Montenidoli’s 2009 Tradizionale Vernaccia di San Gimignano

This past Tuesday, gathered around a table at the center of Piccino restaurant, Elisabetta Fagiuoli of Montenidoli gave The Wine House staff a brief but exhaustive history of her Tuscan estate and the nearby medieval town of San Gimignano. The history lesson started by describing that 5 million years ago where Montenidoli now stands was once covered by sea. Today her vineyards grow on these mineral rich soils where ancient oyster shells dapple the rows. The lecture continued to more “present” day events pointing out that it was the Etruscans who predated the Romans that first planted grape vines in this area. Elisabetta went over a lot of information covering many years! She had us riveted to her every word. She showed us photos on her iPad that made us long to fly back home with her. Apart from the lovely aerial photos taken from her estate that literally look down on to San Gimignano (those lucky enough to have visited San Gimignano know that it is a town built on top of a hill) and the valley below, what impressed me most were the photos of the oyster shells and other marine critters that are strewn about her vineyards and a shot of her vineyard in what is probably late spring/summer with cover crop so lush and alive that it looks more like a flower garden. The healthy cover crop in the rows of vines is evidence of the vigor and vitality of Montenidoli soil. Then we began to taste Elisabetta’s wines…


The first sip went to the 2009 Tradizionale Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This is 100% Vernaccia that is left in contact with the skins for an extended period of time before fermenting in cement tanks. It is golden in color with formidable structure and firmness to the finish. To me this wine drinks like a red wine and with this in mind, it really needs food to show off its full potential. Don’t confuse this with a fruity aperitif. No, this wine needs to be lingered over and tasted with the same kind of reverence and mindfulness one gives to a powerful red. I’d love to pop open a bottle the next time I come home with an armful of baby braising greens from the farmer’s market. Elisabetta loves to suggest pairing the Tradizionale with liver and spinach, commenting that iron rich foods compliment it perfectly. I haven’t put this suggestion into practice but I’m game. I can only imagine how well earthy organ meats would play against the fruit, extraction and tannic underpinning of the Tradizionale. Elisabetta makes many references to child rearing and nursing when speaking about her wines. She described leaving the Tradizionale grapes in contact with the skins as a mother who would not want to leave contact with her child. She then made it absolutely clear to us that she is looking for the development of flavor with the extended skin contact but in no way is there oxidation. All the wines showed beautifully that evening and as the glasses emptied the theme that was raised over and over was that Montenidoli’s Vernaccias are in a class by themselves and though Vernaccia may not be considered a ‘noble’ grape yet, when the synergy of place, terroir, varietal and winemaker come together like they do with Elisabetta’s Vernaccias perhaps the concept of ‘noble’ grape should be reconsidered. Earlier in the day, Elisabetta’s wines were presented to many top SF sommeliers – all were blown away by the complexity of her wines.

I am so grateful to have spent an evening with Elisabetta trying her wines in the company of my colleagues. Listening to Elisabetta explain that it is not she who makes the wine but it is the soil of Montenidoli that is responsible helped to solidify what I already knew to be true that this is a woman who is deeply connected to the soil and is clear as to her role in making, or raising as she puts it, wine. Of course the evening wasn’t all serious wine talk, Elisabetta shared many words of wisdom like when she announced that there are two times in life when you can behave as you wish, before 6 and after 70! At one point Elisabetta threw out that Andre Tchelistcheff, known as “the dean of American winemakers”, came to visit her in the late 70s. She said that Andre told her to put her wine in barrel and she did! I nearly fell off my chair. This story resonates with me on so many levels, the least of which is that it took a Russian American to tell an Italian how to make wine…my ethnic chauvinism is rearing its ugly head!

Elisabetta will be back in town next week for Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri tasting at Fort Mason. If you can’t make the event, don’t fret, we have plenty of her lovely wines available at The Wine House. Come on by, we have many more stories to share!
Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Cortese, Gavi, Piemonte

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