Photo by: San di Gimignano. Credit: WikiCommons/Ricci Credit: WikiCommons/Ricci Speziari
These characterful whites aren’t as well known as other Italian DOCG wines, but they reflect their Tuscan homeland and deserve to be recognised as one of Italy’s best and most characterful white wines, says Susan Hulme MW, with 12 recommendations by Monty Waldin…
It’s a bit of an oddity in the world of white wines. Whites are usually valued for their acidity and range of aromas, but Vernaccia di San Gimignano has relatively low acidity and is low in aromas.
It is also high in tannins and is described by locals as more like a red grape. Yet its savoury, salty elements result in fresh, tangy wines.
Italy’s first wine to be awarded DOC status in 1966, Vernaccia di San Gimignano became a DOCG in 1993. It grows in the gently undulating Tuscan hillsides around the beautiful medieval town of San Gimignano, famous for its many towers.
In the right hands, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (the name of both grape and wine) has great textural richness and a surprising ability to age fantastically well, developing intriguing flavours and aromas that reflect its native Tuscan landscape with mirror-like accuracy.
Look out from the town of San Gimignano and you see vineyards interspersed with silvery-green olive groves, wild flowers and tiny pockets of purple crocuses.
These aromas and flavours – olive, saffron, yellow apple and chamomile – rise gently from the soft, creamy whites of San Gimignano, producing subtle and savoury wines.
The best Vernaccia also have intense, mineral qualities which reflect the terroir. Soils on the south-facing hillsides comprise mainly yellow sand, known locally as tufa, which is rich in fossils and sea shells. Walking through the vineyards, it feels as if a beach has been stranded inland. The northern hillsides have a higher percentage of clay in the mix, useful for its water-retaining properties in drier vintages.
The variety is not without its challenges. It does not perform well if over-cropped; while in the winery Vernaccia can oxidise easily and is prone to phenolic bitterness if not handled carefully. The best producers are meeting these challenges with a mixture of modern technology and vineyard know-how; a clonal selection project, for example, has yielded 12 new clones.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano styles
The wines come in two main styles: unoaked and kept on the lees to produce fresh, citrus, grapefruit, minerally whites; and richer, oaked versions, producing spice, chestnut and warm-honey notes. There are even some attractively savoury sparklers. All of these can be delicious, and a lot depends on the producers’ skill in handling the variety’s trickier aspects.
Intriguingly, while the recent series of extremely hot, dry vintages has hit other local varieties like Sangiovese hard, Vernaccia has fared much better on its home ground.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that it reflects its own land so well – even the name comes from the Latin vernaculum meaning ‘local’ or ‘native’.
It is time for this native grape to be recognised as one of Italy’s best and most characterful white wines.
Cesani, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy, 2019
The Cesani family are no-frills organic farmers originally from Le Marche, with an enviable range of vineyards across diverse zones, including Pancole for the insistent San Gimignano Riserva Sanice, and clayey San Paolo for the juicy Clamys. This entry-level Vernaccia has notable freshness and lift, a perfect jumping off point for San Gimignano Vernaccia newbies.
Points – 93