Vernaccia — A Guide to the Basics

The quintessential white grape from Tuscany is capable of greatness.

Two glasses of white wine
Photo: Yulia Naumenko / Getty Images

There are some grape varieties in Italy that are spread over a wide swath of the country. Sangiovese is a classic example, but there are also other, more regionally specific varieties like Nebbiolo, which achieves legendary status with Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont but nowhere else in Italy. Similarly, Vernaccia scales great heights in Tuscany, yet is rarely seen elsewhere. Let's take a look at what makes it so special there.

What is Vernaccia Wine?

Vernaccia is the white wine produced from the grape variety of the same name. It is rarely seen outside of Tuscany, and it is responsible for the region's only DOCG white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. There, up to 10% of other grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano, Malvasia, and others) can be added to Vernaccia itself. Outside of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the Vernaccia grape variety is often found as a blending partner with other grapes, but it's in and around San Gimignano that it achieves its most notable expression.

Where Does Vernaccia Wine Come From?

The Vernaccia grape variety has a history that can be definitively traced back to the 13th century. It was a wildly popular grape in that era, and the white wine produced from it found its way to the tables of kings and popes. Even Dante Allighieri mentioned it in The Divine Comedy, and Michelangelo praised it, in L'Aione: Vernaccia, he wrote, "bacia, lecca, morde, picca, punge," or "kisses, licks, bites, pinches and stings." So, yes: Its history in Italy is deep.

But that fame didn't last, and by the 19th century, it had fallen out of favor. According to some sources, it wasn't until the 1930s that Vernaccia embarked upon its eventual comeback; even today, despite its DOCG status, it is not nearly as widely planted as it was in its heyday. Still, its importance in Tuscany is difficult to overstate, and the best wines made with Vernaccia grapes are truly terrific.

In the Marche region, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG is produced from Vernaccia Nera, a red clone of the variety for which a minimum of 40% of the grapes are required to be dried prior to being pressed, blended with any non-dried grapes, and then crafted into a red sparkling wine. This is not widely seen in the United States, but worth checking out if you do come across it.

On a side note, there is a grape in Sardinia called Vernaccia di Oristano, and another in Alto Adige known as Vernatch, yet despite their names, they are not the same as Vernaccia and should not be considered synonymous.

Why Should You Drink Vernaccia Wine?

From a historical standpoint, Vernaccia is deeply tied to Italy's past. If you believe that wine has the potential to express the character of a particular patch of the planet, then Vernaccia, with its Italian roots that stretch back nearly a millennium, offers a particularly affecting view.

In the end, however, a wine's history means little if the liquid itself isn't delicious, and in that regard, Vernaccia succeeds wildly. It's a crisp and energetic wine that still has plenty of texture and presence on the palate; it's a remarkably food-friendly white that works just as well with hard, salty cheeses and light charcuterie as it does with vegetables, poultry, and fish. Given its primacy in San Gimignano, it provides producers and growers the opportunity to express the multifaceted character of the appellation in often fascinating ways.

Vernaccia also offers tremendous value. Excellent bottles of Vernaccia di San Gimignano can be found for less than $30, which is a great bargain for a DOCG wine of such serious historical importance and contemporary accomplishment.

What Does Vernaccia Taste Like?

Vernaccia's acidity tends to lean in the direction of crisp, mouth watering citrus notes, primarily in the lemon family, as well as hints of hard orchard fruit, herbs, and a seam of minerality anchoring it all. It's an energetic wine that also possesses excellent presence on the palate, neither gulpably light nor drinks-like-a-Guinness heavy. In the world of white wine, it occupies a bit of a Goldilocks position.

As always, serving temperature will have a huge impact on the perceived character of a bottle of Vernaccia: Cooler temps will highlight the crisp aspects of it, whereas slightly less of a chill will allow the texture itself to come to the fore, as well as the non-fruit and more savory characteristics. With a couple of years of age, a sense of nuttiness is likely to emerge.

Five Great Vernaccia Wines

There are countless great Vernaccia wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Vernaccia has to offer.

Cecci

This well-known Tuscan producer traces its roots back to 1893, and today it crafts wines from throughout the region. Its Vernaccia di San Gimignano is relatively easy to find, reliably tasty, and pleasantly affordable.

Il Palagione

The farmstead itself started in the 16th century, and today, visitors can take advantage of the agriturismo on site. While there, they're sure to savor plenty of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, of which the team at Il Palagione produces four individual bottlings.

La Lastra

Between their acclaimed Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva, both organic, it's no wonder that La Lastra has become a go-to producer for the great white wine of Tuscany.

Montenidoli

True Vernaccia di San Gimignano experts, Montenidoli produces three, including the oak-fermented "Carato," which lends the finished wine more weight and richness than more standard expressions. They also craft white blends that include Vernaccia alongside other varieties, but that aren't technically Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Teruzzi & Puthod

According to their importer, "Teruzzi owns the largest expanse planted with Vernaccia. The estate stretches over 180 hectares – 94 under vines, of which 60 hectares are under Vernaccia vines." Their Vernaccia di San Gimignano is critically acclaimed and widely available, the latter of which isn't always the case with this appellation.

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