It’s a year of anniversaries and celebrations: Vernaccia di San Gimignano was declared the first Italian DOC wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1966, and thus turns 50 years ‘young’ this year. And here in Tuscany, the famed Chianti Classico of the Gallo Nero logo, is turning 300 (but that is the subject of another post!)
Bet you didn’t know that the first Italian DOC was a white wine! Of course, it is now a DOCG and has been since 1993. A visit to Cusona, just outside of San Gimignano, brought me to the Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi winery where they’ve been making wine since 994. No, there is not a 1 missing from that date – they’ve been at it for over a thousand years.
Our gracious host, Principessa Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi, showed us the cellars and a sort of museum to the making of Vernaccia, the most historical of wines.
This is the wine Dante mentions in the Divine Comedy, when he meets Pope Martin IV in Purgatory, guilty of loving Vernaccia just a wee bit too much. For this is the wine of Popes… the Farnese Pope Paolo III was still ordering copious quantities in the 1500s.
And believe it or not, Pope Francesco was still drinking this wine just a couple of months ago when he met with the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill.
An unusual site: a white wine aging in the bottle – for this is what they do with the Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva, which ages beautifully and may be kept several years, its complexity evolving. And Vernaccia di San Gimignano is one of those rare whites that has a Riserva.
The grape is also Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which differentiates it from other vernaccia varieties, going back to the Vernazza wine of Liguria, grown on the terraces of the Cinque Terre. Not to be confused with the Vernaccia di Oristano DOC (Sardinia) or Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG (Marche) which is a spumante made from the Vernaccia Nera grape, and is a rare red bubbly.
Known as the Manhattan of medieval cities, San Gimignano sports its many towers, even a pair of ‘twin towers’ that supposedly inspired the architect of the famed New York towers. It continues to charm after a thousand years…
Here, we talk in millennial terms: the Guicciardini Strozzi made a ‘new’ wine in 1994 called Millanni, their very own Super Tuscan Bordeaux blend that starts from the traditional Sangiovese (40%), adding equal parts of Cabarnet Sauvignon and Merlot. With 18 months in French oak, we are talking major body here, complete with important tanins. Wonder if they’ll be talking about this wine 700 years from now, like with the Vernaccia?
What a peak into the past, and yet a vision toward the future.