Consorzio’s own words, the DOC goal is to “represent the apex of Pisan wine.”
Badia di Morrona
The estate originated as a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1089 that produced wine. The Gaslini Alberti family have owned it since 1939.
Now the estate covers 600 hectares, including 110 ha of vineyards (60% of which is Sangiovese) and 40 ha of olives. The rest is cypress and oak woodland, and arable land.
Sustainability has been practised since the vineyards were extensively replanted in the 1990s following a University of Pisa study. Nearby is their modern underground winery with solar power and waste-water purification.
Badia di Morrona is just 35 minutes from Pisa airport for those planning to visit Pisa and its hinterland. As well as wine, there’s olive oil, villas, apartments, and a highly regarded restaurant. And as the Abbey Church is still consecrated, you can get married there.
Meanwhile, VignaAlta is a single vineyard whose name reflects its position atop the highest hill on the estate, at 250 metres altitude, facing south. It covers some 8.5 hectares and lies in compact sand and fossil soils with a significant content of Marmettole di Carrara, the well-known white marble from which the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo are built. The sunsets here are just as magnificent.
VignaAlta contains parcels of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Canaiolo, first planted in 1965 but replanted with the best clones in the 1990s. A rigorous selection of the best Sangiovese grapes (by hand-picking in the vineyard and further sorting at the winery) makes the flagship wine, VignaAlta. This was first made in 1994 and is designed to be the finest expression of Sangiovese that the estate can make.
Maturation is key
The grapes for VignaAlta ferment in stainless steel tanks. Maturation is then for 24 months in large oval casks of 2,500-litre French oak. In the past, there were new oak barriques, but now those large inert casks allow the grape and the Pisan terroir to express themselves without wood flavours. Finally, another three months are spent in concrete vats before a further ten months rest in the bottle before release. These times are far longer than the DOC minimum, so the current vintage release is from 2018. Just 8,000 bottles of this cuvée are made yearly.
The 2018 Vintage
A mild January bringing little rain ushered in 2018, but February reversed that, with above-average rainfall, building up groundwater reserves depleted during the 2017 drought. March got chills that delivered abundant snow, even on the plains, followed by a dry, warm April, pushing temperatures to the highest in recent decades. Those warm conditions held during May and June, combined with above-average rainfall, while intense heat spells and periodic rainstorms marked the following summer months. Harvest was on 23 September.
“After a very dry 2017, mild weather in 2018 heightened the linearity and elegance of that year’s Sangiovese,” reported Filippo Gaslini Alberti. “On generous display in the wine are a pronounced yet delicate red berry fruit and well-integrated tannins, contributing to a Tuscan Sangiovese that is crisp and vibrant yet judiciously balanced.”
VignaAlta 2018 is still young, so decanting is helpful. This was primarily for aeration, although there was also slight sediment. A mid-crimson in the glass, there’s a narrow brick-coloured edge suggestive of extended maturation. Aromas are classic Sangiovese and worth pausing over. Ripe cherries, then scents of violets, bergamot, and balsam appear.
This is a powerful wine with 15% alcohol. That figure, taken alone, suggests a wine that could be hulking. Instead, it’s lithe and quick, thanks to impeccable balance. The natural acidity of Sangiovese imparts lift and refreshment; the long ageing has polished the tannins into a mellow, smooth texture, and the intensity of the fruit brings morello cherry and black cherry flavours predominantly.
As it opens in the glass, balsamic, earth and liquorice notes appear. A long and gradual fade with some brown spices leaves an impression of poise and elegance.
That long ageing also means that this wine is ready to drink for those that prefer their wines still with primary fruit. However, there is also plenty of evidence that more complexity is yet to come as it ages over the next decade and beyond. So, as is often the case with wines like this, put a bottle or two away for 5-7 years and come back to it for a special occasion – if you can resist temptation.
And with food
Young or old, the choice is yours. Whichever, a rich wine like this needs rich food to show its best. Beef and Game (venison, wild boar) are synergistic pairings, especially roasts and grills. A stew of beef skirt cooked for the best part of the day matched the wine for intensity. The complementary flavours took us straight back to Tuscany, provoking an evening of great memories. Tuscany’s most extraordinary wines have a habit of doing that.
UK availability: contact Eurowines.
Badia di Morrona
Via del Chianti 6
Thanks to Consorzio Vini Terre di Pisa for background information on the DOC.