A lot of Italian varieties share the same fate when it comes to missing their historical origins. Vermentino is like that. Although most suggest that the grape came from Gallura and spread in a circular motion in the middle ages, to me its highly unlikely this beautiful, uncomplicated wine would have begun its life in a little region in Sardinia,(its current ‘home base’).
Not romantic enough! There are other theories. The one that appeals to me most goes along the lines that Vermentino started its journey as a commercial wine in mainland Greece, as long ago as 2000 BC. (With this Greek heritage, it’s quite possible that its journey began even further back in time, to the Caucasus near Georgia and Armenia back in 4500 BC!).
This was when the first references were made to wine as a ‘social lubricant’. Nice term! Continuing the Greek theme, we note that in ancient times they founded over four hundred colonies in the Hellenistic period alone; including in Puglia, Sardinia, Basilicata and Sicily. The Greeks were well known for taking their favourite tipple with them, and so it was that Vermentino vines came to be planted in Italy.
The wine itself became particularly popular in the southern regions, which was where the Roman army tended to source their invasion kits – grains, vegetable seeds, grazing animals, etc – and vines for planting in their new environment). During the growth phase of the Roman Empire (around 100 to 20 BC), when France and Spain were settled, I’m guessing that’s when Vermentino went ‘offshore’. (In southern France in Provence and in the Languedoc-Roussillon where it’s still there, in the varietal name Rolle).
During the Dark Ages, Vermentino (and many other varieties) disappeared; but turn the clock forward thirteen hundred years or so, and the Spanish Hapsburgs reconquered Sicily (around 1500) - bringing back with them good old Vermentino. Spanish influence hung around Sicily, Sardinia and the southern mainland of Italy for over two hundred and fifty years in gentle sort of way, and Vermentino again thrived – mostly in Sardinia, Tuscany and Liguria.
As Europe headed towards the Napoleonic Age, Austria and France (of course Napoleon was more Italian than French in ancestry, spirit and even influence) replaced Spain in terms of influence down south and in the islands – and it seems they left without taking their Vermentino with them! In the last two hundred years or so, the variety has quietly emigrated from its two Italian regions – Sardinia/Tuscany with its more concentrated, sometimes oaked style, and Liguria, where it’s texture and body is very similar to Pinot Grigio –only the nose is different – chiefly to Australia United States.
Despite at times reading otherwise, I can say that di Lusso Estate produced the first commercial Vermentino; vintage 2003, from fruit grown by Bruce Chalmers in Euston (near Mildura).