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Florence, Italy: The History of Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Love, betrayal, and intrigue in Renaissance Florence
Dante's reference to Vernaccia
Boccaccio's reference to Vernaccia
Have you ever been to San Gimignano?
During the middle ages, devout Catholics were prompted to do a pilgrimage to Rome. The old Via Francigena (pilgrim's road) wound its way through many towns in Tuscany- including San Gimignano. Pilgrims, like tourists, stopped to sleep, eat, and purchase goods in the town, thus enabling economic growth. In addition, the lush, fertile hills surrounding San Gimignano enabled them to produce and export saffron and Vernaccia wine.
In 1199 the city became independent, and money was spent on churches and public buildings. As a show of wealth, successful families built towers that kissed the sky. By the end of the Medieval period, 72 towers graced the Tuscan skyline (each one soaring 230 feet). One can only imagine the impact this thriving city made to travelers when seen from a distance! Unfortunately, only 14 towers remain today.
On May 8, 1300 San Gimignano hosted the great writer Dante Alighieri. In his literary masterpiece, Divina Commedia, Dante meets Pope Martin IV in Purgatory, and he is seated among the gluttons, overcome by the temptation of Vernaccia.
Later, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the brilliant novel, Decameron, where Ghinno di Tacco captures the Abbot of Cluny who "eats toast and washes it down with Vernaccia."
‘Vernaccia’ comes from the Latin vernaculum, which means 'native' or ‘of the place.' This ancient varietal has been grown since Etruscan and Roman times, and is strictly connected to the area of San Gimignano. The grape has a tendency towards acidity and bitterness vs. fruitiness.
According to the Italian standards of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) Vernaccia di San Gimignano must be comprised of at least 85-90% Vernaccia di San Gimignano grapes. A maximum of 15% of approved white varieties is acceptable in the blend. It is aged for a minimum of 11 months, with 3 additional months in the bottle before release into the market.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is an extremely crisp white wine with high acidity, and best consumed when it is young or slightly aged. It is an excellent choice when serving fish or white meat dishes. Also good with peccorino cheese, especially when accompanied by mostardi (like Certaldo onion marmalade).
An excellent Vernaccia di San Gimignano to try is: Poderi del Paradiso (Biscondola).
As always, thank you for reading!
C. De Melo
Author & Artist