The Three V’s: Vermentino, Vernaccia and Verdicchio
June 15, 2015
Just back from western Tuscany, where I had the chance once again to taste some delicious, if lesser known, Italian white wines. The hardest to find here in the US is Vermentino, known in France as “rolle”. The grape is widely planted in Italy’s Piedmont region, where it’s known as “favorita” because it was the favored wine of the court of Savoy. It is also the most important white grape of the island of Sardinia as well as the Liguria region. Vermentino is a perfect summer wine, with its overtones of peach and lemon peel as well as a minerality that reminds you of the sea.
1966: enter Vernaccia as the first Italian wine to earn “DOC” (the government’s legal designation of premium wines) — surprising in a country largely known for its reds. Interestingly, the name “vernaccia” likely has humble origins deriving from the Latin “vernaculus”, originally meaning “a slave born in the house” and later morphing to “indigenous”. We get “vernacular” from the same root. The most famous version of this wine comes from the towered town of San Gimignano. You’ll get aromas and flavors of pears and yellow apples, some nice acidity, and that characteristic end note of bitter almonds shared with many other Italian whites. The rustic version of the wine, where the newly-pressed grapes macerate on the skins, lends an earthy, tannic finish. The more elegant version does not allow the juice to sit on the skins, resulting in a more refined bouquet and smoother finish.
Finally, Verdicchio. The ideal climate for this grape is found in central Italy, specifically the Castelli di Jesi district of Le Marche, a small region (and one of my favorites!) on the Adriatic side of the country. The cooler climate of Jesi makes it ideal for grape-growing. White grapes thrive in the face of the Russian winds that freshen these hills before hitting the Appenine Mountains, which divide the country down the middle like a spine. Some may remember the verdicchio of “Godfather” days, a mediocre wine at best that was marketed in fish-shaped bottles. Fortunately, lower yields and and more careful winemaking have changed all that, giving us the lemon-like acidity and bitter almond finish of the modern Verdicchios. This is an ideal seafood wine and that’s exactly what I drank it with, meal after delicious meal, when I toured Le Marche a few years back.
Most of the these wines are available in very drinkable versions for under $20 in the US. Even the high-end versions, like Fazi Battalia’s Riserva San Sisto (with some fermentation and aging in wood) top out at about $30. Well worth spicing up your summer with some of the Three V’s!