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Rose Murray Brown on Italian vermentino wines

If you have holidayed in Provence, Tuscany, Corsica or Sardinia, you might well have come across a wine labelled vermentino.

Published: August 8, 2015
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A very fine ancient white grape, vermentino is becoming popular in the UK as almost every wine merchant and supermarket now lists one from somewhere in the world – priced from under £5 to over £20. Most vermentinos sold here are unoaked, fresh, crisp and youthful – ideal for serving as summery aperitifs and as an alternative to staples such as pinot grigio.

Confusingly, the vermentino grape, found in France, Italy and now in the USA and Australia, comes under several synonyms. In Provence and Languedoc Roussillon it is known as rolle – and often appears in blends (for example in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Languedoc White, £8, where it is blended alongside grenache blanc, viognier and marsanne).

In the Roero valley in Piedmont in north west Italy, where it has been grown since the 16th century, it is called favorita. Not far away in Genoa, on the Ligurian coast, they like to call the grape pigato – and hop over to Corsica and you will find growers referring to vermentino as malvasia de Corse. So poor old vermentino is a victim of its own success, with local appreciation clubs adopting their own synonyms. In Sardinia, where vermentino is its most important grape, it goes by its own name (phew) – and now has its very own DOCG, the island’s first and only.

Now producers in all regions are focusing on single varietal 100 per cent vermentino to make it easier for us. As our tasting shows there are some great value French and Italian examples from Languedoc, Sardinia, Corsica, Tuscany and even right down to Sicily. Now you can even find it in Lebanon (Massaya is experimenting with it here), in Malta, Australia, California, Virginia and Texas where producers are also getting in on the act.

So what does vermentino taste like? Floral on the aroma, zesty and minerally on the palate with definite herby undertones – rosemary and sage. It always has a full bodied feel to the mid-palate with alcohol hovering at about 13 per cent. Under £10, our tasters found that it can have a tendency towards dullness and neutrality, so choose carefully from our selection.

Sardinia

Le Stelle Vermentino di Sardegna 2013 (£8.99, Waitrose)
Alcohol: 13 per cent

Tasters found this acceptable – they enjoyed its fragrant aromas, peach and lemon fruits – but it was a bit disappointing in terms of herby character at this price. Vermentino di Sardegna can be produced anywhere on the island – at their best they are lively and characterful, but there are better examples of vermentino from Sardinia.

Vermentino di Sardegna ‘Iocalis’ 2014 Melis (£8.25, The Wine Society)
Alcohol: 13.5 per cent

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Iocalis means jewel in the local dialect. Grapes are harvested early to ensure good acidity, then fermented in tank at cool temperatures to retain primary floral notes and freshness. A vibrant, unoaked, herby, crisp, dry white, but disappointingly bitter on the finish, this is made by the Melis family in the Terralba commune in the southwest of Sardinia.

Vermentino Aragosta 2013 Santa Maria la Palma (£10.95, Valvona & Crolla)
Alcohol: 13 per cent

This has a nutty character to it – there’s a lively fresh, vibrant palate with almond and marzipan notes to the finish – but also typical underlying herby notes too. Try it with a mushroom and herb risotto.

Corsica

Vin de Corse Vermentino 2014 Domaine Saparale (£14.95, Yapp Bros, www.yapp.co.uk)
Alcohol: 13 per cent

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This reminds me of lying in a wildflower meadow – such an enchanting floral aroma with a definite sage and spice note on the palate. It is fresh and pretty vibrant, so ideal to serve your unsuspecting friends as an unusual aperitif. In comparison to the supermarket vermentinos, this one, made by Philippe Farinielli’s family estate in south west Corsica, had a great deal of character. Corsica has 800 hectares, so it would be great to see more Corsican examples over here. Well done Yapp for tracking down this one. STAR BUY

Tuscany

Cantaro Vermentino 2013 (£6.98, Asda)
Alcohol: 12 per cent

Very acceptable vermentino at this price from the Tuscan coast – it has that characteristic Italian nuttiness and a touch more richness than Languedoc vermentinos. There is also slightly less herbiness than you find in other vermentinos – it’s the sort of wine style that would appeal to those who normally drink pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.

Vermentino ‘Solosole’ 2014 Poggio al Tesoro (2012 vintage £15.95, Valvona & Crolla; 2014 vintage £17, Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry)
Alcohol: 13.8 per cent

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A very popular bottle at our tasting, this is vermentino at its richest with lovely intense spiciness and rich herby notes, citric fruit concentration, full textured, much fuller in flavour than anything
else in our tasting – ideal for serving with veal or pork dishes.

Sicily

The Venturer Series Vermentino 2014 (£4.79, Aldi)
Alcohol 12 per cent

On the lighter side of vermentino, it has a hint of the herby note, but is mainly lemony and zesty – ideal for those looking for something light, crisp, quaffable and undemanding. It’s not really typical of Italian vermentinos, but this Sicilian own label wine from Aldi is terrific value at under £5.

Languedoc roussillon Paul Mas Vermentino 2014 (£6.74/£8.99, Majestic Wine)
Alcohol 13 per cent

This ticked the boxes as a fresh, vibrant, zippy vermentino – and it would be a good value buy at £6.74 – bulk purchases apply. This is one of the few decent bargain vermentinos which isn’t too neutral in flavour – it is made by the indefatigable Jean-Claude Mas of Domaine Paul Mas.

Join Rose’s wine tastings in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews, www.rosemurraybrown.com

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Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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