Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
Sometimes in the world of wine, a wine grape becomes a hot item.
In some cases it could be because the press and the sommelier community has taken a shine to a particular grape. That was, and is, the case with the white Austrian wine Gruner Veltliner, which became a darling of those in the know a decade ago. Gru-Vee, as it is sometimes called with affection, has a floral nose and acidity that makes it a great wine to pair with food. It also was, and is, a wine that was hip. Ordering a Gruner Veltliner in a restaurant ensured that you were on the inside, a member of the cognoscenti. You made a sexy choice.
The Italian grape Pinot Grigio has been kind of like that on a larger scale. There are those who not only like Pinot Grigio, they know that ordering it instead of, say, a glass of Chardonnay, says something about who they are – that they don’t strictly follow the herd, that they are more discriminating in their wine choices.
Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it is one of the things that makes wine fun. The idea that there are new grapes and new wines out there from new places that you may have never heard of can be intriguing and stimulating. Nobody wants to be in a rut, and finding the new taste sensation can be just the thing that re-inspires your drinking habit.
That said, there are some rumblings that an old wine with ancient roots is making a bid as the next hot young thing. The grape is called Vermentino and it hails from the Mediterranean, though there are a few American producers who are working with it.
Vermentino is making a run for the same reason that other wines become popular, because it is tasty, goes well with food and, let’s face it, because it is so fun to say. The grape is known for producing aromatic, minerally, crisp wines that are a perfect fit with the seafood of summer. Briny, oysters on the half shell that smell of the ocean, sea bass lightly grilled, perhaps some calamari or scallops. If you can imagine a meal under a yellow umbrella that shields a blue sky in a small cafe in a tiny port town on the coast of Italy, France or Spain, then a Vermentino would be the kind of wine that would only make the day better. Sound pretty good right now?
While the origins of Vermentino are disputed – some say the Spanish spread the grape during their southerly sails in the Middle Ages – the steep and rocky hills of Corsica and Sardinia are covered with Vermentino vines. There it can take root and grow like a weed. Vigorous and productive in the right conditions, which include direct sun and high temperatures, the Vermentino grapes can produce wines of richness and intensity. The other prime growing regions for Vermentino are the Ligurian and Tuscan coastlines in Italy along with Provence region of France near Nice. In France, the grape is called Rolle.
Here in the United States, Vermentino was introduced by the Paso Robles winery Tablas Creek that is partially owned by the Perrin Family of France’s famed Chateau de Beaucastel. In 1993 they brought a tiny amount of Vermentino into the country, nursed it and now have 3 acres. While they make just more than 1,200 cases of the wine, anyone who has tried it generally raves.
Another California producer is Uvaggio. Now based in the Napa Valley, this small grower of Italian varietals (they also make a Barbera and Moscato) bottles a Vermentino that they grow in Lodi, Calif. Jim Moore, one of the founders of Uvaggio, has described the Uvaggio Vermentino as “Gruner Veltliner meets Pinot Grigio.”
It’s just that Vermentino is more fun to say.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.