Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG is dry white wine made from 90-100% of the Vernaccia di San Gimignano grape grown around the touristy, multi-towered commune of San Gimignano in the north-west of Siena province in Tuscany, Italy. 0-10% other non-aromatic white grapes (eg. Chardonnay, but not Sauvignon Blanc) authorized for Tuscany are permitted. Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG Riserva must age in oak for one year, a stipulation Ian D’Agata (2014) feels can make the wines too oaky. Other wines made in the San Gimignano production zone include San Gimignano Rosso DOCChianti DOCG, and Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG.

DOC, DOCG status

Vernaccia di San Gimignano was first granted its DOC in 1966, the first for wine in Italy. In 1993 the Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOC was elevated to DOCG status, with the following reasons being given: 

  • i) Vernaccia di San Gimignano could prove that it was unique;
  • ii) this strain of the Vernaccia grape is grown nowhere else in Italy (it seems, although see Piccabòn);
  • iii) the wine has been documented by name since the C13th (the legend being that the vine was brought here by Perone Peroni, from the East, for the vineyards of Pietrafitta;
  • iv) the wine comes from a single commune.

Size: The surface area of the Municipality of San Gimignano is about 12,500 hectares, 5,600 of which are given to farming (vineyards, olive groves, cereal crops).

Terroir: The vineyards are predominantly on sloping ground, with variable exposures, altitudes, soil compositions and availability of water. Altitudes range from 67 to 500 metres (220-1,640 feet) above sea level. Most vineyards lie at altitudes of between 200 and 400m above sea level.

Soils: Mainly yellow-coloured sandstone (tuff) and yellow or grey clays from the Pliocene (6.8 to 1.8 million years old) on marine deposits rich in fossils and often layered over more compact clays present deep down. The soils are strongly characterised by the presence of sand and have almost no heavy stone at all, they are loose and therefore allow vines to put down deep roots. The soils are usually poor in organic substance and are well drained thanks to the sand. It is this sand, tuff, that is the characterising pedological element from the winegrowing-oenological point of view, due to the savoury flavour that it conveys to the wines that originate in it.

The steepness of the slopes and exposures to the sun vary. The zone is roughly halfway between the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Appennine mountains to the east. ‘Well exposed hills of light, almost chalky beige to grey soils where calcareous clays and tufa prevail. Warmer slopes towards the Elsa valley [east of San Gimignano] where marine deposits make a difference,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p198).

Climate: Mediterranean climate with rather dry summers, not particularly harsh winters and rainfall concentrated in two periods: April/May and November. Annual rainfall is around 700mm (27 inches) Temperatures vary from -5°C to +37°C. The area benefits from good ventilation all year round and only rarely is it cloaked in fog.

Vintages, production data

2019: Giuseppe Passoni of the Mormoraia estate told me 2019 saw a frost post-bud-burst, a wet May, and OK summer and a nail-biting autumn harvest (Anteprima 2019). ‘A tough cool season albeit with a nice autumn,’ one grower told me (Anteprima 2020). Marco Giusti of the Fornacelle estate told me ‘you had to wait and be patient to pick in 2019). 

2018: A good to very good quality, and normal vintage. San Gimignano’s 2018 vintage produced 39,600hl which is average in volume but over 25% more than in 2017. Of 1,900 ha of vines in San Gimignano, 720ha were destined to the production of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, 450 destined to the production of San Gimignano DOC, and 730 destined to the production of IGT, Chianti DOCG and Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG. There were around 170 producers in the San Gimignano area, 70 of whom bottle and sell their wine under their own brand. The 2018 vintage was a return to normal after the recent erratic years: it was cold at the right time, it rained enough to restore water reserves (abundantly in the first seven months of 2018, when 586.5 mm of rain fell compared to 532.42mm in the whole of 2017). For the producers this was a challenge eg. from downy mildew (peronospora). Spring and summer recorded average temperatures with dry heat and refreshing rains. Harvest began from 11th September. Average yields. The 2018 Vernaccia wines have lower alcohol levels compared to recent years. High potential yields allowed producers the economic room to discard sub-standard fruit. 

2017: The 2017 vintage produced 31,651 hl of Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOC from 720 hectares (1,778 acres). The 2017 growing season was defined by two climatic events. Winter was cold, especially so in January when average temperatures were half those of the previous two years. However, winter was also dry, and this, coupled with hot, dry, sunny weather in March brought budburst forward. Shoot growth began in the last ten days of March, 15 days ahead of the norm. On 19th-20 April 2017 a sharp drop in temperature caused crop losses of up to 30-40% in the worst cases, particularly in vineyards on lower-lying sites. Dry weather in May allowed affected vineyards a second chance to produce vegetative growth, although with fewer flowers and thus potential grapes. Sunny and very dry weather followed, with only one rain storm of note on 8th August. Vine stress was a potential issue leading to ripe and unripe berries on the same bunch. The result was yields were down 26% compared to 2016. The 2017 Riserva wines display higher than usual alcohol levels. 

In my report for the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards blind tasting competition (for which I was Tuscany Chair) I wrote ‘Vernaccia di San Gimignano is often labelled as nothing more than a refreshing dry white to be quaffed by tourists ogling the town’s looming towers. But San Gimignano was one of the few smaller Tuscan regions to pick up medals in nearly all price categories, from every day wines to super-premium.’

2016: 2016 was a very good year with a regular growing season. The wines have balanced acidity.

2015: 730 hectares (1,800 acres) produced 41,000hl of wine, 9% lower compared to 2014. Very hot in June and the beginning of August. Then alternate periods of rain and sun, with cool nights. Harvest began in the third week of September. Potentially promising. 

2013: One of the best vintages. Hot without being torrid. Rain fell exactly when needed. No hydric stress. Sunny and cool harvest, slow maturation. 

2012: Very dry growing season. 

2011: The first half of the growing season until mid-summer was cool, rainy. From mid-August the weather turned very hot. Wines made using skin contact tend to show marmalade-like flavours.

2009: 768 hectares (1,900 acres) in production.

2003: Very hot. Thick-skinned grapes with high sugars. Fat-tasting wines with high levels of alcohol.

2002: Very wet. Hard to find grapes unaffected by rot. 

1990: Around 400 hectares (988 acres) produced around 40,000hl of Vernaccia in 1990. 

1980: Wine production was around 26,000hl in 1980. 

Typical flavours: Apricot, ‘attractively bitter finish’ (Daniel Thomases, 2006), ‘beeswax with age’ (Walter Speller, 2015), bitter almonds, bland, bready, buttery, citrus, creamy, crisp, ‘dry, variable and generally underwhelming’ (Oz Clarke 2015, p272), flinty, floral, full-bodied, green apple, herby, lemon oil, lemon peel, lime, liquorice, nutty, orange peel, pale, phenolic, refreshing, salty-saline, spritzy, tangy, varnish, ‘violets that recall Sangiovese’ (Richard Baudains, 1992).

Food pairings: Locally the typical food for Vernaccia is wild rabbit, or chicken or fish.

Markets: 2019 In 2019 the Consorzio said that 42% of all sales in Italy were in San Gimignano itself, 19% of which was via direct sale from the winery itself.

Wineries

Certified organic | Alessandro Tofanari. | Canneta. | Cappellasantandrea. | La Castellaccia. | Cesani. | Collina dei Venti. | Fattoria Poggio Alloro. | Fornacelle. | Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara. | Il Palagione. | Lucii Libanio. | Montenidoli. | Mormoraia. | Palagetto. | Podere Le Volute. | Poderi Arcangelo. | San Quirico. | Signano. | Tenuta Montagnani.

No certification | Agricoltori del Chianti Geografico. | Cantine Guidi. | Casa alle Vacche. | Casale Falchini. | Castello di Montalto. | Cecchi. | Fattoria Abbazia di Monte Oliveto. | Fattoria di Fugnano e Bombereto. | Fattoria di Pancole. | Fattoria di Pietrafitta. | Fattoria San Donato. | Fontaleoni. | Guicciardini Strozzi. | Il Lebbio. | La Lastra. | Le Fornaci Azienda Agricola. | Macinatico – Masi. | Massimo Daldin. | Melini. | Panizzi. | Poderi del Paradiso. | San Benedetto. | Tenuta la Vigna. | Tenuta Le Calcinaie. | Teruzzi

Consorzio

Consorzio del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Via di Fugnano, 19

I-53037 San Gimignano (SI), Italy

Tel+39 0577 940108 | www.vernaccia.it 

Bibliography

Burton Anderson, The Wine Atlas of Italy (Mitchell Beazley, 1990).

Daniel Thomases in the Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW (Oxford University Press, 2006), p732.

Dr Ian d’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014), p153-5.

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p74.

Oz Clarke, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015).

Richard Baudains, ‘Theme and Variations’, Decanter July 1992, p54.

Walter Speller in the Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015), p780.