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Tuscany Taste 2015: Scintillating San Gimignano

Posted: Wednesday, 11 March 2015 18:35

Tuscany Taste 2015: Scintillating San Gimignano

March 11: Driving South of Florence for 60 kms takes you to the scintillating city of San Gimignano in 50 minutes, where you not only enjoy the dazzling array of buildings in the old part of town and visit museums, enjoy the old, priceless paintings but also get to taste invigorating white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano in the middle of the Tuscan red wine country, writes Subhash Arora who finds the old town, art and Vernaccia di San Gimignano very exciting

Click For Large ViewKnown for amazing history of arts and architecture, it also produces some of the oldest Italian wines. Vernaccia grape which perhaps has its origin in Liguria is known as Vernaccia di San Gimignano here. It is the second white wine to get a docg-first one was awarded in 1987 to Albana di Romagna, grown in Emilia Romagna region. Although Vernaccia di San Gimignano received DOC in 1966 the Docg status was awarded only in 1993.

Most people are overawed by the history and longevity of the wine and swear by its flavour, some find it mediocre. But it has been known to have impressed kings and queens and the top echelons of Tuscan society over the last seven centuries, according to government records and was the focus of our one day revisiting the beautiful medieval town last month during the Tuscany Taste 2015. organised by the Toscana Promozione.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG

The Anteprima gave us the opportunity of tasting the latest and fresh vintage of release, i.e., 2014 and a few of the Riserva wines 2013. But first about the appellation: The grape production must be in the municipality of San Gimignano only. The vineyards must have at least 85% Vernaccia di San Gimignano, with the balance of maximum of 15% of other non-aromatic white grape varieties except Traminer, Müller-Thurgau, Moscato Bianco, Malvasia etc. Maximum 10% of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Riesling may be used in the blend.

Click For Large ViewVernaccia Riserva must mature for at least 11 months in the cellar in steel or wood with at least 3 months’ bottle-ageing before release for sale. The maximum yield per hectare is 9 tons from which a maximum of 70% might be extracted as wine. Interestingly, what makes this appellation unique is that vinification of the grapes and maturation of the wine and bottling must also take place within the production area. The territory is located entirely on the hills, at altitudes between 200 and 500 m above sea level with 1,900 hA out of which 770 are used for making Vernaccia di San Gimignano, There is also a small production of San Gimignano Rosso and Vin Santo.

Vernaccia 2014 and Modern Art

De Grada Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea is a beautiful Modern and Contemporary Art Museum- a must-visit for any art lover in the Centro (old centre) San Gimignano. As a venue for the wine tasting, just like the previous years, it offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy wine with priceless works of Modern Art in the background.

One could taste over a hundred wines from 36 of the total of 70 producers, with Vernaccia di San Gimignano ‘Annata’ 2014 (these wines are categorised as the ‘Annata’ or Riserva) being the must- taste Anteprima wine, thanks to the Sommelier service at the table or visit the enchanting museum with the beauty of art accentuated with the long-living Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Of course, some of these wines were already tasted at the seemingly never ending dinner previous night at Villa San Paolo Hotel, close to the magical ‘Centro’ where we were staying.

Comparative Tasting at Sala Dante

Piazza del Duomo is one of the most enchanted spots in the Centro. You can not only watch Duomo but sit for hours with gelato in hand and watch the world (albeit very small part -especially in Mid February when there are no signs of summer setting in and the tourist traffic is in trickle). Next to the Duomo is Sala Dante at Palazzo Comunale. There cannot be a better venue than this for any wine tasting; perhaps the most beautiful venue I have been to.

Click For Large ViewThis is the venue where a rather unique concept of tasting white wines- similar and yet dissimilar in character and personality is carried out as wines from another country/region are pitted against an equal number of wines from the Vernaccia producers who take their pole position at the head table. Last year it was Gruener Veltliner from Austria and this year saw 6 wines from cote Chalonnaise compete with an equal number of Vernaccia.

It is really not a competition. As Letizia Cesani, President of Consorzio Vernaccia di San Gimignano and owner of Cesani Winery explains, ‘the idea is to choose similar white wines and compare with Vernaccia so the people can enjoy the comparative tasting. It makes an interesting tasting with a difference. No wonder, the full hall gets booked out in advance-this year they organised two tastings-one in English in the afternoon and the other in Italian in the morning. Both were fully booked.

Armando Castagno, an Italian expert living in Burgundy and an expert of the Cote Challonnaise wines presented a total of 6 wines each from the two areas. Cote is a sub region of Burgundy and is divided in  5 parts of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry (has nothing to do with Gevrey- Chambertin in Burgundy) and Montagny. Unlike San Gimignano, Cote is both a red wine (55%) and white wine (45%) producing area.

The wines were mixed randomly making it difficult for a majority to even tell the difference-certainly extremely difficult to tell which part of Cote Chalonnaise the wines were from. Vernaccia di SG was represented by 1. Podere Canneta (2011), 4. San Quirico (2013), 5. Montenidoli (2013), 6. Casale Falchini Vigna a Solatio (2013), 10. Ca’del Vispo Vigna in Fiore (2013) and 11. Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara Campo della Pieve (2012). As expected, there were no losers-all were winners and it left a long and pleasant after taste.

San Gimignano and India

Click For Large ViewIt is a pity that Vernaccia di San Gimignano has not become popular so far in India (the namesake Restaurant in Imperial Hotel has benefitted from the name though and is a must- visit restaurant for Italian cuisine). Like Prosecco that I used to rave about 7-8 years ago because of its price advantage and it took time to come to India, these are reasonably priced white wines of good quality and make a nice couple with the red Tuscan wines. Only one importer has been importing from a co-operative so far-at very low prices, I am sure.  Perhaps as more people visit the beautiful city and are mesmerised with the architecture and art, wines would follow.

In the meantime I always promise myself to come back again for a longer period when the weather is nicer- I am not sure I would be able to face the infinite tourist traffic (imagine 2.8 million tourists annually in area, smaller than Dwarka in Delhi and a population of 7,000!). But the thought of visiting some of the 70 wineries and tasting my favourite white wine from Tuscany, keep the hope alive. At least, I have been able to visit the enchanting town for a couple of times though for a day at a time.

 For previous years Anteprime, please visit:

Tuscany Taste 2014: I lost my Heart in San Gimignano

A Full House at Tuscan Tasting

Gallery              Video Unplugged - Tasting with Producers                  Comparative Tasting Cote Chalonnaise 

Subhash Arora

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