A Summer Wine in the Tuscan Twilight
Though I am an enthusiastic scholar of red wine, and I drink it about 90% of the time (full disclosure: I am drinking Petite Sirah as I write this), I love white wine in summer. This love affair began in college, when I first had the opportunity to taste something beyond the low-quality, oaky California chardonnay that was available to me at the time.
I discovered Vernaccia while working at Luci Ancora on a summer home from college, one of two restaurants owned by an Italian family in St. Paul, MN. Luci Ancora was committed to offering a wine list chock full of interesting Italian varietals, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano was, and still is, my favorite.
Vernaccia has been produced in Tuscany for 800 years. Mentioned in Dante’s Purgatorio, local legend has it that it was a de’Medici family favorite. More contemporarily, in 1966 it was the first wine to be awarded DOC status in Italy, and was upgraded to DOCG in 1993.
DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is equivalent to the French AOC and denotes that from vine to bottle the wine was produced in a specific, well-defined region following specific rules to preserve that region’s traditional winemaking process. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) has even stricter regulations usually involving lower yields and a tasting committee.
In my opinion, the best Vernaccias are the ones still fermented in steel, contributing to the natural minerality of the wine. (“A wine that tastes like stone!” said my 20-year-old palate. “Shocking! Fantastic!”) The color of pale sunshine with crisp florals and refreshing lemon, it can also have a green almond finish.
One to try is the Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG. Fontaleoni uses no herbicides or insecticides and only sulfur and copper-based disease control. In addition, they use organic fertilizer and leave cover crops on the rows between the vines. Available in the US for around $12 a bottle, it’s a great wine to stock up on for summer.
Start your summer dinner off with White Beans and Rosemary Crostini and then pair your Vernaccia di San Gimignano with Octopus Salad. Follow it up with Branzino al Cartoccio or Linguini with Langostini. If your not feeling so fancy, just open a bottle to go with your White Pizza. Vernaccia also complements scallions and rock shrimp.
But no matter your meal, lean back in your chair and take a moment to imagine that you have spent the day traversing the walls between the towers of San Gimignano and then wandered down the cobblestones to a little trattoria. And here you are, sitting in the Tuscan twilight gazing at the rolling horizon in a never-ending summer dusk.