The historic and picturesque hilltop village of San Gimignano is one of the most beautiful locations in Tuscany – and that is saying a lot! With roots that go back to the third century B.C., it is as full of history as it is beauty. Tourists from far and near visit here to see the Piazza della Cisterna, the Piazza Duomo, its churches, and it’s beautiful towers, which unlike other Tuscan villages whose towers have been mostly destroyed by earthquakes or wars, still has fourteen standing.
It is also world renowned for its delicious crisp white wine made from the vernaccia grape grown in vineyards on the slopes around the village. Mostly it’s a fairly simple, light wine – refreshing and light in body. But Elisabetta Fagiuoli’s Montenidoli 200 hectare estate perched high in the hills overlooking San Gimignano is an entirely different deal.
With 50 years of winemaking here she has become a legendary and influential figure in the region. Her wines, unlike the standard versions of not only drink deliciously on release, they greatly improve both with extended aeration in the glass or decanter as well as with bottle age. They are complex, with layers of flavor and a baked apple, orange blossom, white flowers and a slightly nutty/almond note in the finish, more akin to a white Burgundy than a simple .
What makes this wine so deliciously unique? First there is a special terroir, with vineyards located in calcareous limestone with marine sediments, similar to Chablis – at 400-700 meter where it is cool and fresh. It is the fossil evidence of a time when the Ligurian sea covered most of Tuscany, now lifted by centuries of geological forces.
Elisabetta has decades of experience making wine from these vines, and knows the estate inside and out, vintage to vintage. Throughout her career she was able to get advice from some of the titans of Tuscan wine making including Giacomo Tachis (of Sassicaia fame) and Giulio Gambelli (of Montevertine fame).
Her land has never seen the use of pesticides. She has farmed organically as long as she has had the property and can attest that previous to her it had been farmed organically, and being isolated on a mountainside, without any close neighbors, there is no collateral impact from nearby vineyards who may use chemicals.
She makes wine in the most natural way possible, with nothing changed from her first vintage in 1971 of which she says “I made the wine in the simplest way. I had nothing.” She describes her Vernaccia as “a white grape with the body of a red”, and all her whites see some skin contact during fermentation.
I have held back from offering this amazing Italian white until the fall as it really is a complex white that pairs better with the season’s richer, heartier cuisine rather than as a light summer sipper. Serve with meaty fish, scallops, risotto con funghi or seafood, pasta and a cream sauce, grilled chicken, light meats such as pork or veal and all kinds of cheeses. Cheers! Chris