Vermentino and its Aliases

Like Falanghina and Carricante, Vermentino is yet one more Italian grape that has been emerging from the relative obscurity of its local importance to start staking a claim to international attention. The variety either is indigenous to Italy or emigrated centuries ago from Corsica. It has become a significant white wine along the Tuscan and Ligurian coastline under the name Vermentino, most especially in Sardinia.

sardinian vineyard

 

Sometimes in Liguria it is called Pigato, and it has an inland identity in the Barolo/Barbaresco zone of Piedmont as Favorita, where the late Alfredo Currado of Vietti was its great rescuer and champion. But Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes emphatically says that rock-solid research has proven all three are the same variety.

In some respects, and not just that the vines seem to like to be near water, Vermentino makes an ideal seashore wine. Light and crisp, brisk and acidic, with refreshing herbal, citric, mineral notes, it serves beautifully as a warm-weather, fresh-air apéritif as well as a year-round companion to seafood of all sorts. It is the most important white grape in Sardinia, especially in the northeastern province of Gallura, where 20 years ago it had already achieved DOCG classification, Sardinia’s only such to date.

map of sardinia

Note that there is also a “simple” DOC Vermentino, vinified from grapes grown in other parts of Sardinia. It too can be quite good.

Most Sardinian Vermentino is harvested slightly early to preserve its high acidity, which is the characteristic – coupled of course with its pleasing mineral/herbal/citrus flavors – that makes it so pleasing an apéritif and light dinner wine. All the most famous Sardinian producers – Argiolas, Santadi, Sella & Mosca – offer well-made DOC Vermentino.

BranuUsually the DOCG Vermentino di Gallura stands a cut above these, with more intense fruit and sharper focus. Recently I tasted some bottles from Vigne Surrau, whose vineyards lie in the valley of the same name, just inland from the beautiful Costa Smeralda. Its 2015 Branu had a beautifully characteristic herbal nose that may remind some tasters of Sauvignon blanc at its best. On the palate, it was bright, acid, and lightly herbal, mixed with suggestions of Mediterranean macchia (juniper and such). This is classic apéritif wine, and equally classic companion to clams on the half shell and all their crustacean cousins.

ScialaSurrau’s 2015 Sciala, a DOCG Superiore (that means slightly higher alcohol), had a similar aroma and flavor spectrum, but was bigger and rounder, showing more white fruits on the palate, and finishing longer. This makes a lovely dinner wine with broiled scallops – that’s what I tried it with – and probably with any fin- or shellfish or chicken and veal as well. Nice wines, both of them, and fine examples of a variety well worth exploring.

6 Responses to “Vermentino and its Aliases”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom: Very fine article, as always. You wrote that Alfredo Currado at Vietti was a “rescuer and champion” of Favorita. I wonder if you were thinking of Arneis? I don’t believe that the Vietti family ever worked with Favorits, but perhaps I am not aware of this chapter.

    Also, the finest examples of Favortia in Piedmont that I discovered were not from the Barolo/Barbaresco zone (Langhe), but rather in the Roero and the Colli Tortonesi zones; Vigne Marina Coppi in the latter territory produces a stellar example.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      You’re absolutely right, Tom. I’m getting too old to trust my memory so blindly. It was indeed Arneis that Alfredo Currado rescued, not Favorita — though he once told Charles Scicolone and me that he regretted that he’d never involved himself with that variety. I wish I’d remembered that sooner and avoided an embarrassing mistake.

  2. Eric Kroes Says:

    Hi Tom, thank you for another nice one. I love vermentino too, particularly from southern Sardegna. You know and appreciate Santadi of course, but I would also like to draw your attention to some wines from U-Tabarka on the isle of San Pietro. They make two great vermentinos: Giancu and Ventou de Ma. The first one is really very special (and they claim pre-phylloxera-vines), the second one is more polished and refined. Worth to be tried, if you can find them.

  3. Ole Udsen Says:

    Lovely piece, Tom. I love Sardinian Vermentino to bits. Could I just insert the notion here that it needs not only be in the light/citrussy/herbal category? Indeed, in my opinion the greatest of them have even more to offer. Capichera, for example, make astoundingly powerful, complex and fat wines, that maintain acidity but add layers of stone fruits and a Riesling-like minerality, particularly with age. Jankara Spanu, while not quite as fat, make very intense, tight vermentino full of matter and minerality. Both producers’ wines will reward ageing, Capichera’s in particular – I am still drinking Capichera Vermentino from 2002, with great pleasure.

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