Vermentino: the savor of the sea.

No one quite knows where Vermentino originally came from. The most widely held theory maintains that the grape hails from Spain, from where it spread to Provence and thence to the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea, including the islands.

Whether on the Ligurian cliffs, the French riviera or the Tuscan coastline, one thing is certain: Vermentino loves growing near the sea. And who can blame it? The weather is mild all year round and the endless supply of clean air keeps the grapes in rude health. With so much sun, they have no problems reaching peak ripeness. Plus, coastal soil is usually rich in sand and minerals, which helps them express themselves to their fullest potential.

Vermentino goes by a variety of names, depending on where it’s grown. Or rather, it was only discovered recently that the Ligurian Pigato and the Piedmontese Favorita were actually types of Vermentino. So well had they adapted to their respective habitats that they had come to be recognized as indigenous varieties.

The characteristics of Vermentino-based wines depend first and foremost on the oenological choices that go into them. The point at which the winemaker harvests the grapes will privilege certain qualities, probably at the expense of others. Pick them at the end of August and the grapes will retain more of their aromatic profile, making for lighter wines with higher acidity. Pick them a little bit later, you will get wine of a more intense color with a rounder taste and more prominent fruity aromas.

The crucial thing with Vermentino is not to go overboard with the ripening, or the wine will end up being too heavy and flat. What producers therefore tend to aim for is a wine with a powerful bouquet, where citrus and white flowers interplay with aromatic herbs and the minerals from the soil. These wines should ideally be full-bodied but still nimble and refined. They should be playful, fresh on the tongue, with a touch of the sea breeze. 

Less well-known is Vermentino’s red grape variety – called, unsurprisingly, Vermentino Nero. This indigenous grape, which is grown in a small strip of the Lunigiana, might be a descendent of the white Vermentino grape; alternatively, the latter may have come from the former. This rare grape yields light red wines with a certain spiciness.

Vermentino also lends itself readily to other grape varieties, enriching and complementing their own traits. It frequently guest stars in various blends with indigenous varieties, like Albarola in Liguria, Torbato (Sardinia) and Tuscany’s own Ansonica; it is also often blended with international titans like Chardonnay or Viognier.

When it comes to wine and food pairings, Vermentino is extremely versatile. Its balance means that it goes superbly with aperitifs, and even better with simple fish dishes, whether first or main courses, grilled or fried. It also sits well with vegetarian dishes, especially those based around aromatic herbs. Ligurian Vermentino, it shouldn’t surprise us to note, is practically made for pesto alla genovese.

With a few scattered exceptions, Vermentino is still largely drunk only in the regions that produce it. Yet it has all the ingredients for big success: it’s fruity, balanced and extremely quaffable. With the right publicity, it’s entirely feasible that Vermentino could be set for global fame.

Il vino fulgido sul palato indugiava inghiottito. Pigiare nel tino grappoli d’uva. Il calore del sole, ecco che cos’é. È come una carezza segreta che mi risveglia ricordi.
[James Joyce]