Greetings from Tuscany. Despite the nasty things I had to say about this region, I’m enjoying my stay here for the week of new vintage previews that leads from Chianti through Montepulciano to Montalcino. I’ve started this marathon with a light warm-up: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Tuscany’s best white wine. (See my review from 2010).
Vernaccia is easy and refreshing to drink and so tasting through 130 examples was a breeze. The new vintage on show, 2011, isn’t really ready (ideally it should be released a year from the harvest, not just 5 months) and many wines were barrel samples but on the whole it’s a happy vintage. 2011 was hot and dry and yet it didn’t destroy Vernaccia’s inherence crispness and cool minerality. Yes, there are some rich, ripe, honeyed, peachy wines, but also many refreshing ones that taste like freshly sliced apple sprinkled with sea salt. In the more serious wines, single-vineyard examples and oak-aged Riservas, there is sometimes too much oomph, aand I don’t really see the necessity of ageing Vernaccia in oak, but there are some successful wines in that class too.
My favourites include the basic 2011 Vernaccias from Cesani, Rubicini, Rezet (the new company of talented vintner Mattia Barzaghi who was forced out of his former estate by divorce), Casa alle Vacche, Il Palagione Hydra and Poderi del Paradiso. Among the more serious bottlings from earlier vintages, I’ve again enjoyed Il Palagione’s Ori for its depth and precision of fruit; the Viognier-like Sanice from Cesani, Pietrafitta’s Borghetto and Riserva La Costa with its deft use of oak; La Lastra’s proudly traditional Riserva.
Every year Vernaccia invites a famous French appellation for a comparative tasting, a bold move when I recall the absolute overperformance of Chablis or Pouilly-Fuissé. Significantly, this year’s stunt against Loire Chenin Blanc ended with at least a draw for Vernaccia or even slightly better: bottles such as Il Lebbio Tropíe 2010 or Vagnoni’s Riserva I Mocali 2007 certainly stood up to the rather simple fruitiness of Thierry Germain’s Insolite 2009, for example. And what to say of the Montenidoli Carato 2002? A stunning, wonderful wine, beautifully preserved with plenty of fruit, integrated oak, real complexity and a tangible mineral dimension, it gave the Coulée de Serrant 2008 a run for its money. That Montenidoli wine sums up what’s best about Vernaccia: ageworthiness, deep minerality, powerful structure, and food versatility. Vernaccia isn’t a sexy wine, but it’s well worth developing a deeper relationship with.
My trip to Tuscany including flights, accommodation and wine tasting programme is sponsored by the consorzios of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.