Remember wine writers Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch and their “we’re unimpressed” review of Est! Est!! Est!!! wine? Basically, they said that the Est! Est!! Est!!! wine is actually nothing to write home about, contrary to its discovery legend. The authors compared it to Vernaccia di San Gimignano, saying that both had a more compelling history than the wine itself. This bold statement inspired us to research the history behind Vernaccia di San Gimignano and it’s supposed less-than-memorable flavor.
When you think of Tuscan wines, you probably recall images of Chianti in a straw bottle, sunkissed Sangiovese grapes hanging on the vine and a rustic table packed with Italian fare. Although you might not typically think of white wines from Tuscany, that’s about to change. Tuscany’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano is extremely important to Italy’s wine history and it’s making a comeback.
Let’s be clear, Vernaccia is the name of the grape. It’s Latin for “indigenous.” That’s right, this grape is a native Italian through and through. Because of its meaning, there are a few other authentic Italian grapes that attach the word ‘Vernaccia’ to their names. To avoid any confusion (because the 123453459031 native grapes of Italy are puzzling enough), this special grape also also attached the village where it’s grown to its name. This grape was born and raised in San Gimignano, aka the seemingly perfect little medieval town perched on top of a perfect little hill. With its 13 towers rising up, this little village looks like it was plucked straight out of a fairytale. Literally all that’s missing is Rapunzel sticking her hair out of a tall window. The grape is grown exclusively in the area surrounding San Gimignano and produces dry white wines that are crisp, light-bodied and floral.
The first mention of Vernaccia was on some San Gimignano tax documents wayyyy back in 1276. They really thought they had something good going on. Word spread and soon the wine was on the tables of kings, popes and those top 1 percenters of the Middle Ages. People were going crazy for this stuff – it was like the Zima of the 13th century.
It didn’t let up. Vernaccia was in its heyday. For the next several hundred years, this grape took off, with production spreading from Tuscany to Liguria and to all major wine regions of Italy.
Case in point…
In part two of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, he wrote about a gluttonous pope who got seriously carried away gorging on Bolsena eels poached in Vernaccia. #ew #gross
In 1468, a Medici bride served the wine at her wedding and people went nuts. Lorenzo the Magnificent, the bride’s bro, couldn’t get enough and needed constant supply of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
The wine gained so much traction that it started popping up all over the place. Around 1500, Giorgio Vasari painted
“Allegory of San Gimignano and Colle Val d’Elsa” in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s town hall. The painting shows a satyr sipping on a jug of Vernaccia.
Italian writer Francesco Redi, penned a famous opera in 1685 called Bacco in Toscana (translated to Bacchus in Tuscany). Sure enough, he praised Vernaccia: “If anyone does not like Vernaccia harvested in Pietrafitta, let them be banned, cursed, and flee from my sight.” Whoa. Heavy stuff.
Times, they are a changin’
Once the 18th century rolled around, Europeans had a change in heart (and taste). New World bevvies imported into Europe were becoming cool, especially coffee, tea and liqueurs. Wine production began to decline, as did quality. All good things must come to an end, amirite?
The 20th century brought both world wars, which prevented the grape from making any big comebacks. Enter the 1960s, a renaissance for Italian wines. Vernaccia once again flourished in the vineyards surrounding San Gimignano. In 1966, it became the first Italian wine to be granted the appellation status of DOC (link to DOC meaning).This status mirrored France’s AOC model and assured a particular level or quality. This was kinda a huge deal for Vernaccia. The year 1993 brought more good news for the grape. It was promoted to an even higher quality status of DOCG (link to DOCG meaning). This further solidified its place in history. Today, Vernaccia di San Gimignano is back! Enjoy a glass, think of its legacy and the rest, as they say, is history.