A yellow grape from Italy, Vermentino is common in Sardinia, Piemonte, Liguria, Corsica and Languedoc, France. (It’s occasionally found in California.) It’s aromatic, likes beachfront property, and produces light, youthful, acid-forward wines that are often similar to Sauvignon Blanc but less herbaceous and with more salinity. It has a slightly bitter finish (in a good way) and commonly expresses notes of lime pith, almond, white flowers, grapefruit and granite. Like Chardonnay (stay tuned), it tends to fall into two camps: Creamy and unctuous (thank you, malolactic fermentation), or astringent and floral. Both styles are lovely when done well. Vermentino is, like so many Italian whites, a wine that loves summer evenings, seafood, cheeses, and garlic. (It’s also a friend to poultry and pork if you eat those things; keep it away from super-sour stuff).
Seven Bottles to Try
Dolia Vermentino di Sardegna (Sardinia, $13)
Great balance of “crisp” and “creamy” characteristics with a lot of citrus notes on the palate and a very flowery nose. Excellent balance.
Ferruccio Deiana Donnikalia Vermentino di Sardegna (Sardinia, $19)
Light-bodied and almond-forward, crisp acidity, steely character. Delicate and very dry. A fabulous aperitif or accompaniment to light appetizers. Very graceful.
Frescobaldi Massovivo Amariglia (Tuscany, Italy $25)
Characteristic straw color with green reflexes. This Vermentino has a markedly different nose than is common with Sardinian ones: It’s quite ripe and intense and features resinous herbal notes (rosemary, fennel) as well as the more typical almond blossom quality. Soft body, gentle acidity for the varietal, rather opulent. A little bit of white peach on the finish.
Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc Cotes du Roussillon (Cotes du Roussillon, France $15)
This one’s a blend (Grenache blanc and Macabeo are also present) so you get a different expression but the Vermentino notes are still discernable. Saline quality. Grapefruit and lime aromatics. A briny, savory finish. The Grenache lends a little bit of melon and honey that you wouldn’t typically get in a pure Vermentino. This wine is absolutely begging to be paired with fish.
Portalupi Vermentino (Healdsburg, CA $28)
I was recently turned onto this Sonoma County winery with a focus on Italian varietals and was stunned it had taken me so long to find them. The fruit for their Vermentino comes from Los Carneros, the area that straddles the southern ends of Napa and Sonoma counties and gets the marine wind this grape loves. Acidity in the range people tend to refer to as “racy” or “zippy” or “bracing.” Heady white-flower nose; almond blossom and gardenia. Citrusy mid-palate. Lingering finish, with a mineral profile that lets you know you’re not in the Old World any more. A bit unctuous or mouth-coating, but definitely not overly assertive. Very, very good. If “Cal-Ital” is your food style, get yourself some of this stuff.
Rocca De Montemassi Calasole Vermentino (Tuscany, Italy $15)
Subtle and nuanced Tuscan white. Floral nose, almond base, and a bunch of fruit and spice layers in between: yellow plum, apple, a bit of citrus. Good acidity. A sort of “dusty” minerality that I find is common to Tuscan wines. The occasion for this one? Pasta. Fish. Thursday. You’re thirsty. Whatever.
Tank Garage “California Stroke” (Calistoga CA $30)
A Verdelho/Vermentino “skin contact” blend from Sierra foothills fruit. Leaving the juice on the skins gives white wines richness and often different flavor profiles: In this case, lemon, grapefruit and neroli, followed by key lime, honeydew melon, and the almond and honey notes that are often found in skin-fermented whites. PS, this one sells out. If you can’t find it, keep your eye on Tank Garage for the next release.