By Celia Strong
Really, just so you know, that title has nothing to do with anything. But I couldn’t stop myself. My “working” title was “A New Wine Rolles In.” Referring to a new grape with a multitude of names. And, Rolle is not the only new name we’re going to get to learn today. It seems, as we do our explorations, that many varieties are known by more than one name. And, over the years and lessons, it’s come to us as DNA testing to get some of them right. CSIs—that we are.
Now, starting at the beginning, we have our new variety for this week. Vermentino. This is a white grape variety that is found primarily around the Mediterranean. In Italy, it is widely planted in Sardinia as well as Liguria and Piedmont. (In Liguria, it is called “Pigato,” and in Piedmont it is called “Favorita.” See, already we have three names for one grape. Four, really, really.) A few plantings in Tuscany are making richer style wines from Vermentino. In southeastern France, in the Languedoc and Provence areas, it is grown as “Rolle.” And, recently, there has been success with the variety from Corsica, too. (Actually, some Vermentino is grown in parts of California, too! But, we need to limit ourselves today.) Over the years, there have been many discussions and studies on whether this variety, under these different names, is actually the same or related or what. For us, this week, let’s assume if they aren’t the same that they are at least related to each other. Phew.
Overall, wines from Vermentino are dry, with bright acidity. They have citrus aromas, with a clean minerality; they are medium bodied and are not often barrel aged. In Sardinia, where wine producers have started to really concentrate on Vermentino, there is a range of styles beginning to be noticed. They tend to be rich and fuller bodied with lemon, ginger and assorted nut flavors. From some specific Sardinian areas, they can also show an herbal character. From Liguria, the wines are a bit lighter bodied, but still crisp. From Tuscany, they have more texture with citrus, floral and mineral notes. No matter where these wines come from, though, the food pairings that work best with them are seafood. Fried, of course! Ceviche. Steamed or boiled with fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice. Seafood dumplings and empanadas. Even stuffed fish, like flounder. But, let’s move on to our Vermentinos. As you can imagine, there are not tons and tons of them available. But, aren’t we lucky. The ones we do have here are excellent!
Our first Vermentino is from Corsica. It is the Orin Swift Corse, made from 100% Vermentino. Many of us are familiar with this producer’s “Location” series of wines. Made from grapes grown in different wine areas around the world. Corse is the newest one in this collection. The powers that be at Orin Swift spent three years researching and developing the vineyards and winery for this project. All to make a truly Corsican style Vermentino wine. These grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and not barrel aged. So – the wine is crisp and lively with floral aromatics and flavors that include fresh, green apples, bittersweet almonds and Thai basil. This wine is great for drinking all year long, with seafood for sure, but also with light vegetable dishes, Asian foods, and mild pasta salads. Yum! (The label on this wine needs a quick mention. It is a picture of a hand-crafted shepherd’s knife, like so many Corsicans carry.) For $17.99.
Our second Vermentino wine is from the Provence area of southern France. This wine is a collaboration between the Perrin family, known for their wines in the Rhône Valley, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, known for other things. The grapes are actually grown in the vineyards at Chateau Miraval, owned by the Jolie-Pitt family. The Vermentino grapes grow in the northwest part of the property, where the soil is clay and limestone. With subsoil that is particularly well suited for this white variety. But, it is still called “Rolle” here. Not Vermentino. Ninety percent of these grapes are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, ten percent in barrels. There is a little bit of Grenache Blanc blended in. This wine is bright and clear and very pale. Its nose has white flowers, peaches and sweet spices like licorice. (Sounds strange, but it is delicious!) The mineral character runs through it, from front to back. And lingers forever. A minimal label on this bottle lets us really see how light the wine is. For $29.99.
So, again, we have some great new wines to try. Really new. Again, for this wonderful weather and the great summer foods we eat here. So, while they may or may not be known for other things, we should make sure we know them. Enjoy.