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A Substantial Yet Refreshing Tuscan White
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 10, 2012
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Castello Montauto, Vernaccia d San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy, 2011 (Excelsior Wine & Spirits, $18):  Sipping a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano brings to my mind all sorts of clichés along the lines of “blast from the past” and “everything old is new again.”  In all the excitement about Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Assyrtiko and other hot white varietal wines, I had forgotten all about Tuscany’s Vernaccia.  I’m delighted that a recent sit-down with winery owner Andrea Cecchi has brought this grape variety and this wine back to my attention.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the historic white wine from the town of San Gimignano, situated in the western part of central Tuscany, northwest of Siena.  The walled town is famous for its medieval towers that attract a seasonal flow of tourists.  San Gimignano’s local wine from the Vernaccia grape boasts a lineage dating back to the 13th century.  Today this wine zone is a rare holdout from the invasion of Tuscany by the very ordinary Trebbiano and (to a lesser extent) Malvasia grapes, which occurred about 50 years ago.

Italy has numerous grapes that are called Vernaccia, notably in Sardinia and in Marche, but San Gimignano’s Vernaccia grape is thought to be unrelated to any of them.  The textbook description of its wines is that they are light and refreshing with crisp acidity and a slightly bitter finish -- which could fit the majority of Italian white wines.  In my experience, Vernaccia di San Gimignano has far more character than other Tuscan whites, as well as more weight and substance.  Some producers ferment the wine in oak or make an oaked version, but most of the wines are unoaked, including this wine.

Castello Montauto is a 200-acre property, with 118 acres of vines, that has been the property of the Cecchi family since 1988.  The family is based in the Chianti Classico section of Tuscany, and its Cecchi Family Estates includes three Tuscan properties -- in Chianti Classico, San Gimignano and the Scansano zone of western Tuscany -- as well one as in the Montefalco zone of Umbria. 

This particular Castello Montauto San Gimignano comes from the challenging 2011vintage, which featured cool, wet weather for the initial part of the growing season followed by unusually hot weather.  As a result, the acidity is lower than in the 2010 wine and the alcohol is slightly higher (13.5 percent).  But these factors enhance the wine’s character, to my taste.

The wine has a rich aroma of succulent, ripe fruits, particularly white peach and some citrus.  In your mouth the wine is dry and fairly full-bodied, with a broad palate impression and richness of texture -- a commanding, grounded wine, more in the style of a Chardonnay than a Pinot Grigio.  Flavors include mineral and pleasantly-bitter fruit-skin notes along with the ripe fruit character evident in its nose.  These flavors are pronounced and they carry to a long, flavorful, peachy finish.  Despite the wine’s weight and character, it manages to be refreshing as well.

I can imagine many uses for this wine during the summer, with seafood salad, fruit salads featuring melon or mango, with cold chicken breasts, any mayonnaise-dressed food and even asparagus.  It has the weight to pair with somewhat rich dishes and the flavor intensity to pair with flavorful foods.  I would enjoy this wine in the short term, now over the next one or two years.

90 Points