An increasingly serious – and well-priced – white wine from the Tuscan coast.
From €11, $17, £19.95
Nittardi’s Vermentino vineyards, pictured above near the entrance to the estate, were planted in 2009 on their Maremma property, Mongibello delle Mandorlaie, between Scansano and Magliano, 13 km (8 miles) from the sea at an elevation of 250 m (820 ft).
This is the Femfert family’s second estate in Tuscany. See this wine of the week from 2015 for the story of how they bought and established their first estate in Castellina in Chianti in the early 1980s, an estate that in the 16th century belonged to none other than Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who produced his own wine on the estate. They have made red wines from the outset at both estates but always wanted to make a white.
BEN, short for Beniamino, the name often given to the youngest and best-loved son, is their most recent wine, first made in 2012. I have tasted most vintages since 2013 but started to see a step up in quality in 2018, when the vines were a little bit older, and then noticed what seemed to be a slight change in style in around 2019, when the wine had more texture and a more savoury side to balance the fruit.
León Femfert, son of Frankfurt-based publisher and art dealer Peter Femfert and now in charge of the two estates, explained that they have been working towards a more serious white wine in recent years. The two main changes have been a short period on the skins prior to fermentation (increased to 12 hours in 2022) and a longer period on the lees post fermentation – small changes that seem to have made a real impact on both style and quality.
The 2022 reminded me a little bit of a Rhône white wine, if slightly more aromatic and with higher acidity. That freshness is impressive in what was one of the hottest, driest vintages in recent memory, according to Femfert. (For anyone interested in the numbers, the total acidity is 6.5 g/l, the pH 3.5 and the alcohol 14%.) It is relatively deeply coloured for a young wine – a pale gold – and broad and full in the mouth, with intense aromas that lean towards stone fruits, almost but not quite tropical, with apricot and a touch of spice. But all that fruit is held in check by something more savoury (hence my mention of the Rhône) and by the light grip in the texture, which adds to the freshness.
BEN is 100% Vermentino, an aromatic variety found not only in Tuscany but also on Sardinia, where it is the most widely planted white grape, in Piemonte (as Favorita) in Liguria (as Pigato) and in other parts of central Italy. According to Italian author Ian D’Agata, ‘Vermentino yields the best results in poorly fertile soils and has good tolerance to salty marine winds and dry climates’ (Native Wine Grapes of Italy, 2014). No wonder it is happy in the sandy soils (over granite and clay) near the coast, and in a hot and dry vintage.
In the south of France the variety is known as Rolle even if for a time the French preferred to use the name Vermentino – until, that is, the Italians successfully lobbied the EU to put a stop to that practice on the grounds that Vermentino was part of an appellation name. Our Wine Grapes co-author Dr José Vouillamoz wrote a well-reasoned rant last year on this ludicrous decision. The Corsicans seem to get away with calling it Vermentinu.
The wine is fermented in 70-hl stainless-steel tanks and then aged six months in tanks on the lees. Malolactic conversion, which would reduce the acidity, is avoided, to good effect. The vineyards on both estates are certified organic, as is this wine.
There may still be some 2021 on the shelves and although I have not tasted it, I would not hesitate to recommend it, having given vintages 2018, 2019 and 2020 a score of 17 out of 20. Femfert assures me the 2021 ‘is drinking very nicely now’.
Nittardi wines are imported into the UK by ABS Wine Agencies, who list the following stockists for this wine: Mumbles Fine Wines, Bacchanalia Wine Merchants and The Galley (Cambridge), and Pull the Cork.
Importers in the US include Misa, who tell me the wine is sold in Texas by Twin Liquors, Austin Wine Merchant, King Liquor Austin, and more widely from wine.com. It is also available online from Wines From Italy, who ship to 42 states. The wine is also in Italy, Germany, Spain and Belgium according to Wine-Searcher.
For tasting notes on more Nittardi wines, see our tasting-note database. Among their reds, I particularly love their consistently elegant single-vineyard Casanuova di Nittardi Chianti Classico, which was a wine of the week in 2015.