The Vernal Vivacity of Vermentino

By Jamie Gabrini
The Wine Chicks


Im a sucker for the power of suggestion. Hell, Im a sucker for the power of hint. It doesnt need to be a full recommendation just the slightest whiff of a notion can get me all fixated. This week, that notion I wanted in motion was green.

Its SPRING! Full-tilt-boogie greenness is going on up here in beautiful Buffalo. With spring comes flowers, grass, leaves, birds, and wonderful neighbors with herb gardens. And in this Wine Chick, spring also evokes a yearning for the vernal vivacity of Vermentino.

Vermentino is yet another Italian grape with which I am enamoured. Like a lot of Italian white grapes, it usually produces bottles of mediocrity. When done properly, Vermentino is springtime in a bottle: think Green Goddess dressing as a wine. Its got wonderful citrus-melon fruit, a touch of bitter greens, and nutty undertones. It makes you want to bask in the sun and play hackey sack barefoot in the cool, emerald grass.

However, since Id invited friends over for whats becoming a weekly Sunday dinner, hackey sack wasnt a realistic option. Seeking the perfect pairing was, and I decided to forage my neighborhood herb gardens for inspiration. Handfuls of sorrel and mint were offered with reckless abandon, so I took em on. Fava beans were also in season at my local food co-op, so perfect pods were plucked. Laden with my booty, I ambled home to chop and mince and stir.

Sorrel couldnt have been a better match for the vernal Vermentino. I made sorrel soup by sauteeing leeks and a diced potato in butter until they softened before adding chopped sorrel. I stirred it over low heat until the sorrel wilted, then added chicken broth, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I let it simmer a wee longer and spooned out the solids to pure. After I returned the pulp to the liquid, I whisked it all together with some cream over low heat, making sure the cream didnt curdle.

Since sorrel soup is a nice starter (though as the days get warmer, this would rock served cold as a main), I went with favas for the entre. A simple saute of favas in olive oil until tender, adding fresh mint leaves at the very end worked wonders when served over fettucini with fresh pecorino romano.

My guests and I sipped Rocca di Montemassis 2003 Vermentino, which retails for only about $12 or so. Hailing from Maremma in Tuscany, it benefits from warm autumns that enable fully ripened fruit. I served it well-chilled and allowed it to come to room temperature slowly through the meal. The fruit became more pronounced, as did the nutty finish - which was good timing because the developing nuttiness appeared just in time to enhance the same qualities in the second course fava beans. The sorrrel and mint both worked to extract the savory and refreshing herbal notes, and the nutmeg loaned an unexpected twist by working with the fruit.

The green-fest continued on to melon with mint and strawberries. We lingered late in to the night, chatting away happily and marveling at common interests and experiences despite our vastly different backgrounds. Much like spring itself, it seemed a new beginning: a budding friendship based on food and wine, but with branches rapidly shooting out in unpredictable directions. Somehow I know the coming blossoms will be just as sweet.

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