Nestled between the appellations of Brunello and Morellino di Scansano, the Montecucco DOC unfolds from the rolling hills of Maremma to the slopes of Monte Amiata. The northern portion of the zone is separated from Brunello by only the narrow Ombrone river. Despite its tiny size, the region should not be discounted.
The Montecucco region emphasizes artisan production from small, family owned wineries. With only 800 hectares divided among 99 Consorzio member wineries, vineyard parcels per producer are very small. Today I’m introducing you to an exciting producer from this hidden zone: Azienda Muschi Alti.
Muschi Alti (literally tall mosses) was founded in 1997 by the Ottonelli family and is run by brothers Silvestro and Alberto. Immediately upon acquisition, the various vineyard plots were analyzed and then re-planted in 1998. In 20o2 their first wine, a Montecucco Rosso, was released. Production slowly increased and today the winery crafts about 20,000 bottles of wine per year. Although approximately 6,000 bottles of Montecucco Rosso are produced, the Ottonelli’s also utilize Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Vermentino and Alicante. I recently reviewed their 2019 Vermentino. This feature focuses on their red wine production.
The Muschi Alti vineyards lie about 250 meters above sea level and sprawl for 4 hectares. Situated along the “Strada del vino Montecucco”, the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea impacts the terroir of the estate by providing gentle southerly winds which moderate vineyard temperatures and provide ventilation for the vines. As a result, plant disease is minimized and day-night temperature swings are optimal.
To the North, Mount Amiata helps block the harsher winter weather from affecting the vines. The soil here is also greatly influenced by the sea. Ancient fossils are mixed with sand and clay which provide an excellent base from which to grow grapes.
For this article, I tasted the entire range of Muschi Alti’s red wines. Although the vintages varied from 2015-2018, they are all currently available. Muschi Alti exports throughout the EU but does not currently have US importation. Prices quoted below are direct from the winery. Retail prices may vary but I have linked to Wine-Searcher where possible.
Tastings & Interview
The first wine I tasted immediately set the bar. The 2018 Muschi Alti Poggio al Corso is deep purple in the glass with violet reflections throughout. Straight from the bottle, this 100% Syrah just absolutely sings. Boisterous aromas of crushed black fruits, new leather, faint smoke and purple flowers; this is so intriguing.
On the palate, the minerality sits at a core of juicy, ripe black fruit. Sweet herbs, tobacco and sottobosco combine in harmony while dusty tannins are balanced nicely by juicy acidity. The fruit turns smokey on the finish. In terms of style, think Northern Rhone with an Italian accent rather than an Australian Shiraz. Simply delicious. 95 points. About $16 Euro. Available directly from the winery.
The 2018 Muschi Alti Scornabeccaia is 100% Merlot. Deep garnet to purple in the glass the color is completely opaque. Aromas of black plums, cocoa, fresh herb and toast are prevalent and harmonic. On the palate, the wine shows less finesse than the Syrah. This is a bit more rustic which I wasn’t expecting. The medium to full bodied core of dark fruits is backed by ample tannins that need a few years to soften. Joined by spice, mocha and coffee notes this is fresh and juicy. Doesn’t quite show the sex appeal of the Syrah. 91 points. About $15 Euro. Find this wine.
Without knowing what to expect, these wines really caught my attention. Having tried two wines from international grapes, I was now even more curious to taste some of Alberto’s Sangiovese. I chatted with him one night just before dinner. He asked me if I had tried his Le Piagge Sangiovese and I happened to have it ready that night. I told him we were having Caprese and Amatriciana and he simply said: “Perfetto”.
The 2015 Muschi Alti Le Piagge is 100% Sangiovese. Deep ruby in the glass with violet reflections once again, the nose is generous and replete with crushed cherry, fresh herbs, cypress, tobacco and a slight hint of fennel pollen. The palate is simply delicious. Vibrant flavors of crushed cherry interplay with fresh leather and tobacco. This is mouthwatering. Incredible sapidity to the sour cherry flavors. Hints of toasted spice and iron on the finish. Really impressive. Reminds me of a brawny Morellino. 93 points. About $9 Euro. Find this wine.
Throughout the writing of this Feature, I was corresponding with Alberto regularly. He was fun to chat with and generous with his time. Interspersed below are some of the topics we discussed.
TuscanVines: Ciao Alberto and thanks for your time. Muschi Alti is a small family winery. While I am certain a lot of the duties overlap, what are the primary roles that you and your brother fill?
Alberto: Grazie Giovanni! My brother Silvestro and I are the owners of the company. We have four hectares of vineyards that we use for our wines. I take care of the marketing while Silvestro handles the winemaking in the cellar. But the truth is, we are involved in many aspects because it is a small business.
TuscanVines: Si, capisco… So from the 4 hectares, what varietal is planted most widely? I would presume Sangiovese since the Montecucco Rosso is your largest production. Though I notice all of your other red wines and Vermentino are labeled “IGT”. Some of them could fit into the Montecucco DOC or DOCG classification. Why aren’t they labeled as such?
Alberto: Yes, that’s correct. Sangiovese is the most widely planted. We use it for the Montecucco Rosso and the Le Piagge. I like that you asked the questions about the DOC! I don’t like to be represented so much by the Consorzio. I like our wines to be creative and “out of line” with their own identity. There is nothing wrong with the Consorzio, it’s simply that we like to do our own thing.
TuscanVines: Understood. What is the most challenging wine you produce and what makes it so difficult?
Alberto: No question it is the Rose and the Vermentino. They are so delicate and the processing times must be very fast because otherwise it is easy for the wines to begin oxidizing.
TuscanVines: Having tasted your range of red wines, I am impressed by the balance in all of them. The use of wood is evident but it is never overbearing. What is your goal in applying wood aging to the wines?
Alberto: This is another good question! We have only French oak that we use in different sizes. It’s just a feeling of when it’s right, if that makes sense. I really like the Tuscan style – wines of great structure with deep colors. You know well that in order to tame great wines you need judicious application and excellent oak wood.
TuscanVines: OK, maybe two final related questions… What can you tell us so far about the 2020 vintage and now you have my audience here; What would you like them to know about Muschi Alti that I haven’t already asked?
Alberto: Ahh yes. First, 2020 despite how crazy it is, is really looking like an excellent harvest. It’s still looming obviously but the grapes are showing deep colors and already great aromas. For Muschi Alti, I hope that your audience will soon find our wines in good wine shops and restaurants. First, my wines must please me! Then they can go to the public so they can get to know me through Muschi Alti wines. I am thankful to have this opportunity for you to taste and enjoy my wines. Grazie Giovanni!
Piacere mio indeed. Now on we go to finish the tastings…
The 2018 Muschi Alti Montecucco Rosso is 60% Sangiovese and 40% Alicante. Deep garnet in the glass with violet reflections the wine displays great depth on the palate which surprised me when I learned the extent of the Alicante in the blend. Blue flowers, eucalyptus, sage, crushed berries and tobacco are woven together nicely. Flavors echo the aromas and this is well balanced. Shows a bit of grip on the back end. This represents the DOC well. Excellent value. 89 points. About $6 Euro. Find this wine.
It’s sort of funny. Despite my love for Italian Merlot, which I always feel displays a certain Italian uniqueness, I almost never get the same sense from Italian Cabernet. (unless of course it’s named Sassicaia) That being said, the next wine is no different although it was quite enjoyable.
The 2016 Muschi Alti Le Cornete is 100% Cabernet. From a wonderful vintage, it’s already displaying lovely aromatics. Crushed black plum, cedar, new leather and mocha are notable. On the palate, the wine displays a pretty core of black plum fruit over a linear frame of minerality. Chalky, dusty tannins are fairly aggressive, so this wine actually needs 3-5 years in the cellar to flesh out. It reminded me a bit of another Tuscan Cabernet; Carpineto’s Farnito. Maybe this isn’t the most terroir driven wine in the Muschi Alti line-up but it’s well made and another nice value. 91 points. About $14 Euro. Find this wine.
If you’d like to learn more about Muschi Alti, you can visit their website and interact with them on their Facebook page.