“In the 1990s, we had 62 winegrowing regions in Australia, and they all pretty much grew the same stuff: Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot,” says Kim Chalmers, whose family business has been involved in grape-growing in Australia since the 1970s.
The Chalmers scouted for grapes from the Mediterranean, keen to enrich Australia with styles and varieties better suited to the country’s warm regions. “We introduced a lot of new clones and varieties that had never been in Australia before,” she says. “Vermentino was one of our success stories.” Capable of producing fresh, vibrant, and perfumed white wines with high acidity, Vermentino was the ideal alternative to Australia’s oaky and full-bodied Chardonnays of the ‘90s, as Chalmers puts it.
The Chalmers were ahead of their time as, outside of Italy, Vermentino wasn’t a widely known grape. Today, however, an increasing number of wine lovers prize it for its fresh, lively style, while wine growers are looking at what it offers in a warming world.
What makes Vermentino so exciting
In Australia, Vermentino adapted well to some of the hottest, inland regions, but it’s by its nature a maritime variety. The grapes require warm sunshine to fully ripen in late September in the northern hemisphere, while coastal winds help keep the bunches dry, reducing the risk of diseases. “Vermentino is a resilient variety, able to stand the strong mistral winds that blow along the Sardinian, Tuscan, and Ligurian coasts,” explains Massimo Ruggero of leading Sardinian producer, Siddùra.
Vermentino vines yield golden-colored, large-sized, water-filled berries, a characteristic that Chalmers believes is responsible for its suitability to Australia’s hot regions. “With climate change, you just have to reset your brain and move away from that traditional Burgundian style of thinking where large berries are seen as a negative. Where you have 40℃ (104℉) in the summer, those cope better because they’re better hydrated. That’s what allows us to make fresh wines.”
In their search for Vermentino vines, the Chalmers studied the variety’s homeland, an area circumscribed by Sardinia, Corsica, Italy’s Ligurian and Tuscan coasts, and southern France, where it’s known as Rolle. There, Vermentino wines come in a wide stylistic range, yet tend to always display a lightly aromatic nose of citrus fruit, white flowers, and Mediterranean herbs, followed by a soft saline note on the palate.
“Vermentino is a resilient variety, able to stand the strong mistral winds that blow along the Sardinian, Tuscan, and Ligurian coasts.”
In Sardinia’s Gallura, arguably the grape’s most revered winegrowing region, Vermentino’s scented quality can lead to a weighty palate and a characteristic bitter almond finish. Some can gain further weight, length, and texture by resting in wood or in contact with their lees. Ligurian expressions appear often comparatively lighter, but the best are highly perfumed.
Sweet versions are also common across Italy, as Vermentino’s high natural acidity helps counterbalance the residual sugar. In Liguria’s Cinque Terre, where grapes grow on dramatic steep terraces overhanging the Mediterranean sea, Vermentino is used to make Sciacchetrà, a rare and intensely flavored passito.
Some Vermentinos can stand the test of time, too. “From our hillside vineyards, we obtain a more structured, long, and sapid wine compared to those we make with grapes grown on flat land. These are wines that can mature and evolve well,” says Diego Bosoni, whose Cantine Lvnae winery is located in the Colli di Luni denomination, by the Tuscan-Ligurian border. In the best vintages, Bosoni even produces an exceptional Vermentino that matures for three years before release, half of which in large wooden barrels. “With time, it loses some of its floral notes, but it develops more complexity, which its high acidity helps to support.”
Despite the renown of Mediterranean expressions, Chalmers maximizes Vermentino’s versatility to produce a style that is alternative to, rather than in competition with, its Old World counterparts. “It’s always easy to compare an Australian to an Italian wine, but when you think of Shiraz you don’t compare it to a Saint Joseph,” she points out. “The Vermentino we are making is not in competition with Sardinia — we’re just using the same variety to make Australian wine because it is happier in our backyard than a lot of other grapes. It likes the heat but still makes lovely chalky fresh wines with saline and herbal notes.”
Mancini’s interpretation is a quintessential expression of Vermentino from Gallura. Aromas of lime, nectarine, and a touch of tropical fruit burst alongside notes of orange blossom, genista, and jasmine flowers, leading to a characteristic bitter almond finish. It boasts enough body and texture to complement fish or crustaceans.
With its crunchy palate, light body, and alcoholic strength lower than most European expressions, Chalmers’ Vermentino is the ideal aperitif wine. The nose is lightly aromatic, with citrus and stone fruit, and a bit of pear. The palate is crisp, with a little salinity that adds to its freshness. To sip al fresco.
This exceptional bottle is made with a selection of grapes from the estate’s older vines. Aromatic complexity is achieved by cold-soaking the must with the skins prior to fermentation, while three months spent on fine lees lend the wine a creamy, robust texture. It offers rich aromas of lime, mandarin, wildflowers, Mediterranean herbs, ripe stone fruit, and honey, all balanced by an elegant savory note on the palate. It pairs with a variety of seafood dishes but works equally well with light meats.