Tuscany. The region within Italy that Italian lovers gravitate to on their visits to this amazing country. With so many historic, medieval towns to choose from where does one even begin? One of my favorite towns within Tuscany is the medieval, hill dominated town of San Gimignano. San Gimignano is located within the province of Siena located slightly west between Florence and Siena and on the outskirts of the Chianti Classico winemaking area. What makes this town most unique are the medieval walls and towers surrounding the historic center that cannot be missed in the distance as you approach it. Originally in the 14th century there were 72 towers erected with 13 that remain today. These towers were originally erected by the noble families of the area to demonstrate their power and presence in society. San Gimignano has also been granted a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The Wines of San Gimignano
We can not talk about Italy without talking about either the food or wines produced there. San Gimignano produces a variety of red wines, white wines and dessert wines. The red wines of the area include chianti and more specifically chianti colli senesi, “chianti of the siena hills”, as well as some other international varieties like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. You can also find rosé wines produced there and the dessert wine known as vin santo, although, San Gimignano is most well known for the historic white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the vernaccia grape.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Out of all the wines of Italy, Vernaccia di San Gimignano was the first wine to be granted the wine designation known as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) back in 1966. It later got upgraded to the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita) designation in 1993. It’s been a wine that has been enjoyed for centuries including back to the 13th century when it was enjoyed by the wealthy and popes. According to the Associazione Pro Loco San Gimignano, there are 9 million wine bottles produced in San Gimignano with about 70% of those being exported. So it should be a rather easy wine to find in your local wine shops as it’s marketed well within the United States. Presently there are 170 producers with 70 of
them producing estate wines, according to the Consorzio della Denominazione San Gimignano.
The typical characteristics of vernaccia include being a lighter to medium style wine that is dry, crisp, perfumed and floraly with notes of almond and citrus. Producers in the area will typically add some other grapes including chardonnay or vermentino to add more complexity and beef up the wine. For those of you that are big on regulations, to qualify as a Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, the Italian law requires the wine to be made of at least 85% vernaccia with the allowance of 15% of other grapes. A Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva must age at least 11 months plus an additional 3 months in the bottle before release. Plus, the wines must be produced within the area of San Gimignano as well.
With so many vernaccia to chose from I wanted to share a wine that I enjoyed when I met the owner of Montenidoli, Elisabetta Fagiuoli, some time back. I sampled a couple of her vernaccia wines, but enjoyed her Vernaccia di San Gimignano Tradizionale the most. It’s all about personal preference though with wine, which makes it so wonderful. There are no rights and no wrongs. Drink what you like. Elisabetta is a charismatic woman full of life and passion for her organic wines where she produces about 10,000 bottles annually. Her 2011 Montenidoli Tradizionale Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a wine made 100% of vernaccia. Personally when I’m not familiar with a grape I truly enjoy wines that are made 100% of a particular grape as it shows the grapes true characteristics. This wine was straw yellow in color and was a dry, medium bodied wine with aromatics of apples, citrus and some herbal notes. It had nicely balanced acidity with minerality. This vernaccia averages about $18-19 retail.
The Vernaccia Wine Museum
If you are visiting San Gimignano there is a Vernaccia Wine Museum located within the Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli that overlooks the vineyards of San Gimignano. The museum is dedicated to promote and educate those on the different wines produced within the region. There is also an interactive element of the museum where you can participate in wine tasting and other activities to activate all your senses in experiencing vernaccia to its fullest. There is no better way to understand what a wine is all about without sampling over and over again and to be immersed in the land and wine is a truly sensational experience if you have the opportunity.