Tenuta Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Vermentino 2010
Last week I expounded on the virtues of Vernaccia as grown around the Tuscan town of San Gimignano, as I focused my attention on a wine from Giovanni Panizzi, an estate new to me although with a good reputation it seems. This week I have another Tuscan white in the spotlight, and as I hinted in last week's update it is made from Vermentino, a very promising grape which has seen increased planting in Tuscany's vineyards, especially in Bolgheri. The producer this time is rather more familiar, being the famous Antinori family, who include Vermentino in their 300-hectare vineyard at their Guado al Tasso estate.
The origins of Vermentino are not crystal clear, but it seems most likely to be an indigenous Italian variety, although other Mediterranean sources have been suggested. Its Italian roots seem strong though, as this is where the variety is most widely planted, perhaps most notably on Sardinia where it has its own DOC, Vermentino de Gallura. Genetic studies have, however, shown it to be identical to the variety known as Pigato, found widely planted in Liguria, and also to Favorita, which is found in Piedmont, demonstrating that it is more widely distributed in Italy than previous thought. Other suggestions, that it may have originated in Spain, Hungary (some studies have suggested it may share some genetic heritage with Furmint) or France (there are suggestions, prompted by Vermentino's pseudonym Rolle, that it is the same as the Rolle found planted in Provence) are as yet unproven.
Today it seems to thrive not only in these regions but also in Maremma, the famous coastal region of Tuscany which is also home to Tenuta san Guido (Sassicaia), Le Macchiole, Ornellaia and other super-Tuscan estates, where it has been eligible for the Bolgheri DOC since 1984. Why is the variety so popular, you might ask? The key is how well it copes with the warm Tuscan climate; when so many other white varieties tend towards soupy, low-acid, oily anonymity, Vermentino has the ability to hold onto not only acidity but also a freshness of flavour that makes it stand out from the crowd. With appropriate viticulture and subsequent handling, utilising techniques than may include early-morning picking, cool fermentations, minimal use of oak and reductive rather than oxidative cellar practices, it seems clear that Vermentino can yield a lively, aromatic yet also fresh and structured wine, putting to shame so many of those less lively examples.
No doubt the Antinori family must have had thoughts along these lines when they committed a large area of the Guado al Tasso estate to Vermentino, achieved with the help of a vine nursery established in 1994. The variety was first bottled as a monovarietal wine with the 1996 vintage, but it was the just-released 2010 vintage that I tasted very recently. In the glass this wine has a pale hue, one that says nothing of the wine's open and characterful nose, redolent of tropical fruits cut through with a refreshing grapefruit twist lending the nose a rich and yet defined air, rather than anything fat or blowsy. The palate follows on in the same vein, with a lovely pithy-bitter character to it at the start, followed by more subtle tropical fruit notes at first, only coming in behind the pithy core of the wine through the midpalate. It has, as promised, freshness and acidity, behaving more as if from a rather cooler climate than Tuscany in the mouth. It finishes up in a long, sappy, refreshing close, one that is moreish even if it is rather short. All the same this has a delightfully fresh and bright character for this warm region, and yet it also has attractive fruit. An impressive wine and one that suggests Vermentino holds much promise for the Tuscan vigneron interested in trying his or her hand with something other than Sangiovese. 15.5/20 (1/8/11)