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Anteprime Toscane 2017: First Italian DOC Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Posted: Tuesday, 21 March 2017 16:23


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Anteprime Toscane 2017: First Italian DOC Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Mar 21: Although Italy has been producing wine for hundreds of years, the stringent DOC appellation to regulate the quality was introduced through the Decree of the Italian President in 1966 and Vernaccia di San Gimignano became the first such appellation, writes Subhash Arora who re-visited the white wine producing region once again last month and explains the system and how the wines are strictly controlled through regulations through the first-ever Awardee of DOC and in general

Click For Large ViewVernaccia di San Gimignano is perhaps the best known white variety, from this UNESCO World Heritage Site- since 1990, amongst the beautiful Tuscan Hills. The city was founded over 2200 years ago and has had a colourful history with unique architecture and art seen in the churches, many edifices, and priceless art within the interiors. According to historical records, Vernaccia has been cultivated at least since the 13th century though the wines has seen the popularity go up and down over the centuries.

The wine gained the docg status in 1993 but it is interesting to look at the rules applicable to the doc appellation and understand how all-inclusive and air-tight the rules are in the Italian wine laws.  San Gimignano was fortunate to be the first to get the DOC status. The decree to grant the DOC status by the President of Italy was signed on 3 March, 1966 for 4 DOCs including Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  The other three were Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone (Lazio), Ischia (Campania)and Frascati (Lazio). Like in India, the decree in Italy becomes effective only when it is published in the official gazette. Though the Gazette lists Vernaccia on 6 May, the others were published on 7 May (Est), 9 May (Ischia) and 16 May (Frascati). As one can see, all the wine labels related to a place whether a town or a village, as in fact is most common for Tuscan or Italian wines.

Here are the 10 Articles through which the making and quality of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is controlled. As with such laws in similar other appellations, there have been a few amendments from time to time-the last one being on 7 March, 2014.

Click For Large ViewArticle 1 specifies it is a white wine-ditto for the Riserva Version as well.

Article 2 is uniquely structured and stipulates that Vernaccia di San Gimignano must be made from the grape of the same name with a maximum of 15% of other non-aromatic varieties suitable for cultivation in Tuscany. Some grapes have been specifically banned while no more than 10% of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling may be used in the blend. An Appendix lists the 29 grape varieties that are allowed including some uncommon French varieties like Petit Manseng, Semillon and Clairette).

Article 3 defines the production area of the grapes, limiting to the hilly areas within the municipal limits of San Gimignano municipality.

Article 4 Defines the general rules of viticulture. The height of the area must be not higher than 500 m above sea level. The soil is also pre-defined; it must have Pliocene origins (2.6-5.3 million years according to Wikipedia) and must consist of yellow sand and sandy limestone and/ or of medium texture. Overhead training systems are prohibited and the density of wines must be at least 4,000 plants per hA (10,000/acre).

Click For Large ViewA very important rule that is not always followed in the  Indian industry, is that  Vernaccia di San Gimignano produced from new vines , may be produced only from grapes in their fourth year of harvest.  Maximum yield is set at 9 tons /hA- less than 4 tons/acre and the fruit may not be more than 3 Kg / vine on an average from the new plants. Lastly the minimum potential alcohol level of the grape in the regular vintage wine may be 10% and 12% for Riserva wines.

Article 5 Aims to define the winemaking parameters and dictates that the wine must be made within the municipality except in cases of companies authorised to conduct these operations outside the zone, in accordance with the procedures in the 1993 docg regulations.  It permits the use of wood in the various stages of winemaking. To qualify for Riserva, ageing must be for a minimum of 11 month. Technical guidelines for bottling have also been prescribed.

An important rule which is almost unlike all the other DOC wines, stipulated that that the Riserva must be declared before the ageing process starts. In other words, one may not produce a regular vintage doc wine and transform into a vintage wine later by increasing the ageing of the wine.  The option to allocate the grapes used for Riserva must be exercised at the time of harvest only and must be so reported to the appellation authorities before starting the ageing process. Thus Riserva is born from the grape and not the process.

Article 6 defines the characteristics of the finished wine, outlining the sensory profile. Typically, Vernaccia is straw yellow coloured with a golden shade which is slightly enhanced with time. The aromas are delicate and fine leaving the possibility that the mineral notes may be enhanced. On the palate it is dry, harmonious and tangy with a touch of bitter almond at the end.

The minimum alcohol must be 11.5% going up to 12.5% for Riserva. The sugar content may not go beyond 4 gms/Liter (usually a wine is considered dry if it has less than 5 gms/ liter of residual sugar). The total acidity must not be less than 4.5 gms/liter. The minimum extract (the solids left behind if the wine were to be solidified by removing all the liquid content) must be 14-18 gms.

Click For Large ViewArticle 7 relates to labelling, designation and presentation. It regulates the name of the grape to be placed on the label in addition to outlining its graphic features. No self aggrandising is permitted. Vintage has to be mentioned compulsorily as in all other DOs.

Article 8 specifies the bottle sizes for Vernaccia. There is no restriction for the type of bottle but the minimum size may be 187 mL (airline bottle) and maximum can be 3 L (Double magnum) and a few other applicable regulations.

Article 9 has the information on link between natural factors and the characteristics of wine.

Article 10 summarizes the relevant structures for inspection.

The Consorzio della Vernaccia di San Gimignano formed in July 1972 helps with the promotion of the product apart from their several admin duties, including education. The appellation rules bring uniformity in the enforcement of good winemaking processes but the Consorzio cannot change the rules, apart from recommending changes. The rules are dynamic but not easily changed. During the last 50 years there have been only 5 revisions-the last one being in March 2014.

When you drink that glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano or next time, you can rest assured the liquid has followed these rules strictly and the quality is within the structure formulated by the government.

Subhash Arora

The material for this Article has been sourced from ‘Vernaccia di San Gimignano-Vino Territorio Memoria by Armando Castagno. It is a beautiful work with original information. It may be used as a coffee table book, text book or an encyclopaedia for the wines and region of San Gimignano.  It has been broken up in 5 chapters-the Place, t  Wine, Territory, Memories and Seasons.

DelWine will do a detailed Review in future edition but it is a book worth possessing if you love San Gimignano for its wine and beyond. It will be available in June for €30 from the consortium-Editor

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