It hasn’t quite the reach of the Muscats, or the the Malvasias, some permutation of which can be found from Greece to Portugal, and everywhere in between. No, Vermentino doesn’t have anything like that sort of range, but this quintessential grape of the northeastern Mediterranean coast can be found in three areas in Italy – Liguria (the home of this evening’s Vermentino), around the horn of the rest of the Ligurian coast, and then sprinkled liberally down the Tuscan coast, as well as on the island of Elba, and finally, all over the island of Sardegna (especially in Gallura in the northeastern, where the variety produces some of its finest examples).
And then within the borders of France, there is Vermentinu, as it’s known on the island of Corsica, and finally, the variety grows fairly densely as well along the Provencal coast where it takes the name Rolle…But let’s head back east to Liguria…
For reasons too numerous to go into here, the winemaking in Liguria is done from typically tiny patches on steep sites that Vermentino might share with other white vine varieties like Pigato (an exclusively Ligurian variety that some postulate might be a cousin of Vermentino) as well as Buzzeto, Bosco, Albarola, Bianchetta Genovese, et al., so of all the Vermentinos made in these various places across Italy and France, Ligurian Vermentino is among the most scarce, but with a presence in the market all out of proportion with its actual production numbers. This little paradox is also a bit too extensive to take up here, but suffice it to say, that if you ask me, I’d advise you to keep your eyes peeled for Vermentino from Liguria, as well as Vermentino di Gallura from Sardegna…
Vermentino is never as complex or muscular as Chardonnay, or in term of aroma, as arrestingly pungent as Sauvignon Blanc, but when it is grown right, and drunk young (within 2 years of the vintage date), it is one of the most charming, pretty, fresh, but still subtantantial white wines made anywhere, and a better partner for fish, and the many great specialties of Liguria of course, cannot be found.
So with all this in mind, I made what I believe to be one of the greatest pasta dishes in all of Italy – and a crowning glory of the Ligurian kitchen of course – Trofie con pesto alla genovese, fagiolini e patate – loose, twisted pasta with pesto, baby string beans, and potatoes, and then a main course of Blackfish fillets baked with fennel, lemon, sage, garlic, wine, and olive oil.
Poggio dei Gorleri Vermentino Riviera Ligure di Ponente 2011
Pale, “white gold” color. Very expressive and layered nose of intense dried yellow flowers and pine needles, pale honey, minerals, mixed citrus, golden apple, toasted grain, straw, and crushed pine nuts. The palate is rich, supple, and round, but still detailed, clean, and fresh with elegant but still powerful flavors of pear nectar, honeydew melon, yellow cherry, white chocolate, and ginger, all framed beautifully by a very graceful and juicy acidity. Long, bitter-sweet toasted almond finish. A really great example of this variety.