Vernaccia di San Gimignano stands out among the top wines of Tuscany, being the region's only white wine to have reached the lofty heights of DOCG status. Long before its DOCG promotion (in 1993) its renown was well established; it was among the very first wines officially classified when Italy introduced the DOC system in 1966.
Vernaccia-based wine from San Gimignano has a long history, and since the Renaissance period has been considered one of Italy’s oldest and most noble wines. Its fame has no doubt been strongly connected to its region of origin, San Gimignano – an ancient Tuscan town famed for its medieval towers.
The Vernaccia wine grape is mentioned as early as 1276 in San Gimignano’s records and in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Its name is thought to originate from the word vernaculum, which means 'of the place' and is the etymological root of the English word 'vernacular'. As might be expected, in light of this fact, there are several grape varieties known as 'Vernaccia', which just happened to be the local grape variety used in their respective regions. Although there are several other Vernaccias in the country, such as in Marches and Sardinia, Vernaccia di San Gimignano is unique to this area in Tuscany. It was a wine considered to be fit for a king; Pope Martin IV was said to be especially partial to eels cooked in Vernaccia.
Despite its prominence, Vernaccia di San Gimignano does not seem to be as internationally renowned as many other prestigious Italian wines, particularly the limelight-grabbing reds. Nevertheless it is one of the most charismatic and distinctive Italian whites. It is recognized for its golden-hued color, powerful and full-bodied nature, heady floral bouquet, dry, crisp and persistent flavors, high levels of acidity and a characteristic bitter aftertaste. It also reflects its terroir, offering mineral characteristics of stone (particularly flint) from the sandstone soils where the grapes are grown.
DOCG rules stipulate that this white must be made from at least 90% Vernaccia and a maximum of 10% non-aromatic white grapes that are permitted in this region. It is also produced in three versions: tradizonale (made with extended maceration of the skins), fiore (from free-run must, the juice that runs from a press before it is turned on) and carato (barrel fermented). It is made with a potential alcohol of 11%, or 11.5% for a riserva. The riserva wine is made from the best grapes and must spend at least one year aging in the cellar, either in stainless steel or oak, as well as a further period of four months in bottle before release.