Through the 80’s and on into the 90’s, the ground swell of Pinot Grigio reached an apex. Although originally a French grape (Pinot Gris) the wine is inextricably linked to Italy. To refer to Pinot Grigio as ubiquitous would be vastly understating the obvious. Millions of cases are produced annually. That popularity, or rather avant garde awareness brought to you by large manufacturers like Santa Margherita, has helped create an ocean of generic Pinot Grigio plonk.
It is time for an indigenous Italian varietal to take center stage as the country’s flag bearer. While Vernaccia finds a lovely home restricted to the DOCG of San Gimignano and countless producers have toyed with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Italy is poised to supplant Pinot Grigio and elevate a varietal to world renowned stature. That varietal may very well be Vermentino.
Vermentino has its origins in the Italian provinces of Liguria and Sardinia, yet nowhere does it seem to excel more than in the Tuscan region of Maremma. Producers have noticed and while many are acquiring land on the Tuscan coast to chase dreams of creating the next Sassicaia, they are also focusing on authentic, complex, high quality Vermentino. Well suited to the region’s terroir, Vermentino grown near the sea exhibits a crisp, refreshing, racy flavor profile that is often tinged with briny, sapid notes of salinity from the adjacent Mediterranean.
Paired with seafood, mild cheeses and Pesto Genovese, the wine creates a marriage unlike any other in Italy. Today, we’re profiling several recent releases of Vermentino. Not surprisingly, each hails from Maremma and firmly establishes the regions grasp on the varietal.
The first wine we’re looking at is the 2015 Val delle Rose Litorale. From the Cecchi family estate near Grosseto, the 2015 is a delicate pale golden color. Intriguing aromas of white flowers, lemon zest and grapefruit are pleasing and pronounced.
On the palate, the wine is crisp and lively with flavors that follow the aromas and add a hint of briny salinity and dusty minerality. Clean and focused, the fruit brightened up further with the Prosciutto di Parma and figs from my garden tree. Wonderful pairing and a great antipasto. 90 points. Wonderful value between $13-$15. Find this wine.
Campo alle Comete is the newest player in Tuscany and is owned by the Campanian winery Feudi di San Gregorio. The estate is located at the foot of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno. The total property extends just over 17 hectares, of which 14.5 are vineyards and 2.5 are olive groves. The estate was planted between 1993 and 2007 and all are within the Bolgheri DOC registry. The winery practices sustainable farming, and in 2016 they started the conversion of the vineyards to organic practices.
The 2017 Campo alle Comete is 100% Vermentino that is vinified and aged in stainless steel. After the initial vinification, the wine remains in steel for 5 months and then is transferred for 2 months bottle aging prior to release.
A pale to medium gold color, the wine exhibits delicate citrus notes of lemon, lemon grass and white flowers. On the palate, the wine is crisp, lively and well balanced. The medium body is tinged with notes of mineral and sea fresh salinity. Fuller bodied than some Vermentino, we drank this as an aperitif but I’d suggest it can easily pair with heartier dishes such as fish ala Livornese. 89 points. About $20. Find this wine.
In 1997, Agostino Lenci turned his passion into a business by investing in a 97 hectare property in the small town of Magliano in Maremma. Planting began in 1998 with Cabernet, Sangiovese and Vermentino, the region’s signature varietals. At present, 52 hectares are under vine. Located a mere 10 miles from the coast and 300 meters above sea level, the vines enjoy the cool Mediterranean climate. As of 2016, the estate is certified organic.
The 2017 Fattoria di Magliano Pagliatura Vermentino is 100% Vermentino vinified in stainless steel were it remains on the lees for 3 months. The wine is then bottled for 6 months aging before release. Pagliatura means “hay” and is a nod to the golden color of the wine.
On the palate the wine is fresh and perfumed with aromas of white peaches, lemon zest and flowers. Ripe, round and juicy on the palate, the wine’s flavors follow the aromas but contribute that textbook salinity that is the hallmark of this varietal’s profile from this region. Very enticing, this paired well with raw oysters and cacio e pepe pasta. 89 points. About $15-$17. Find this wine.
The 2017 Val delle Rose Litorale is the newest release from the winery. A pale straw color in the glass, the 2017 is approximately 90% Vermentino while the balance is other approved white grapes. Delicate aromas of white peach, wet stones, lemon zest and white flowers are attractive and fairly persistent. On the palate, the wine is crisp and fresh with nice body and flavors that echo the aromas. The minerality in the wine comes through in the texture and soft pineapple notes join on the palate. A very nice wine that is perfect as an apperitivo and with lighter dishes such as pesto, raw oysters and other shellfish. Litorale is meant to embody the fun, outdoor nature of summer which the is reflected on the wine’s summery label. 89 points. About $13
This past May, I had the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with the General Manager of Castello Banfi; Enrico Viglierchio. We tried many wines that night, but also included with assorted antipasti of prosciutto, burrata and grilled octopus were two vintages of the producers Vermentino from their Maremma property.
The 2016 Castello Banfi La Pettegola is a pale straw color that is slightly darker than its 2017 sibling given its one year of seniority. On the nose, the wine displays lemon, lemon grass and petrol notes that are intriguing. Oily and viscous on the palate with flavors of ripe citrus, lemon and white peaches, this is a bit fuller in body than it’s 2017 counterpart. Finishes softly with mineral and lime notes. Very enjoyable and although I think I preferred it now compared to the 2017, I’ll be curious to see how the 2017 evolves a year from now. 89 points. Nice value around $15. Find this wine.
The 2017 Castello Banfi La Pettegola could not have been more different, at least aromatically. It was very interesting to compare the two wines side by side. Crisp and nearly colorless, the 2017 is highly aromatic and abounds with floral tones of white and yellow flowers. Fresh and lively on the palate, the flavors are centered around grapefruit and pineapple with flinty, dusty minerals adding complexity. Very delicate and feminine. One pairing note: this really complimented the prosciutto. Different style at the moment, but identical quality. 88 points. About $15. Find this wine.
The 2016 Val delle Rose Litorale is the most delicate of the three Litorale in this report. Almost colorless, this 90% Vermentino wine is redolent of white peach, wet stones, gardenia blossoms and citrus notes on the nose and palate. The floral tones in the nose are especially attractive.
Crisp and vibrant on the palate, the wine is clean and pure. This is very delicate and would make for a wonderful apperitivo on the patio. I could also see it pairing well with the classic prosciutto and melon. 88 points. About $13
Michele Satta loves Vermentino. However, in 1997 he envisioned a wine with fuller body, and began including a portion of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. The 2016 Michele Satta Costa di Guilia is 75% Vermentino and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. A pale golden color in the glass, the wine has pretty, delicate aromas of white peaches, pineapple and trace minerals.
On the palate, the wine is filled with delicate stone fruit flavors that are accented with minerals and white flowers. Medium bodied, with plenty of elegant persistence, the wine is long on the palate but finishes clean with flavors of lemon zest and a hint of salinity. This Bolgheri Bianco is vinified entirely in stainless steel where the wine stays in contact with the lees for 6 months. This adds age-ability and body to the wine. A perfect pairing with assorted antipasto, but would serve equally well with seafood or as an aperitif. 90 points.
The popularity of Vermentino is growing. Hunt some of these down this holiday season for your antipasto or first courses and join the crusade. Buon Natale!