One of my all-time favorite summer wines is Vermentino. Of Spanish origins, the grape thrives along the hot, dry Italian coastline. Its most famous expression most likely is the Sardinian one, but the grape has long been well-established in Liguria and has recently been getting a lot of attention in southern Tuscany. I love it because it is one of those wines that are capable of transporting you; it actually evokes summer in a glass for me. Crisp, refreshing, green, herbal and salty, it is the perfect match to seafood.
For last night’s wine club we looked at 10 examples from the three regions mentioned above. Though for me benchmark vermentinos are young, fresh, and brightly acidic, my eyes were opened to older vermentino a couple of years ago in New York. I was in an Italian restaurant and I spotted a 1997 vermentino on the by-the-glass list. I spoke with the sommelier about it and he told me they had come across a forgotten case of it, and believing it to be bad, opened it up just to check. It was a revelation for them which surprised me as well. Still very much alive, it had wonderful honey, nutty aromas and flavors, and a still-present acidity. While we didn’t go as far back as 1997 last night, our vintages did range from 2009 to 2003.
Generally speaking the Sardinian and Tuscan versions were the most powerful, while the Ligurian examples, though still boasting impressive 13% and more alcohol levels, felt much lighter and more refreshing on the palate, and they were the most popular ones of the evening. The crowd favorite was our very first wine, which was also the least expensive. (Though with 10 wines, perhaps it was just the one everyone remembered best!) A Colli di Luni from Liguria, at just 7.50 euros it clearly presented the best value, although they were all well-priced with the most expensive wine coming in at 20 euros. The mainland wines tasted the most of the sea, while the Sardinian wines were more obviously fruity, with favors of green melon and golden apple. The older examples showed beautifully. The 2003 had an extremely long finish with lovely honeyed flavors while the 2006 was surprising in that it still tasted so fresh, much more so in fact than some of the 2008s. The 2006 was a fascinating wine that had powerful aromas of seaweed, tidepool, but also honey, golden apple, and a long, long finish that tasted distinctively of apricot. It may sound like a strange combination, but it worked wonderfully. Surprisingly, the least favorites of the evening were the wines from famous Super Tuscan houses: the Tenuta Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco. While still great wines, there was some stiff competition last night, and they were edged out.
Vermentino is not just a seafood wine; it is also a perfect match for pesto, another great example of, “what grows together, goes together”. Liguria is famous for their basil and the pesto that is made from it, and the local vermentino (and clone pigato, though local growers strongly disagree that they are indeed the same grape) has the powerful green and herbal aromas to stand up to such a strongly-flavored dish. Young, fresh cheeses are a great idea as well; last night I enjoyed the last of the wine with some fresh robiola that I had in the fridge. I could go on and on! In short, it is a great food wine. So happy summer and here’s to vermentino!
1. Colli di Luni Vermentino 2009 Lunae
2. Colli del Limbara Ruinas 2009 Depperu
3. Vermentino di Gallura Monteoro 2009 Sella & Mosca
4. Vermentino Bolgheri 2008 Tenuta Guado al Tasso
5. Vermentino Bolgheri 2008 Grattamacco
6. Colli di Luni Vermentino Cavagnino 2007
7. Colli di Luni Vermentino 2007 Giacomelli
8. Vermentino di Gallura Arakena 2006 Cantina del Vermentino
9. Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino 2005 Lupi
10. Candia dei Colli Apuani Vigneto Candia Alto 2003 Cima Aurelio