Posted by: tomciocco | September 10, 2014

VERNACCIA DI SAN GIMIGNANO – THE ONCE (AND FUTURE?) KING OF TUSCAN WHITES

Let’s face facts, Tuscany, maybe more than any other Italian region, is known for the production of red wine, and mostly from the many permutations of the great Sangiovese variety under such well known appellation names like Chianti (Classico, Colli Senesi, Rufina etc.), Brunello, Morellino di Scansano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to name just a few. But when it comes to white wines, the (good) examples are few and far between.

 Unfortunately, all too many Tuscan white wine appellations rely heavily on the Trebbiano Toscano grape which even at its best, is rarely more than just a crisp and pleasant quaffer. In the Maremma, along the southern Tuscan coast, there is a fair amount of Vementino and Ansonica grown, both of which are quite characterful grapes but unfortunately their cultivation is confined only to this region, and neither variety is made by every Maremma producer, and by those who do vinify them, typically only in small quantities.

 And then there is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. As the name indicates, Vernaccia (which comes from the same root as the word “vernacular” and which in this case refers to it being a “local” cultivar) di San Gimignano is native to the very beautiful medieval but altogether too touristy city of the same name. Grape science scholars have determined that Vernaccia di San Gimignano is quite an ancient variety that as several old sources have testified to, was once one of the most sought after white wines in Italy as well as in markets abroad.

Sadly, the town of San Gimignano’s heavy tourist trade has become the central reason for Vernaccia’s fall from its once lofty perch. As the buses disgorge thousands of hungry and thisty tourists from all corners of the globe into the town’s main piazza, all too many of them are herded into less than optimal touristic restaurants whose tables are invariably filled with carafes of less than carefully made Vernaccia. As a variety, Vernaccia is easy to grow, is not especially susceptible to the most virulent vine diseases, and consistently produces large yields. So even though Vernaccia can make a really interesting and distinctive wine, its prolific and hardy nature make it the perfect candidate for overproduction with a view toward ringing the registers rather than utilizing its considerable organoleptic charms to make truly interesting wine.

 Tonight we drank an example of Vernaccia di San Gimignano that actually lives up to its potential. As a rule, good Vernaccia can be just a touch bubbly, with a great freshness and minerality and an intense range of notes of yellow and green fruits paired with a savory, nutty richness. Once upon a time, Vernaccia di San Gimignano was something like Italy’s white Burgundy, and producers like this show that it has the chance to return to its former glory.

 I matched this really great example of Vernaccia with a first course of tagliatelle with yellow peppers, celery and pancetta followed by a main course of battered (that is pan-fried in a batter, not physically abused)chicken breasts in a lemon and wine sauce with a side of peas with fried sage.

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Montenidoli Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011

Quite deep golden color with a greenish tint. Sophisticated and elegant aromas of lemon rind, lime juice, peach nectar, aromatic white spices, almond, hay, cocoa butter and sour cream. In the mouth the wine is medium full-bodied with fresh but still deep and intense flavors of gooseberry, apricot, apple butter, ginger, mixed dried herbs, and light-colored honey. Very complex, very long, warm and bitterish finish. Top notch.

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