Tenuta Guado al Tasso, Bolgheri (Tuscany) Vermentino 2008 (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd., $25): One of the exciting developments in Italian wines in recent years is the emergence of white wines made from native grape varieties that have something more to offer in terms of character and flavor than Pinot Grigio (as most Italian producers interpret that grape) or the ubiquitous Trebbiano. Grape varieties such as Falanghina, Greco, Fiano, Arneis, and Vermentino have challenged the stereotype of Italian white wines as fairly neutral wines whose main virtue is crispness.
Vermentino has long grown on the island of Sardinia but my favorite renditions of the grape variety hail from the adjacent regions of Liguria and Tuscany, where the wines seem to have more substance. In Tuscany, the grape grows not in the central part of the region but along the coast, as it does in Liguria. This wine is from the DOC zone of Bolgheri, about 50 miles southwest of Florence, world-famous for its red wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia; the regulations for Bolgheri DOC permit blended whites from Trebbiano, Vermentino and/or Sauvignon Blanc, as well as varietal whites from either Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc, which are the finest whites of the zone.
Not only is this wine entirely Vermentino but also it is a Vermentino with pedigree. The Guado al Tasso estate is the longtime property of the Antinori family, renowned for its red Tuscan wines as well as its white wines from Umbria. Although Antinori has produced wine in Bolgheri for several decades, the 2008 bottling of this wine is only the twelfth vintage of Vermentino.
Guado al Tasso Vermentino is a quintessential warm-weather white -- crisp, refreshing and, even with a good chill on the bottle, flavorful. The wine is medium-bodied and unoaked, with a fairly intense and penetrating aroma of citrus fruits (especially lime and grapefruit), herbal notes and stony minerality. It is dry in the vernacular of today’s white wines with, to my hypersensitive taste, a bit of residual sugar -- but a compensating high acidity that gives the wine a bracing presence in your mouth. Balancing the crisp acidity is a texture that lends a slightly oily impression, typical of Vermentino and a key attraction of the variety for me. The wine’s flavors are pronounced lime, fresh herbs and minerality, and driven by the wine’s acidity, they carry long to the back of your mouth. In a nutshell, the wine is fresh, lively, flavorful and characterful.
The winemaking involved fermentation in stainless steel at cool temperatures, no higher than 61 degrees, to preserve the freshness of the grapes aromas and flavors. The wine’s alcohol is moderate by today’s standards, at 13%.
Besides being an ideal summer white, this wine is an ideal white for the seaside or for seafood lovers. Although it has enough weight and flavor to accompany, say, pork tenderloin, its vibrancy and mineral tanginess suit it perfectly to seafood, grilled fish, and summertime standards such as mozzarella and tomatoes -- with a rich Tuscan olive oil, of course. I like the wine in a narrow, Riesling-style glass that accentuates its crispness.