Let’s start at the very beginning, the song goes, not bad advice really, particularly given that I’m a little biased towards the foremost DOC in Italy. It happens to be one of the first white wines I tasted and liked, and remains one of my all time favourites.
View of San Gimignano from the south
The thing most people who’ve been to Tuscany can tell you about San Gimignano is that it’s the home of the medieval towers that rise majestically towards the sky and are visible for miles around. Perhaps the second thing they’ll mention is how busy it gets in summer, how the queues for the car parks back up traffic around the town and result in frantic dumping of vehicles in verges. Then they might wax lyrical about the ice cream place in the square, where the queues are just as bad, but the results so much more delicious (seriously try their raspberry and rosemary, it’s to die for).
What they might not mention is that San Gimignano is also the home of the first wine to be awarded DOC status, gaining it in 1966 and then becoming a DOCG in 1993. For a wine with such pedigree it still remains relatively unknown. Perhaps it’s the long and difficult to pronounce name that makes people shy away? Or maybe the fear that it might be yet another of the neutral uninspiring Italian whites that have unfortunately graced the bulk wine markets that scares people off?
Well, I’m here to debunk all that. Okay, I’ll admit it’s not the easiest thing to say, and I’ve been corrected many a time by Italian waiters who want just the right amount of stress on that double ‘c’, but it’s worth persisting because when you get a good Vernaccia di San Gimignano you will want to linger over it.
The Vernaccia di San Gimignano Grape
This is one of the rare examples of a white wine DOC in Italy actually named after the grape it’s made from, It must be made from 90% of the Vernaccia di San Gimignano grape, but the final 10% can be blended from a whole host of other non-aromatic white grapes grown locally. The sandstone and calcareous soils around the town are full of fossil and mineral deposits and producers believe that it is this specific terroir that holds the potential for great white wines with firm acidity and a mineral backbone. This also gives the ability to age and as a result there is a “riserva” category of wines that must spend 11 months ageing and almost always experience some barrel maturation or lees stirring to give extra complexity and texture.
Wine are typically straw coloured and the best examples have rich full body and crisp acidity marked by their mineral character and aromas and flavours of apple, lemon zest, white flowers, herbs and almonds.
2014 Montenidoil Tradizonale
My favourite example of all comes from Elisabetta Montenidoli. Her Vernaccia di San Gimignano wines, and in particular her skin contact Tradizonale makes me swoon every time I’m lucky enough to open a bottle. Whilst she also has lees and oak aged versions, it’s her “entry level” that I think really shows what Vernaccia here is capable of, without being so complex and unapproachable that you wouldn’t want to just enjoy a glass. The extra skin contact gives a texture and depth to the wine that I believe complements the minerality and acidity perfectly. They take a little bit of ageing beautifully, my last bottle was a 2014 and was just showing the development of rich almond and candied peel notes.
So next time you spot a Vernaccia di San Gimignano on a shelf, or wine menu why not check it out. At their most basic you’ve got a light refreshing crisp dry wine, at their best you’ve got a glass to savour.