Stuart George

In the black: Lorieri Vermentino Nero 2009–1989

The first ever vertical of Lorieri Vermentino Nero away from the winery itself was held on 16 June at Patricia Michelson’s Marylebone cheese shop La Fromagerie.

La Fromagerie

I had bludged my way into this tasting and dinner thanks to the good offices of my great friend Franco Ziliani, il maestro of Italian wine writers, who asked the top Italian sommelier Andrea Balzani if I could attend. Andrea, who presented the wines, introduced me to the simpatico Pier Paolo Lorieri as il presidente of the British Sommelier Association (or whatever it’s called), which caused some embarrassment – and even more laughter – on both sides when I confessed to being a hack rather than il presidente.

Vermentino Nero – abbreviated by Pier Paolo to Vernero – is grown nowhere else except for a tiny patch of northern Tuscany, about 70ha in total. There is no mention of it at all in La Robinson’s mighty tomes Vines, Grapes and Wines and The Oxford Companion to Wine – surely an oversight on her part? According to Pier Paolo, it originated in the hills surrounding Massa, about halfway up the coast between Livorno and Genoa, and was first mentioned in print in 1874, though other sources suggest its presence on the Ligurian coast in the sixteenth century.

Vernero

Familiar with the grape since his childhood, Pier Paolo made his first vintage of Vernero in 1989. It is, he says, “easy to produce” though the vine itself is “difficult,” preferring Guyot training, well-drained soils and plenty of ventilation. In the winery, it is all oak from start to finish – no steel tanks anywhere. Maceration is typically for 16 days.

From this fascinating tasting, I concluded that Vermentino Nero is a very rustic type of grape, not dissimilar to Sangiovese in its cherry flavours and piercing acidity, and capable of ageing for up to ten years. The winemaking was rather rustic, too, with some wines showing VA and oxidative characteristics.

Patricia Michelson confessed to being ever so slightly ubriaco but was still able to give a brief presentation of three delicious Italian cheeses.

Vermentino Bianco 2005

Nutty nose. Unctuous, oily texture. Interesting.

Vernero 2006

Ruby core, some garnet at the rim, not especially bright. Not very forthcoming on the nose – young and closed. Young, fruity, primary aromas. A bit dusty – old barrels? Sour cherry fruit, à la Sangiovese. Chewy tannins in the middle, plenty of acidity – molto italiano! Rustic. Probably great with food. A bit warm on the finish. Drink 2010–2015+?

Vernero 2005

Similar medium-depth as before, but much more obviously garnet towards the rim. Fresher on the nose and palate than 2006, less ponderous. Sour cherry again, with tannins and acid to lose. Even more tannic than 2006? It has over 3g/ltr more dry extract. In a clumsy phase at the moment, not yet fully-formed. Drink to 2010+? With aeration, more luscious on the nose than 2006.

Vernero 2004

Colour as before. Again not all that open on the nose but darker fruit, even tar. A little bit sweeter at the front of the palate – almost a gram extra of residual sugar than 2006. The 14.9 percent alcohol shows in the part of the brain that feels booze rather than in the wine itself! Less tannin than the younger wines. Surprisingly well-balanced in a rustic style – a bit of tannin, a bit more acidity. A whiff of VA with aeration…?

Vernero 2003

More purple than 2004! A similar nose to 2004 at first, but with aeration smoked meat and marmite aromas emerged, suggesting oxidation. The palate, however, was very different to the previous wine, with much more developed flavours and better-amalgamated tannins, though these were still present. At 5.7 g/ltr, the total acidity level was exactly the same as that of the 2005. “Troppo semplice” said Pier Paolo, but I think it’s better than that.

Vernero 2002

Garnet, turning to brick-red at the rim. Leather on the nose, some “decayed” aromas. Marmite again – deep, dark aromas, balsamic. Mature on the palate, though the acidity is still quite pronounced. Drink now. A weak link.

Vernero 2001

Colour as per 2002. Lovely nose, evoking cedarwood rather than leather. Nice freshness. Ideally mature on nose and palate. Really nice. It retains that rustic edge so prominent in some of the younger wines – a bit of tannin on the finish, plenty of acidity. Good wine. Drink now to 2012.

Vernero 2000

Colour as per 2001 but a bit lighter. Very similar to 2001, perhaps a bit sweeter at the front of the palate, a bit more verve and zip from the higher acidity (an extra gram here). Again very good, albeit in a charming rather than fine style. With aeration, nose not quite as pure as 2001, Bovril aromas again hinting at oxidation. Drink now to 2012.

Vernero 1999

Colour as per 2000. Fecal nose of decaying something or other! Sweet palate again, charming up front but decaying on the finish – slightly oxidised, still quite tannic (more so than 2000 and 2001), cedarwood. Animal. Lots of acidity on the finish still – tart. Drink up.

Luci del Tramonto 2007

45g/ltr sugar. Amabile. Flabby by itself but great with the dessert of homemade pandivino with baked apricots and Lombardian Mascarpone.

L’Appasito NV

Not allowed to be sold anywhere – even Italy – because of absurd EU laws on alcohol and residual sugar. 17 percent alcohol but too much sugar, apparently – 80g/ltr. Raisiny flavours. Huge acidity, so not overly sweet. Interessante!

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