A Montenidoli Vernaccia Vertical, and an Extraordinary Chianti
Chronicles say that when San Gimignano was struck by
one of the many plagues that swept Italy in the middle ages, they called for
help and paid for it in kind, with saffron and Vernaccia. It's certainly
possible; Vernaccia is mentioned in the Ordinamenti delle Gabelle (tax
regulations) San Gimignano published in the 1200s, and Michelangelo Buonarroti
the Younger noted at one point that it "kisses, licks, bites, pinches and
stings." Not the sort of thing that will leave one indifferent, and its
glorious past is one of the major reasons Vernaccia di San Gimignano became
Italy's first DOC wine, in 1966.
Unfortunately, being cast into the
spotlight did little for the wine. Its sudden notoriety attracted enologists,
who made what studies told them the public wanted, with the result that
Vernaccia became a light, spritzy thing that was perfect for the millions of
people who come to see the city's towers every year, and wanted to take home a
couple of bottles as a souvenir. But it did little to excite the interest of
serious wine drinkers.
However, even the spritziest of Vernaccia does
have the capacity to age, as we discovered a couple of years ago at a tasting
organized by the Consorzio della Vernaccia di San Gimignano: we worked back
through a series of Vernaccia Riserva and similar, to wines made by Pietrafitta
in the 1970s, when aging white wines was the last thing anyone had in mind: by
the beginning of spring restaurateurs and wine merchants were already asking
for the new vintage made in the fall, and whatever was left over from the
previous year simply wouldn't sell. For some reason the folks at Pietrafitta
set them aside, and 30 years later, they were still with us:
- Fattoria di Pietrafitta Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Golden yellow that brings certain bodily fluids to mind, with
slightly greenish highlights, and very slight cloudiness. The nose is fairly
bitter, with gunflint and some smoke, also some petroleum, and mineral
overtones. On the palate it's fairly full, and savory, with a fair amount of
bitter almond and some acidity as well, though less than in many others. It is
in any case defter on the palate than I might have expected.
- Fattoria di Pietrafitta Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Deep yellow with golden reflections. The bouquet is distinct, with
pungent cut flowers and fairly intense herbal notes, with some sea salt as well
and some underbrush, and with time balsam. Interesting though more obviously
gives an impression of greater age than some of the others. On the palate it's
very much alive though obviously well along, with gunflint bitterness, and
pleasing savory tannic underpinning. Long rather bitter finish, and it has
quite a bit to say. It's rather like looking at an elderly woman and seeing
flashes of her youthful beauty.
The Vernaccia Elisabetta Fagiuoli makes at Montenidoli is a
very different animal.
She is from the Valpolicella, in the Veneto, and
cheerfully admits that when she bought Montenidoli the late 1960s and decided
to make wine, as far as she was concerned red was the only way to go. So her
first was a Chianti di San Gimignano DOC. However, with the passage of time she
found herself fascinated by Vernaccia, San Gimignano's traditional white
varietal, and planted some; her first vintage was 1984, and, unlike many of her
neighbors, she made it in purezza, without any of the "complementary" varietals
that the Disciplinare allows. She liked it, and began a long voyage of
discovery, which ultimately resulted in the three distinct Vernaccias she now
- Vernaccia Tradizionale, fermented in cement tanks, with
extended maceration of the skins to draw the most from the grapes. It's quite
extracted, and tends to be a fairly deep gold, and can be quite charged,
especially in a good vintage. It brings back good memories and is very nice
- Vernaccia Fiore, from free-run must (what runs from the
press before it's turned on). It ferments in cement tanks, and though not as
charged as the Tradizionale, does display beautiful concentration and great
finesse, especially in good vintages. Of the three, my favorite.
- Vernaccia di Carato, barrel-fermented free-run must. As
a barrel fermented wine it's quite successful, and Elisabetta keeps the oak on
a tight leash, allowing the fruit to come through. It is quite elegant, and if
you like barrel fermented whites you will find it most impressive.
In the spring of 2008 Franco Ziliani, friend and colleague, asked
her to organize a vertical, something that never occurred to me, because
Elisabetta and I are close friends, and when I visit (I put her website
together) I prefer to sit at the kitchen table and talk. She happily agreed,
inviting a number of journalists. We started with some barrel samples, and
Vernaccia Tradizionale 2007
Slightly cloudy gold. Intense bouquet with considerable gunflint and some very
tart citrus. On p rich, full, with powerful minerality and underlying
bitterness. Quite promising, in a very charged key.
Pale slightly cloudy brassy gold. Interesting
bouquet, quite delicate, with floral accents and very fresh Great delicacy, and
on the palate it's quite rich, with graceful citric fruit. Beautiful wine, will
be worth seeking out. Greater acidity and deftness.
Pale brassy gold. The bouquet is
delicate, with butterscotch and minerality. On the palate it's full, and softer
than the Fiore, with clean elegant fruit. Softer than the Fiore, and this is
also because of differences in the wood. Will be nice.
Brassy gold with brassy reflections. Deft
nose, beautiful integration wood and minerality, quite promising. On the palate
full and rich, again promising, though there's an underlying softness to it.
Great potential, but it's very much in mid-stride.
Elegant brassy white The nose is elegant, with
butterscotch, laced with gunflint and some citric accents. Quite fresh and a
delight to sniff. On the palate it's full, and rich, though a touch lighter
than the 2006, with clean savory mineral accents supported by clean acidity.
Deft, and also very young. Leaner than 2004, and this is the vintage at
Vernaccia di Carato 2004
Brassy gold. The
bouquet is powerful, and much more fully developed than that of the 2005 - a
year makes a big difference - with elegant butterscotch mingled with bitterness
and some gunflint. On the palate it's full, elegant, and quite rich, with ample
white fruit and some minerality supported by clean rich citric acidity, which
flows into a warm clean acidic finish. Very nice, and though it spent
considerable time in wood the wood doesn't mark it at all. Very nice. Ernesto
Gentili quietly says, Questi son bianchi che vale la pena -- These are
worth-while whites. Extraordinary finesse and it drinks very, very well.
Vernaccia di Carato 2003
Brassy gold with brassy
reflections. The bouquet is rich, and slightly caramelized, with butterscotch
mingled with hints of gunflint and spice, also white fruit. Quite nice, in a
rather rich key. On the palate it's ample and soft, with powerful white fruit
supported by moderate acidity and some savory accents that carry into a clean
rich savory finish with some sweet accents. Quite nice, though it does reflect
a hotter vintage.
Vernaccia di Carato 2002
brassy gold. The bouquet is beautiful, with bright acidity and rich gunflint
aromas supported by some savory accents and sea salt. A tremendous lot going
on, and very exciting. On the palate it's a little leaner than one might have
expected, but very bright, with clean mineral fruit supported by gunflint laced
acidity that flows into a clean gunflint finish with underlying bitterness.
Delightful, and has a great deal to say. Gambero Rosso awarded this wine 3
goblets, its highest rating, and it amply deserves them.
Vernaccia di Carato 2001
Brassy gold. The bouquet is rich, with
butterscotch and some caramel, supported by some gunflint and hints of
marzipan. On the palate it's ample and soft, with fairly rich butterscotch and
white fruit supported by clean slightly bitter gunflint acidity. It is rich,
but by comparison with the 2002 lax -- a bit softer and not as bright.
Vernaccia comes out best in cooler vintages.
Brassy gold. The bouquet is fairly rich, with caramel, and
warmth mingled with some wood smoke and some hints of fg minerality with
underlying sweetness. Hot vintage. On the palate it's ample and soft, with
bright acidity supported by clean underlying bitterness that flows into a clean
savory bitter finish. Pleasant, though a touch soft, and this is due to the
searing temperatures we had in August that year.
Vernaccia di Carato 1998
Pale brassy gold with brassy reflections.
The bouquet is powerful, with clean rich minerality laced with bitter gunflint
and savory accents; it's very fresh, vivacious, and has a great deal to say. On
the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful white berry fruit supported by
savory accents and some bitter overtones, which flow into a clean savory
finish. Very nice, and has a great deal to say. Exciting.
Vernaccia di Carato 1997
Brassy gold with brassy reflections. The
bouquet is fairly rich, with caramel accents and some gold reflections; it's
more charged than the 98. The bouquet is rich, with honeysuckle and some bitter
accents with underlying honey and butterscotch. Quite powerful, in a rather
muscular sort of way. On the palate it's ample and soft, with clean deft
acidity, and it is elegant, but has begun to slide in a way that the 98 has
not, and this is because it is from a hotter vintage. Not as good as the
Vernaccia di Carato 1996
Brassy gold with
brassy reflections. The bouquet is clean, with pleasant bitter gunflint
minerality and some savory accents. Graceful. On the palate it's bright, with
lively rich white berry fruit acidity supported by clean savory accents that
flow into a clean savory finish. Very nice, and quite pleasant to drink.
Vernaccia di Carato 1995
Brassy gold, with clean
brassy highlights. The bouquet is eye-opening, with clean rich butterscotch
aromas mingled with gunflint and some savory accents, also honeysuckle and
hints of mint. A great lot going on, and very impressive. On the palate it's
deft, with bright clean white fruit supported by savory accents, citric
acidity, and clean underlying minerality that flows into a clean mineral
finish. Beautiful wine, and a great delight to drink; you'll find yourself
ignoring your friends and talking to the wine. Others at the table are also
nodding their heads and smiling.
Vernaccia di Carato
Brilliant brassy gold with brassy reflections. The bouquet is
rich, with powerful butterscotch supported by clean rich savory accents and
hints of menthol, with underlying alcohol. Very nice, and speaks to us over the
bridge of years. On the palate it's full, rich, and elegant, with powerful
savory citric fruit supported by clean acidity.
The first wine Elisabetta fermented in barrels
brassy gold with brassy reflections. The bouquet is clean, with mineral acidity
and some hints of gunflint supported by underlying bitterness. It's steely, in
a way one associates more with reds than whites, and tremendously deft and
exciting. On the palate it's full, and rich, with clean powerful honeysuckle
fruit supported by some gunflint and rich minerality that flows into a clean
fresh finish. Extraordinarily fresh, and a great delight to drink. One would
never guess it's 18 years old.
Elisabetta's first Vernaccia; it's brassy gold with some greenish reflections,
and one would never guess its age. The bouquet is bright, with clean minerality
and underlying bitterness supported by some bitter accents. Great depth and the
grapes show beautifully. Franco Ziliani is frothing at the mouth as he goes
into ecstasy while tasting the wine. On the palate it's extraordinary, with
bright citric fruit supported by citric acidity with beautiful mineral accents
that flow into a clean almost creamy mineral finish. I'm running out of
Brassy gold with brassy
reflections. The bouquet is rich, with powerful clean gunflint supported by
clean bitter accents; it's rich, and reveals greater understanding of the
Vernaccia grape. On the palate it's full, and bright, with clean rich citric
fruit supported by clean mineral acidity. Franco Ziliani is saying it's over
the top, and he's right. Very, very nice.
Brassy gold with brassy reflections. The bouquet is bright, with
rich gunflint laced with honeysuckle and bitter almonds with underlying savory
accents. Impressive. On the palate it's full, and rich, with clean savory
citric fruit supported by clean sweet acidity. It's quite elegant, but a little
softer than the earlier wines, though nobody would guess it's entering its
majority now. Most impressive.
Brassy gold with brassy highlights. The bouquet is impressive,
with petroleum and minerality mingled with savory accents and some honeysuckle
richness. Beautiful. On the palate it's extraordinary, with bright clean lemony
fruit supported by clean slightly bitter citric acidity, and it flows into a
clean savory citric finish. Extraordinary wine, and one would never guess its
age were it to be presented blind. The stuff of dreams.
tasted a number of reds during lunch, all of which were interesting and good. I
only took notes for Elisabetta's first:
Montenidoli Chianti di San Gimignano 1971
ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is haunting, with balsamic notes and warm
acidity laced with savory accents and peppery overtones; this is quick to write
but there's a great lot going on. Deft, elegant, and fully mature. Great
finesse, and you would never guess it's close to 40 years old. On the palate
it's full, and bright, with lively berry fruit supported by clean bright
slightly bitter acidity that flows into a clean bitter finish, while the
tannins are clean and smooth, with a slight angular burr that flows into a
clean savory finish. Great depth, combining freshness with elegance and
finesse, and (as I said before) you would never guess it's entering middle age.
Franco Ziliani says it's the best wine of the day, adding that it's Fuori
Misura, over the top, and displays finezza assoluta -- "absolute finesse." It
was very good, I agree, but I found some of the Vernaccias to be just as
Bottom line: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and
especially Elisabetta Fagiuoli's, is a great delight young, but becomes even
better if given time.
From Kyle Phillips's Italian WIne
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