Vernaccia Nera: The Garnacha of Marche
This wine region has much more to offer apart from the great seafood and the spectacular beaches of Numana. You can find one of the most unique products in the world here: Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. This is a sparkling wine DOCG and it undergoes 3 fermentations (yes… you read well, it isn’t a typing error, we’re talking about 3 fermentations!). But this article isn’t about the final product (we will get there, don’t worry) but it’s about the raw material. Vernaccia Nera grape accounts for 85% of the blend to make the DOCG.
In this article we’re going to familiarize ourselves with this interesting, but still, a bit snubbed grape variety. Let’s start with some background information.
Vernaccia Nera: Overview
The origin of this grape variety is still debatable. It looks like it originally comes from Spain, specifically from Aragón in the North-East. Outside Spain, Garnacha is famous in other countries such as France and Italy. The first one is “Grenache” and it arrived in Rousillon in the late 18th century. Keep in mind that Rousillon belonged to Spain until the middle of the 17th century indeed. In Italy, the grape is called “Cannonau” in Sardinia and “Tocai Rosso” in Veneto. What is unclear then is if the grape comes from Spain or Sardinia.
From the historical point of view, both hypotheses are equally reliable. Commercial and cultural links between the two regions are well established. According to a study conducted by Lovicu in 2006, the Sardinian population had already settled in the South of the Iberian peninsula in 800 BC. Another study conducted by De Mattia et al. in 2009, proves that Sardinia was a Spanish colony from 1479 to 1720. To make things even more confusing, written references to Garnacha and Cannonau appeared at the same time (1513 in Spain and 1549 in Sardinia).
The etymology of the variety name doesn’t help us either. The name Garnacha is widely thought to be derived from the Italian “Vernaccia”, but it may derive from “Garnaxa” in Catalan. Based on historical data it’s impossible to define the origin of Vernaccia Nera then. However, genetic studies show that Spain may be the birthplace of this grape variety for two main reasons:
- All three color variances are in Spain but not on Sardinia.
- Genetic studies have provided evidence of clonal diversity among the Garnacha reference varieties in Spain but not on those of Cannonau (Cabezas et al., 2003; De Mattia et al., 2009).
Even though we don’t know where the grape originally comes from, we know that Cannonau, Garnacha, and Vernaccia Nera are the same grape varieties now. The differences in the names are just due to historical reasons. Since it looks like experts hadn’t had enough yet and will keep on “arguing” about its origins in the foreseeable future, we step aside with a glass of Vernaccia di Serrapetrona to enjoy the show.
Joking aside, it’s time to dig into the main characteristics of this fascinating and mysterious grape.
Characteristics of Vernaccia Nera
- Late ripening.
- Moderately thin-skinned.
- Low and soft tannin levels.
- Medium to high acidity levels.
- Medium-bodied wines.
- Best suitable for granite, limestone, and shale soils.
- Best in Mediterranean climates.
- Some synonyms are Garnacha (Spain), Grenache (France), Cannonau (Sardinia).
Vernaccia is one of the most important indigenous grapes of Marche and it accounts for 280 ha in this region. It’s a “fun” variety: spicy, grounded with soft tannins, fruit-forward, and its wines are medium-bodied. It’s a “food friend” as it’s very versatile. It isn’t uncommon for locals to pair it with grilled seafood or with their tasty “Piadina”, a tacos-like dish that can be filled with anything which pops up to your mind. It gives wines with a lower viscosity than, let’s say, a Syrah you can appreciate it even when it’s young. Besides winemakers could create something unique out of this grape variety.
We already mentioned the remarkable sparkling DOCG coming from this region: Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. It took us years to find a bottle of it and we can ensure you that the feeling was even more rewarding. It’s as easy to drink as the best Lambruscos but you’ll always have the feeling that bubbles are massaging your palate while drinking it. And the fact that the third and last fermentation is happening in stainless steel tanks preserves the wine’s fruitiness and freshness.
As you can see, we first discussed the (uncertain) origin of the grape variety. Only after that, we analyzed the main characteristics of the grape. And it isn’t the first time we did it and it won’t even be the last one. It’s a common practice of ours to start right from there even if it can sound a bit boring to read. And why do we do it? Why do we care so much about the grapes’ origins? Well, we believe that you can’t start talking about grape varieties unless you understand where they come from and “who” they are. It would be like going for an interview without introducing yourself first. Of course, you don’t have to remember everything about it. The main goal is to create connections that would make the job easier for you.
For instance, we saw that experts don’t know where this grape comes from but we realized that all the hypotheses are Mediterranean places. Hence, we can jump to our own conclusions when it comes to Vernaccia Nera, Cannonau, Garnacha, or whatever you’d rather call it… for The Wine Jokers this is an indigenous grape variety of the Mediterranean coasts. At the end of the days, it isn’t the winemaker that chooses the grape variety to plant in a specific place. It’s all the way around: it’s the grape that chooses its terroir. And we do believe that if today this grape gives great results in Mediterranean climates is because it’s exactly where she (for us Vernaccia is a sexy tanned woman) wants to be.