Jeffrey M. Cohen, CMS, Wine Specialist
Vermentino (“vur-men-teeno”) is a light-bodied white wine that grows mostly in Italy on the island of Sardinia and around Tuscany. What’s exciting about Vermentino is it can be deliciously complex in taste, one similar style to Sauvignon Blanc. Because Vermentino is so unknown, you can find high quality wines for a great value. Let’s delve into the details of Vermentino wine and what to look for and from where.
Despite the typical light-bodied character of Vermentino, it’s actually quite complex to taste. This is because Vermentino has higher levels of phenols, which contribute to its subtle bitterness on the finish — a taste often described as green almond. A glass of classic Vermentino will offer up lively aromas of pear, white peach, lime and pink grapefruit with subtle notes of crushed rocks and citrus zest. On the palate, Vermentino is almost always dry and somewhat oily with flavors of grapefruit and citrus, with a crushed rocky minerality and saltiness. On the finish, it can be a bit snappy with bitterness similar to the taste of grapefruit pith or, if it’s on the riper side, fresh almond.
There are typically two styles of Vermentino based on winemaking practices. One style is richer and creamier and the other is lighter, more floral and vibrant. The differences are also what is discussed mostly with Chardonnay. When I am asked to select a Chardonnay, I follow it up with the same question: Do you like a more buttery Chardonnay or clean and crisp?
The same is true with the Vermentino. If the winemaker chooses a creamier style, they will allow, after the initial alcoholic fermentation occurs, a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. Without getting too scientific, a special bacteria is added, which feasts on the tart malic acid in the Vermentino (it’s the same acid found in green apples) and produces small amounts of special flavor compounds called diacetyl. This diacetyl tastes creamy and rich like butter and offers a richer oily sensation on the tongue.
Vermentino with its somewhat oily character, salinity and phenolic bitterness is a wonderful wine to match with medium-weight dishes that play with rich herbs and spices. Due to its bolder intensity, you can easily match this wine with richer fish such as Halibut or even meats as bold as Italian Sausage filled with fennel. One key thing to pay attention to when pairing your Vermentino is the acidity level of the dish being prepared. Vermentino doesn’t have enough zesty acidity needed to match against tart pickled dishes, however it is incredibly well-paired with Shrimp or Chicken Tacos with a squeeze of lime. Vermentino is also an incredible pairing with garlicky dishes like Pesto.
If pairing with cheeses, you will find that your softer cheeses such as Ricotta, Buffalo Mozzarella and Goat Cheese will work the best, although some salty Feta and nutty Pecorino work nicely as well.
Because the Vermentino holds up to herbs nicely, this can also be paired with other cuisines such as Tex -Mex, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. A few come to mind, such as Falafel, Tabouleh Salad, Hummus and the aforementioned Chicken or Shrimp Tacos.
A couple of pairings to leave you with that are readily available in restaurants and, of course, your Club: Linguini garlic butter and clams. A traditional Shrimp Scampi will be delightful as well. Add some artisan bread with a shmear of pesto and finish with some fresh Pecorino. Lastly, a slow-baked multi-layered Spinach Lasagna or, for the carnivores, Italian Sausage Lasagna. Yummo!
The next time you are at the Club, whether lunch or dinner, try these wonderful wines and tell me what you think!
Jeffrey M. Cohen, CMS, is the Wine Specialist/Beverage Manager at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 210.677.9234.