Given that each of Italy’s twenty regions are wine-producing territories, it’s inevitable that many products are overlooked. This is particularly true for white wines, especially in a famous red wine region such as Tuscany. Yet there are some distinguished whites from Toscana that certainly belong in any discussion of the country’s most distinguished vinous offerings; one need look no further than Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
The wine is of course named for the famous “town of towers” in central Tuscany, a bit north of Siena (this is part of the Chianti Colli Senesi zone; many vintners that make a Vernaccia di San Gimignano also produce a Chianti Colli Senesi). The wines made from Vernaccia in this district are often aged in stainless steel tanks and display aromas of dried pear with hints of lime and melon; sometimes one can detect a note of almond on the nose.
Most of the 70 or so producers in the area that bottle their own wines produce this classic style of Vernaccia di San Gimignano; these are wines that are enjoyable upon release (usually 6-8 months after the harvest) and over the first 2-3 years after the vintage date. Textbook examples include those from producers such as Guicciardini Strozzi, Teruzzi & Puthod, La Lastra, Cesani and Fontaleoni.
Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara “Campo della Pieve”, a great Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Photo ©Tom Hyland
Unfortunately, too many consumers know only the lighter style of Vernaccia di San Gimginano, which has prevented this wine type from earning greater respect. Thankfully, there are a few dozen producers that craft special riserva or selezione offerings that have more richness on the palate and display greater complexity, as well as the potential for longer aging potential.
One of these examples that I recently tried is the “Campo della Pieve” from Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara. Medium-full, this displays engaging aromas of stone fruit and magnolia, has a rich mid-palate and excellent persistence, with impressive complexity. This was aged only in steel, giving this wine great varietal purity; the acidity is quite good and the overall harmony is outstanding. 2013 was a superb vintage for Vernaccia di San Gimignano ( as well as most whites in Italy); I expect this wine to drink well for five to seven years.
Another producer that excels with special versions of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is Panizzi. Their classic version is a lovely wine, but you start to understand the potential of this wine type when you taste the Panizzi Riserva and the “Vigna Santa Margherita” offerings. Both of these wines are aged in barriques, which gives these versions additional texture. I normally prefer steel-aged Vernaccia, but there is enough depth of fruit in these offerings so that the wood notes enhance the wines and do not overwhelm the varietal characteristics. Both of these wines will drink well for five to seven years or perhaps longer, and are rich enough to stand up to most seafood as well as certain preparations of pork and veal.
While the status quo of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is still not as lofty as it should be, there is one producer that has enjoyed great praise from wine critics throughout Italy and many other countries. Montenidoli, managed by the dynamic and charismatic Elisabetta Fagiuoli, is arguably the estate that has brought more attention to this wine type than any other. Fagiuoli labels her wines “Sono Montenidoli” – I am Montenidoli – which tells you the pride she has in her wines. She produces several versions of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, with the “Fiore” bottling a great example of a classic style of this wine type, aged in steel and displaying intriguing pine and resin aromas. The “Tradizionale” bottling, given skin contact, is a bit richer on the palate and a lovely wine. My favorite, however, is the “Carato” version, aged for one year in barriques. Offering dried pear and yellow flower aromas, this has lovely texture, very good acidity and outstanding persistence and harmony. This can age for a decade in most vintages and is a wine that in my opinion is a high point for Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Brava, Elisabetta!
It’s easy to understand why Vernaccia di San Gimignano doesn’t receive the plaudits it should, but perhaps this situation will soon change. I certainly hope so, as these are at their most basic, very enjoyable dry, food friendly white wines with excellent freshness, while at the highest levels, these are among the most complex white wines you will find anywhere in the world.