The eels of Bolsena and Vernaccia’s wine
The eels of Bolsena and Vernaccia’s wine.
"There," and he pointed, "is Bonagiunta,
Bonagiunta of Lucca; and behind him,
His face more shriveled up than all the rest,
Is he who in his arms held Holy Church —
He came from Tours — and he by fasting purges
The eels of Bolsena and Vernaccia’s wine."
From Dante’s Divine Comedy, Canto XXIV
Even the great poet Dante mentioned Vernaccia in the Divine Comedy, stigmatizing it as a temptress muse responsible, along with the eel of Bolsena, for the gluttony sins of Pope Martin IV. For this reason, he ended up in Purgatory amongst " The gluttonous" precisely because he could not resist such goodness.
A virtuous Pope after all, according to the standards of that era when Popes were busy with much greater sins such as plotting wars and scheming and ordering way more reprehensible ordeals.
The medieval bond of Vernaccia di San Gimignano can be traced back to the archives of the municipality of Florence, where the tax on this wine was 3 florins. For anyone of my generation, born and raised in Italy, the mind immediately goes to the masterpiece movie "Non ci resta che piangere", an exhilarating tale from fifteenth century Tuscany with the scene of the two main characters going through custom that has become a myth.
The city of San Gimignano, with its many towers, is therefore the most coherent and blatant stage to this new story as it blends to perfection with the historicity and the medieval character of this wine.
A white wine, yes, but the red of the whites...
Unfortunately, or maybe this is a wonderful stroke of luck, this white wine happens to belong to the land of reds, of great reds, surrounded by Chianti, Brunello and Supertuscans; but perhaps this is the reason why this incredible white has worked its way over the centuries so that today we can enjoy it in all its maximum expression.
The Vernaccia will never be easy! Yes, it is a female, but a lady grown up among men and therefore knows how to master the art of self-defense.
Never trivial, never obvious, she does not give herself out easily.
It must be often interpreted and understood. It requires demanding and polite palates to express all its complexity, but it then gifts everyone with pleasant sips of uniqueness, typicality and charm.
The masculinity of this wine makes it suitable to withstand even passages in oak that grant to only the best ones the ability to age and evolve into mineral hints of flint and a pleasant almond finish.
She never sees the ocean and she lives in the countryside surrounded by hills, but you can certainly ask her to pair with seafood dishes, and she will not disappoint you.
I do understand now how even a Pope has put paradise at stake for the Bolsena eel, a fatty lake fish, flavored with various herbs and certainly, in Dante's time, cooked without tomatoes. Columbus had not been born yet and perhaps even the caravels had yet to be built.
I recommend it with first courses with white sauces, ribollita soup, various fried foods, eggs and dairy products are all welcome.
Yes, it is a medieval wine.
It is the way is has to be in both versions, traditional Vernaccia and Vernaccia aged in oak barrels.
There is also one last interpretation of the Vernaccia that is gentler, more feminine if you like, obtained only with the flower must.
A sip of the Middle Ages!
I was able to take this wonderful lady to a TV talk show here in Italy called "Ma che bontà":
Thanks to Alberto and Elisabetta Fagiuoli.
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