Vernaccia Wine

An insight into one of the most popular white wines in Italy

8 minutes

A deeper look into Vernaccia wine, a white wine fit for Kings!

The variations of different Vernaccia grapes

The endless complexities of naming grapevines can make it difficult for us foreigners to identify Vernaccia, as it has many names. The most popular titles used for Vernaccia are: Granazza, Vernazza, Bergamasca and Guarnaccia. The names of Vernaccia wine change depending on where the grape is grown; for example if you’re visiting the west coast of Sardinia, Vernaccia wine is most commonly known as Granazza. Although Vernaccia is predominantly a white wine, there are also red Vernaccia grapes which are used to make the Vernaccia Nera wine - we prefer the white Vernaccia. The most prestigious Vernaccia wines around the world come from San Gimignano, a historic town in Tuscany and Oristano in Sardinia. The origin of the name Vernaccia throughout studies has been said to come from the word vernaculum, meaning ‘of the place. Many misunderstandings are made from other local grape varieties named Vernaccia (being the most common grape grown in that area), from the high quality D.O.C.G Vernaccia of San Gimignano or Sardinia.

The sherry-like white wine is filled with fruity and floral aromas, combined with notes of almond. Not only does this Italian wine leave your palette full of flavour, it’s golden-amber colour is aesthetically pleasing to look at over an appetiser or dessert somewhere over the beautiful hilltops or olive groves of San Gimignano, the breathtaking seas of Sardinia or over a relaxing meal on your get away. We love to enjoy a bottle of Vernaccia from the viewing points of San Gimignano, overlooking the stunning landscape of Tuscany, watching the sunset and hues of orange rise from the horizon, covering the blue sky and creating shadows over the towers.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano

San Gimignano, 'City of Vernaccia di San Gimignano'

"He had the holy church in his arms: from the torso down, and purge for fasting Bolsena eels and vernaccia" - Dante

Vernaccia wine has been made in San Gimignano, Tuscany, since the Renaissance era and is considered one of the eldest and most kingly white wines in Italy. The Vernaccia grape has been stated in records dating back to 1276 in the medieval town, as well as in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. The wine was recognised to be fit for kings and was found on almost every table of noblemen or ruling families, Pope Martin IV was known to devour a delicious dish of eels marinated with Vernaccia wine from San Gimignano. The wine also became well established in other parts of Europe as many French poets would refer to the white wine in their poems, “in truth, of all wines it is the non plus ultra”(meaning of all wines it is the best), mentioned by Servais Copale and Jofroi of Waterford. By the 15th century, Vernaccia di San Gimignano was not only found on the tables of the more affluent families in Tuscany, yet the divine drink had reached to the Lord of Milan in 1487, Ludovico il Moro, who requested 200 flasks of Vernaccia from San Gimignano to offer at the royal wedding of Isabella, the daughter of the King of Naples, highlighting the popularity and speciality of Vernaccia. The 17th century became the ‘golden age’ of Vernaccia di San Gimignano as it was quoted with compliments by the author of the first ‘guide to Italy’ for travellers, he stated that San Gimignano was, “a particular little town, due to its production of superb wines and the fact that it is adorned by splendid temples''. Not only did this boost the recognition of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, many poets mentioned their appreciation of the now famous wine in their writing, such as Gabriello Chiabrera (“very sweet liqueur”), Francesco Reidi in his poem ‘Bacco in Toscana’ threatened, “If there is anyone who does not like Vernaccia harvested in Pietrafitta, he shall be banished and cursed and shall flee from my sight” and the wine was even painted by Giorgio Vasari in the form of a young satyr drinking the local wine, this painting can be found in Florence, in the Salone dei Cinquecento of Palazzo Vecchio. Although Vernaccia di San Gimignano was soaring throughout history, the 18th century was the start of its decline and removal off of the spotlight as other special beverages began to enter the circulation. Other liqueurs, tea, coffee and chocolate became the new and exclusive delicacies, drawing away attention from San Gimignano’s Vernaccia. This downfall continued in the 19th century and Vernaccia vineyards were being mixed with other grape varieties, making it more difficult to find the original and authentic Vernaccia grapes of San Gimignano. However, hope was not lost as the Head of the Itinerant Lectures on Agriculture of Colle di Val d’Elsa, Carlo Fregola, highlighted the importance of finding the old grape variety to farmers as Vernaccia wine is of high prestige - clever Carlo! Farmers began finding the original grape in 1931, unfortunately, the search was interrupted by World War II. The rebirth of Vernaccia di San Gimignano occurred again in the 1960s, as replanting of the old grape commenced. With victory for San Gimignano, the Vernaccia white wine became the first wine to earn the title ‘Denomination of Controlled Origin’ in 1966, later followed by the attainment of becoming a D.O.C.G (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) in 1993. Until today, the quality of the divine white wine fit for kings is still being improved and its legacy continues in San Gimignano, even reaching the shelves of many shops and glasses of many tables worldwide. We find the journey of Vernaccia di San Gimignano very inspirational, as we are becoming winemakers ourselves, we know that there will be ups and downs, victories and loses and we are ready for that because we believe in the potential of our wine, our farm and us to propel through this long journey, together!

Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G

A diagram depicting the region of Tuscany, where San Gimignano is located, how the Vernaccia grapes of San Gimignano look, where and how long they are aged for (at least 11 months in the barrel and 3 months in the bottle), as well as exploring the different flavours this white wine expresses

For Vernaccia wine to be worthy enough to gain the title Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G, it is obligatory that the wine must consist of at least 85% Vernaccia grapes from San Gimignano, leaving 15% room for other white grape based wines (non-aromatic) that have been cultivated within the region of Tuscany. The rules become stricter as the following white grape varieties are forbidden to be mixed with the Vernaccia: Muller Turgau, Malvasia di Candia, Tramier, Incrocio Bruni 54 and Malvasia Istriana. Therefore, the only white wines technically allowed to be mixed with the Vernaccia are Riesling, Trebbiano and Sauvignon (a maximum of 10%). The best quality Vernaccia grapes are chosen and used to develop Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva, with a minimum ageing time of 11 months in a wooden or steel barrel, followed by a minimum period of 3 months bottle ageing before the wine may be sold. The yield of Vernaccia grapes per hectare is limited to 9000kg, to ensure high quality grapes that are receiving the most nutrients the soil can provide. The grapes must then go through the process of vinification and ageing in the area of San Gimignano to be declared a D.O.C.G. 

Characteristics of Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G 

The light yellow coloured wine has golden-amber highlights and the colour deepens as the wine matures, creating an antique gold colour. While the crisp wine is still young, it emits floral and fruity scents, whereas, as the wine ages, the perfume evolves into a slightly more mineral smell of flint. As the Vernaccia ages, its taste becomes more sensational and unique, making it one of the very few white wines to become Riserva. 

Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G is best served with the Mediterranean cuisine, with fish dishes (cooked or raw), white sauce pastas, white meat, rice and fresh salads and vegetables, as well as complementing the savoury taste of Italian cheeses or if the Vernaccia is sweeter, the wine can also be drunk over a delightful Italian dessert. We have found that the storing temperature should be between 8°C-10°C but for Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G, 12°C-14°C is optimum.

Vernaccia di Oristano

Vernaccia di Oristano from the 1970s

Vernaccia di Oristano is made in Sardinia, within the province of Oristano (hence the name Oristano, most Italian wines have the place where they’re made, in the title of the wine). Vernaccia di Oristano has more of a warmer and more spicy taste than Vernaccia di San Gimignano, bringing out flavours of dried orange, coffee, honey and chestnuts.The origins of how the Vernaccia vines began to grow on this alluring Island has been debated for centuries; whether the vines were already growing in Sardinia, whether the wine has French roots as the word Vernaccia may have been derived from the word ‘Grenacheor’, or possibly the vines arrived in Sardinia during the Roman Empire. Either way, we are glad that the Vernaccia grapes are able to grow in Sardinia as it gives us more amazing Italian wines to try! Ampelographists have noticed that the leaves of the grapes have a pentagonal or three-lobed form with delicate skinned golden yellow grapes, that tend to grow in an abundant cone shape. These features are unique to the Vernaccia grapes that are harvested in Oristano. Vernaccia wine became the first wine in Sardinia to gain the title D.O.C in 1971; to earn this label, the wine must be made of 100% Vernaccia di Oristano grapes and has to be made within the community of the lower Tirso subregion. In contrast to this accomplishment, there has been a continuous downfall in the production of the wine. From using 1500 hectares of the vines in the 1970s to only 435 hectares in 2010! This is most probably due to the wines dominant competitor, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. During recent years, under 10% of Vernaccia di Oristano vines have been planted, 60% of its vineyards are over 30 years old! 

The production process of Vernaccia di Oristano

The flor that veils the Vernaccia, protecting the wine from excessive oxidation

Creating a good quality Vernaccia in Oristano merely means that the soil has to be filled with the utmost nutrients to grow tasteful grapes (that’s obvious), but through the practice of particular oenological methods. After the fermentation stage, in March, the Vernaccia is moved into barrels made of oak or chestnut, filled up to 10-20% of the barrels capacity. The environment in the barrel creates a microclimate perfect for the growth of yeast (a yeast called genus saccharomyces cerevisiae), therefore flor is formed - a white veil with yellow reflections which covers the surface of the wine, in turn protecting the wine from too much exposure to oxidation while aging for a long period of time. The flor is not an easy component to form, the percentage of alcohol must be at least 14.5% as any less will cause the wine to become vinegar and not any more alcohol than 16% as this will reduce the effect of protection from the flor, causing the yeast to die. 

If this process goes as planned, the wine enters phase two of its life in the barrel. The metabolism regime of the yeast changes not only producing flor, yet due to the air in the atmosphere of the barrel reacting with the ethyl alcohol, acetaldehyde is a bi-product produced that enhances the final result. A downfall in the alcohol content occurs during phase two, which has the potential of watering down the Vernaccia di Oristano (this is where the science behind the wooden barrels comes in). As wooden barrels are used, this allows for the water molecules that are smaller in comparison to alcohol molecules, to evaporate escaping through the porous texture of the wood, which is the reason why Vernaccia di Oristano cannot be aged in steel barrels! The barrel ageing process can continue for 3-4 years, although the minimum aging time required to acquire the title D.O.C is 2 years, with a minimum bottle aging of 3 months. However, we’ve found that many winemakers have declared, ‘the older the better’. This complex yet fascinating process gives the final product of a deliciously tasting white wine, ready for your meals with fresh Italian fish or an enticing dessert!

Famous Vernaccia Wines

Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva ‘L’Albereta’ - Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara 2016

Vernaccia di San Gimignano Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara, L'Albereta Riserva 2016

This particular Vernaccia di San Gimignano rings champion of the range of white wines. Made of 100% Vernaccia di San Gimignano grapes, L’Albereta Vernaccia refreshes the palate with an apricot aftertaste, combined with touches of sage and delicate notes of oak. It’s made apparent that this golden coloured Vernaccia is of the D.O.C.G denomination and most certainly deserved! We first tried this white wine over dinner in San Gimignano, whilst eating a light meal of white meat with mixed vegetables - the wine went really well with our meal, one glass each just wasn’t enough! The last award received by Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara was in 2018, awarded by Vini Buoni d’Italia with four stars.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva - La Lastra 2017

Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G Riserva, La Lastra 2017

Making part of the denomination of Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G wines, this Vernaccia tastes outstanding. La Lastra’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano is organic and made up of 98% Vernaccia di San Gimignano and 2% of Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Bianca lunga del Chianti. With only 8000 bottles made from the harvest, we’re not sure if there are any left, due to its amazing quality! With an alcohol content of 13.5%, the dark straw amber wine is filled with a mix of citrus and floral notes, giving it a rather tropical finish, combined with a hint of spice from the wooden barrels it was aged in. La Lastra’s Vernaccia goes well with savoury appetisers and white meats.

Vernaccia di Oristano D.O.C Riserva 1968 - Silvio Carta

Vernaccia di Oristano D.O.C RIserva, Silvio Carta 1968 and 1929

Silvio Carta’s Vernaccia reminds us all of why Vernaccia di Oristano is one of the best white wines worldwide. Providing a wift of Sardinia, bringing freshness and flavour to the nose with scents of honey, pine, coffee and a sense of the sea. With an alcohol gradient of 16%, on the palette this Vernaccia is considered almost like a liquor due to its sweetness, ending with a slight bitterness of almond. The range of Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva 1968 was dedicated to the parents of Elio Carta who explicitly stated, “I wanted to bottle what I consider the ultimate, unique and unrepeatable Vernaccia”. This collection of Vernaccia di Oristano is most certainly “unrepeatable”, due to the excellence of this white wine, we have found that the value can be up to €400 per bottle in America! We have not yet bought a bottle, however we were lucky enough to try a glass (or three) over dessert at a close friend’s party - the divine complexity of sweet and saline is unforgettable for us.

Vernaccia Nearby 

La Rocca

La Rocca, San Gimignano, Tuscany

The first floor of La Rocca, a multimedia floor displaying Vernaccia through history

To gain more detailed information about Vernaccia di San Gimignano: it’s history, the production process and the top wineries, what better place to go than San Gimignano? (20 km away from La Torre) We recommend visiting La Rocca as this beautiful place alongside its amazing employees taught us so many interesting facts about Vernaccia di San Gimignano by some of their expert sommeliers. We also had a wine tasting specifically to try Vernaccia di San Gimignano. We got to flavour Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G as well as the Riserva, some of our favourites were: Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva D.O.C.G 2017 Guicciardini Strozzi, Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G Villa Cusona and Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva La Lastra 2018. Even whilst leaving La Rocca, we still had the exotic flavours of fruity and floral notes tingling our paletes.


Vernaccia di San Gimignano VIII Rima D.O.C.G, Corbucci

Just under 3 km away from La Torre lies our neighbour, Corbucci and his fantastic winery in Gambassi Terme. Over the years Francesco Corbucci has developed VIII Rima, a flavourful Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G. Made of 100% Vernaccia grapes which his grandfather planted in San Gimignano, stating, “In that land where the sun aligns towards the towers of San Gimignano, I decided to plant a vine, and I chose the Vernaccia that I love. Picking each grape one by one, caring for the wine with my hands. With a taste superfine and velvety, it leaves every palate satisfied” ~ Mario Corbucci. We love the compassion and almost the romance that winemakers have with their wine, the more we go through our own journey of making our first wine, the more we fall in love with the process and especially the results. The result of VIII Rima most definitely has velvety hues of gold with shiny reflections of yellow. The alcohol volume of 12.5% compliments the nose with a tropical breath of pineapple and banana, as well as the mouth with a fresh and fruity finish of jasmine and almond.


Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Panizzi

Just under 20 km far from La Torre, the agriturismo Panizzi who abide by “two inseparable guidelines” of identity and quality, really struck out to us as a place we remember - not only due to their stunning panorama of San Gimignano, but also because of their Vernaccia di San Gimignano! Being produced since 1989, Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G, has a faint straw colour with green reflections. The first sniff of the wine reminded us of pear, green apples and lime, more of a citrus smell than floral; this Vernaccia also contains between 5-7% of Trebbiano and Manzoni, giving it a fruity flavour with a lightly bitter aftertaste. We tried this wine over a Tuscan cheese board with typical Tuscan cheeses, hams and salami - sobering us from the alcohol gradient of 13%!


We both agree that the stories behind Vernaccia are not only fascinating but also inspirational. What a journey for a grape vine, an even greater journey for the winemakers! Both Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Oristano are legendary worldwide, reaching the shelves of Sainsburys, well known restaurants and the households of many who adore a glass of Vernaccia over a home cooked Italian meal, as we do.