Wine and Culture: Vernaccia di San Gimignano

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Tuscany is one of the most exciting places in the world. You can fine gorgeous landscapes, breath-taking nature, marvellous cities, excellent food and, of course, superb red wines.

But there is an amazing white wine – the region’s only white wine with DOCG status – that is considered one of Italy’s best white wines, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

The Vernaccia-based wine from San Gimignano has a long history, and it is regarded as one of the most noble and oldest white wine of the Peninsula.

Several different grapes are called ‘Vernaccia’ – such as those in Marche used in the sparking red wine Vernaccia di Serrapetrona and the Sardinian grape used in Veranaccia di Oristano. However, the Vernaccia grown in San Gimignano is different from the other Italian Vernaccias and most probably isn’t even related.

The word ‘Vernaccia’ comes from the Latin word vernaculum, meaning ‘of the place’ or ‘native’, which would explain why many grapes in Italy go under the same name.

The Vernaccia grape of San Gimignano is considered the oldest, but its origin is not clear; there are various theories that it came from Eastern Europe, Greece or from the Italian Peninsula itself.

The earliest recorded mention of Vernaccia di San Gimignano dates back to 1276, which proves that the exporting of the wine was widespread by then.

By the end of the 13th century, Vernaccia di San Gimignano was a popular and much-loved wine among the nobles.

The Vernaccia was mentioned in many literary works, such as the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), where in Purgatory among the gluttonous Dante meets Pope Martin IV, who was overcome by the temptation of Vernaccia.

Vernaccia is also mentioned in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and Bacco in Toscana by Francesco Redi (1626-1697).

This gorgeous white was valued and much-loved for a long time, but unfortunately it fell out of favour in the early 20th century.

After World War II, it began to regain its prestige, and was the first Italian wine to gain DOC status; in 1993 it achieved a DOCG promotion.

According to DOCG rules, a Vernaccia di San Gimignano must comprise of at least 85-90% of Vernaccia di San Gimignano grapes and be completed with a maximum of 15% of approved white varieties.

For Vernaccia di San Gimignano riserva, the aging period is a minimum of 11 months, with a further 3 months in the bottle before release.

This excellent white is best consumed when it is young or slightly aged, and is definitely a good ‘companion’ to fish or white meat dishes.

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