Ampeleia’s Alicante Nero: Tuscany’s Mediterranean soul
Alicante Nero is a widespread variety across the Mediterranean basin, known as Grenache in France, Cannonau in Sardinia and Garnacha in Spain. Elsewhere, though, its presence is negligible and on Tuscan soil, the grape is a veritable rarity.
Here, you are decidedly more likely to run into international varieties (grapes that are not indigenous) like Merlot and Cabernet, both inland and on the Tyrrhenian coast. Focusing on a variety like Alicante Nero, which just exudes Mediterranean character, may appear to be a gamble – a challenge, maybe.
Like the one Ampeleia – a winery in Tuscany’s Upper Maremma, founded in 2002 by Elisabetta Foradori, Thomas Widmann and Giovanni Podini – took on ten years ago now, when its first Alicante Nero vineyard was planted (at the same time as one of Carignano, another distinctive grape typical of the Mediterranean basin). I like to think the concept behind it is giving Tuscany back its Mediterranean identity, which has so far been eclipsed by such hyped appellations as Brunello and Bolgheri.
Today, the concept rests on solid foundations: no less than 35 hectares under vine, on three levels: Upper Ampeleia, Ampeleia di Sopra – 15 hectares under vine at an altitude of 450-600 meters above sea level, mainly Cabernet Franc; Ampeleia di Mezzo or Central Ampeleia, 35 hectares, 10 of which under Sangiovese vine, between 250 and 350 meters a.s.l., and Lower Ampeleia or Ampeleia di Sotto, the portion closest to the sea: 15 hectares, 10 of which prevalently under Grenache vine (Alicante Nero).
I was lucky enough to taste the 2013 version (the first vintage issued; the current one is 2015) of Ampeleia’s Alicante Nero. The grapes hail from the Vigna della Pieve vineyard, on basically sandy soil, with some pebbles from the Central Ampeleia area.
When chilled, it is practically indistinguishable from a thirst quencher: truly easy to drink (beyond what it should be!), irresistible in its combination of delightful flavor and refreshing quaffability, also thanks to its slightly rugged tannin.
When left to warm up a little, the wine starts to show its aromatic richness, the Mediterranean sea scents and maquis fragrance of myrtle, mastic tree, arbutus and bay leaves.
On the palate, this Alicante Nero maintains its Levantine profile, shows subtle texture that ideally complements the moderate alcoholic power.
“Skin maceration for wines like Alicante is brief, extraction minimal, serving the varietals’ freshness,” we are told. “Vinification and maturation, entirely in cement and 100% natural in MO, aims to keep the structure lissom and smooth. The perfect pairing for summer fare, from fish with tomato-based sauces to spicy meat dishes.”
Source: Il sole 24 ore