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A grape type to watch out for in Italy is Vermentino. It would be easy once a sample is enjoyed to describe its fruitiness and full flavour, but it’s not as simple as that. Just as other grapes types vary, so is Vermentino affected by climate and regional styles.
A recent tasting in the town of Carrara in the lee of the mountains where Michelangelo found the marble for his statue of David, we discovered the range of tastes and textures of this grape, known in the Piemonte region as Favorita. For those who like the mineral qualities of a good Riesling, this region produces the freshest, lightest and most interesting, with peachy tones coupled with a citrus edge – a gorgeously well balanced warm yet fresh white wine. If you can find Langhe Favorita made by Gianni Gagliardo try it. From La Colombiera in Liguria you will find more of a bitter almond developing in the glass along with mineral qualities as this region is near the Carrara area and minerals influence the soil greatly. Pigato is another name for Vermentino in Liguria and other synonyms include Furmentin, Picabon, Rolle, Verlantin and Malvoisie. If you fancy a heavily oaked wine, look no further than Podere Scurtarola from Massa Carra where the wine is matured in 80% wood, resulting in a deep colour and a dense oaky nose, like some New World Chardonnays. Bolgheri Vermentino Grattamacco from Colle Massari Grattamacco had heavy oak too, and was fresh and well balanced. Go further south for a completely different heavy, honey filled, warm, completely deliciously round wine. Argiolas in Sardinia was responsible for a delicious mouthful, showing what a versatile grape Vermentino is. In the north of Sardinia another from Cantina del Vermentino where Vermentino di Gallura has its own DOCG appellation and the only one to receive this top classification. This is another beauty with honey and peach, figs, lychees, apricot, slightly sweet and round, yet with a crisp finish. Superb. There are 14 DOCs which use the Vermentino and its synonyms, except for Candia dei Colli Apuani, so you sometimes have to search the label and remember the synonyms to know what you are buying. There is a classification for the fizzy Alghero Vermentino frizzante which for me is not interesting enough to bother with. Four also have the IGT classification which in Tuscany is gaining momentum with those who care more about taste and less about frustrating regulations. They use Vermentino in Corsica too where it is often called Vermetinu, Rolle, Malvoisie du Douro, Verlatin. Domaine Comte Abbattucci produces a more expensive wine in the Patrinoio valley in the west of Corsica. Here we find more mineral and acid than expected in such a warm region, giving a light fresh, finish. The French Vermentinos from the Cotes de Luberon seemed a bit dull by comparison with Domaine de Mayol and Domaine de la Cavale’ s oak overpowering the fruit. In the Cotes de Rousillon it is blended with Macabeo, but for me, the Italians won that round.Lorieri Paolo’s family has been growing Vermentino grapes at Podere Scartarola for over 150 years. Amongst the lemons and figs trees, he explained how the Vermentino may have come about. Asking questions about grape types of the region I was brought downstairs to a small laboratory where half bottles of strange potions were stored. One didn’t have a name and tasted of molasses, but another more interesting was Barcaglina Masseratta, a grape of the region, never exported but popular for home use. It could be one of the 47 indigenous varieties varieties of Vermentino Negro that Paolo has been working with for the last seven years. DNA testing has revealed that Vermentino Negro is the father of the white Vermentino. “For Barcaligna there has not yet been a study, but piano, piano, we work and we study, we will discover more.” This passionate, enthusiast is bringing some small producers together to try to make their vineyards viable, many of them are tiny and like his, their small vineyards in precipitous positions which look impossible to manage. Still they do and enjoy it to the full, growing their own vegetables and accepting a standard of living which does not include fancy cars and holidays far from home. These are real farmers who value the soil and their heritage and we should be glad they are working to continue to provide us with a variety of wines when we visit these regions.
First published in Wine Ireland 2005. Updated 24 May 2012