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Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Santa Margherita 2009

Having just landed in Scotland after spending just a little over two weeks in Tuscany, there was a time when my return would have had me writing of encounters with orange-tinged Chianti Classico above anything else. But not any more. Times have changed, and Chianti is certainly changing with them. During my brief sojourn in Tuscany I visited three 'old favourites', estates in the Chianti Classico region with which I am very familiar, and I was blown away by the new developments - new cellars, buildings and facilities - at two of them. I noticed other changes too, most painfully rising prices; not on the same scale as Bordeaux perhaps, but certainly a number of wines which I have bought in previous vintages are now more expensive than I can ever recall them being, and by a significant margin in some cases. There was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, something of a correlation between building work and climbing prices; the higher the price was over what I expected, the more cranes there were hovering over the newly evolving cellars.

Putting prices and such things to one side, other new discoveries during my time in Tuscany went beyond the little world of Chianti. Although Tuscany is renowned for red wines above all else, I was fascinated to uncover an enticing array of white wines. Sure, some were the fat, blowsy and over-ripe Chardonnays that I have encountered before, and as previously these held absolutely no interest for me. But others were much more intriguing, white wines carrying acidity that brought freshness to the palate, often with not previously encountered autochthonous varieties. Trebbiano was one, better known to some (including me) as Ugni Blanc of course; not exactly a variety new to me, but I have tasted better examples in the last week or two then I have ever encountered before, often blended in with other varieties both local and international. Also, and perhaps most promising of all, Vermentino from Bolgheri, a variety which seems to give an impressive wine rich in fruit but, in the case of one particular wine I tasted, a reserved and well-structured palate. And, most recently, and perhaps for sentimental reasons as much as anything else, my focus here, Vernaccia from the vineyards around the famous, Medieval, hill-top, tower-encrusted town of San Gimignano (below), which was visible across the rolling hills from the front door of my accommodation.

Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Santa Margherita 2009

Vernaccia is not exactly heralded as one of Italy's greatest grapes, even though it has an ancient heritage, with local records giving it a mention as long ago as the 13th century. Despite this a handful of individuals work with it with some good results it seems; one such name is Giovanni Panizzi, an Italian businessman who bought his estate, near San Gimignano, in the late 1970s. Since then he has expanded greatly, growing his vineyards from an initial 4 hectares to more than 48 hectares today, as well as acquiring vines near Montalcino and Seggiano. He has an appealing basic Vernaccia di San Gimignano, as well as a riserva cuvée, but the wine featured here is the Santa Margherita, a single-vineyard effort (from the Santa Margherita vineyard, where else?) from maturing 35-year old vines.

Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano Santa Margherita 2009

As for the wine, the 2009 Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Panizzi has a nose suggestive of oily fruit, and I am a little disappointed at first to find some aromas related to oak more than anything else. As it turns out the wine sees a fermentation in oak, followed by five months on its lees en barrique before bottling, and this undoubtedly has some bearing on the aroma profile, bringing notes of fennel, groundnut oil and specifically nuances of toasted almond. Nevertheless, these elements are not domineering, and the wine seems to handle these components fairly well. The palate is supple and unsurprisingly its form is well polished by wood, but underneath there is a substantial feel to the fruit here, and behind that a pithy grip that calls to mind bitter grapefruit above anything else, although the texture of the wine remains broad and stylish. There is also a slightly peppery, spicy spritz to it which brings an additional note of vigour to counteract the seams of winemaking that are evident. Overall, eventually seduced by the paradoxical combination of nutty almond and firm citrus flavours rolled up in an attractively solid shell, I have to admit to myself that I really like this wine; it works well with barbecued gamberi, which might give some indication of the balance of the citrus and wood-related flavours within the wine. The oak-allergic, however, might do best by homing in on Panizzi's lesser bottlings. 15.5/20 (25/7/11)

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