A wine merchant walks into an Italian restaurant with a former Sicilian sommelier and the restaurant’s own Sicilian sommelier soon asks; ‘Would you like to try a wine made by a friend of mine? It’s very individual – you should taste blind’.
No, this isn’t the start of some bizarre wine trade joke, but rather exactly how I was introduced to the extraordinary wines of Oddovini. The wine I tasted on that occasion was a Vermentino, but a Vermentino with a little bottle age that tasted like no Vermentino I had ever tasted before, both in terms of individuality and also quality.
Before I get into the specifics of the wine I am offering, here is a little background for you. Vito Oddo completed a degree in oenology in Veneto in 2010, before working with Frescobaldi in Tuscany for a couple of years. He then headed to Australia to work with Kim Milne MW at the Bird in Hand winery. On his return, he worked for a more commercial Italian wine producer who owns vineyards all across Italy. He was posted to Tenuta Stefano Farina where he produced wines from Primitivo, Negroamaro and Vermentino. He became fascinated by the potential of Vermentino, and decided to plant the variety on his familial estate in Sicily. His grandfather owned six hectares of vineyard in Fulgatore, a small hillside area near Trapani, north of Marsala, towards the northwestern tip of Sicily. His vines are situated in the highest part of Fulgatore, Contrada Torretta which lies at 250 metres above sea level and crucially has a northern exposition. This site benefits from cooling breezes, which permit Vermentino to perform on rocky, clay and limestone soils – it is for these reasons that Vito opted to plant Vermentino here.
Everything in the vineyard is completed by hand. Vito invariably harvests towards the end of August, with his team commencing at 6am to ensure the grapes are harvested at cool temperatures. The grapes are quickly transported to the winery, where they are immediately destemmed and pressed. Fermentation takes place at very low temperatures in stainless steel and extends over 20 days or more. He doesn’t allow the wines to go through malolactic fermentation, preferring to retain the inherent acidity. As a reminder, malolactic fermentation is a natural process where the action of a specific strain of bacteria transforms the tart acidity of green apples to create a creamier mouthfeel. Once racked off the sediment, the wine is left in contact with the fine lees for a further three months with occasional lees stirring, or bâtonnage, practised. The wine is bottled the following spring.
I thought it was worth describing the origin and method of production in more detail as this is, as previously mentioned, a highly unusual wine. Italian Vermentino is most commonly found on Sardinia, which produces the majority of wine from this variety, though it is also found in Corsica where it is known as Vermentinu and in the south of France under the pseudonym of Rolle. While some compare Vermentino to Sauvignon Blanc in character, to me, the best examples tend to possess a rounder, fleshier fruit with white peach, both pear and apple, zesty green lime or grapefruit pith and citrus oils as well as a touch of bitterness. The best examples capture a mineral, stony character and finish with a mouthwatering, saline, marine note.
Vito’s wine ages in a fascinating way over just a few years; it moves away from the Cox apple and stone fruit to a much more complex, gently oily style with superb clarity to its zesty citrus notes – it even seems to pick up some of the complexity you find in mature Riesling, retaining its mouthwatering acidity and saline finish. I have never tasted a Vermentino like it – it is a beautiful, captivating wine, which is starting to pick up a string of awards. Vito told us his 2022 was recently voted the third best Vermentino in Italy, though I do doubt if positions one and two were occupied by such individual wines!
The evolution of the style fascinates me – it is significant, so I have decided to offer two vintages; the 2022 and the 2020, so that you can see the difference for yourselves.