Each Monday for the last few weeks, we’ve been detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. First, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese, We continued with Drupeggio to Grillo, Inzolia to Nuragus, Pagadebit to Riesling Romano, and Sauvignon Blanc to Trebbiano Toscana. Today is the final installment, Verdello to Vien de Nus!
Although grown in Sicilia, the energetically acidic Verdello is cultivated primarily in Umbria, where it is a component of the region’s Orvieto. Sometimes Verdello goes by the name Breval. Despite Verdello’s linguistic similarity, it probably is not related to the Spanish Verdelho, which is often used to make Madeira. Wines made from Verdello strike a balance between sassy acidity and a bouquet of tropical and stone fruits.
Verdicchio (vehr-DEEK-kee-oh, vehr-DEEK-kyoh)
The verdant and fast-growing Verdicchio is the grape responsible for the wine of the same name made in Le Marche. It is also the grape called Trebbiano di Soave in the Veneto and Trebbiano di Lugana in Liguria, both of which are genetically identical to Verdicchio. Verdicchio (verde) gets its name from the slight greenish cast of its wine. Like Chardonnay, Verdicchio has a very mercurial character–it appears in wines that can be still or sparkling; they can also be dry and elegant, or acidic and quaffable, fruit-laden or almondy. Verdicchio very much reflects its terroir, its care and its vine’s age. When these three points are optimal, Verdicchio will show an abundance of apricot on the nose, a palate that is complemented by a tasty salinity, and a surprising ability to age. Le Marche has two renowned Verdicchio zones, Matelica and Jesi. The latter typically shows a lively, wildflower evocation of the wine, while the former is more restrained, delicate and nuanced.
Verduzzo has a split personality. When grown on the plains of Friuli, Verduzzo becomes Verduzzo Friulano, a dry wine that’s yellow with green highlights, and perfumed with fruit and almonds. When it’s cultivated in the hills of Friuli, however, Verduzzo’s winemakers make a desert wine either by allowing the grapes to grow over-ripe, or harvesting and then raisining the grapes before maceration. The result is rich golden desert wine that strides the line between sweet and semi-sweet, with floral notes, honeyed fruit and balancing acidity. Verduzzo is also cultivated to a lesser degree in the Veneto.
Vermentino grows predominantly in Liguria and Sardegna, two places whose seaside environments seem to require crisp, easy-drinking, herbal whites. Vermentino, which also goes by the name Pigato in Liguria as well as Favorita in Piemonte, is characterized by an almost astringent mouth, a quality of freshly mown grass, and a bracing saline finish. In better versions, there are also peachy and lemon zest undertones.
Not making anything easier, Vernaccia is a term that designates a group of completely unrelated varietals. The name Vernaccia comes from the word meaning “vernacular” or “indigenous,” and it was applied indiscriminately to grape that ranged in geographical areas from Toscana to Sardegna. Most often, Vernaccia refers to three varietals, two white and one red: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vernaccia di Oristano and Vernaccia Nera. Generally, when people refer to Vernaccia, they are talking about Vernaccia di San Gimignano, cultivated in Toscana and responsible for a straw yellow wine with a bouquet of flowers, herbs and hay. Vernaccia di Oristano grows in Sardegna, where it is vinified into a sherry-like wine that’s amber and redolent of toasted almonds and stone fruits. Vernaccia Nera is cultivated in Umbria and Le Marche; it’s ruby in color and has a nose and a palate of flowers and raspberries.
Vernaccia di S. Gimignano (vehr-NAHT-chyah dee sahn jee-mee-nyah-NOH)
Dating back to the twelfth century and probably Greek in origin, Toscana’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano is responsible for the wine of the same name. Vernaccia di San Gimignano was the very first white wine to achieve DOC status in 1966, and its designation was upgraded to a DOCG in 1993. The first designation probably saved the wine from extinction, for after WW II, Vernaccia di San Gimignano had been increasingly ripped out and replanted with fast-growing but unremarkable Trebbiano and Malvasia, but after the wine received DOC status, winemakers were prompted to replant. Rich, intense and slightly oxidized when Vernaccia di San Gimignano is vinified according traditional methods, the versions made by modern methods tend to be lighter in body and color and crisper on the palate.
Vien de Nus (VEE-ehn deh new, VIHN deh new)
This very rare grape grows in the Valle d’Aosta around the town of Nus. Let us know if you find any because it’s a mystery to us!