Morellino di Scansano is a dry red wine from the coastal hills of southern Tuscany in Italy. One of the region's lesser-known DOCG wines, it sits, somewhat underappreciated, in the shadow of its more famous counterparts from Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano.
The wine is produced in the rolling hills around the medieval village of Scansano. This, rather simply, explains the second half of its name. The first half is less obvious. It refers to the grape variety used to make the wine – Morellino – which is in fact Tuscany's favorite Sangiovese masquerading under a local synonym. The name morellino is a diminutive form of morello, which means 'dark'. The name translates, then, as 'little dark one', an etymology almost identical to another of Sangiovese's many synonyms, Brunello. Some sources hold that morello refers to a breed of horse unique to this part of Tuscany, although there is little evidence to support this theory.
The official Morellino di Scansano viticultural zone covers a roughly square area about 15 miles (25km) across, topped and tailed by two rivers, the Ombrone in the north and the Albegna in the south. Scansano village itself lies towards the north of this area, just a few miles away from the Ombrone. Slightly less romantically, the area's western limit is marked by the Strada Statale 1 (SS1), the national highway that traces Italy's north-western coast, from the French border (in Liguria) right down to Rome.
Scansano's viticultural origins date back to Etruscan times, and the quality of the local wines has been documented for centuries. This quality is largely due to Scansano's particular mesoclimate, itself created by a combination of factors: its altitude (roughly 492ft/150m above sea level), its south-western orientation, volcanic soils, and climate-moderating influences from both the nearby Tyrrhenian coast and the Albegna River, whose waters originate from the geothermal, sulfuric springs around the village of Saturnia.
This style of Sangiovese differs from its northern brethren due to the ripeness levels it can achieve in southern Tuscany. The result is a rounder and more savory style of wine. Regulations stipulate that at least 85% of the wine must be made from this variety, with the rest coming from other permitted Tuscan red grapes. Unlike many DOCGs, this wine does not require ageing and can be released in the March after the harvest, less than eight months later; logically, this wine is characterized by lively freshness and crisp character. Other traits come in the form of cherry, pomegranate, plum, leather, cedar and spice notes.
A 'First Selection' version is also produced. This usually undergoes some barrel maturation (between four and 12 months), which is credited with giving it a more complex personality and longevity. To receive the riserva label, it must have spent at least two years maturing, of which one year must be in oak. This results in a more structured wine with greater depth and ageing potential.