A Black Vernaccia Looking for Itself
by Riccardo Viscardi
There are some wines in Italy that just never take off and the reasons for this vary. I was recently at an event organized by the Macerata Chamber of Commerce at which there was a day dedicated to Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, a wine that should have had excellent possibilities of success. It dates back to the Middle Ages and the area where the grape is cultivated is extremely limited, some 100 hectares, two factors that if promoted well should be a winning combination, especially abroad. But this is not always the case, especially in Italy. These factors were not sufficient to ensure this wine a market success nor was its reclassification first as a DOC in 1971 and then, in 2004, to DOCG. What this proves is that good intentions alone are not enough and what are needed are a project and clear, shared ideas regarding a wine’s identity.
The fact of the reality is that if a wine does not have appeal, also from a strictly qualitative point of view, it won’t make it and only a couple of these surpassed Doctor Wine’s acceptability threshold.
For the record, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is a very particular sparkling wine in which at least 85% made from the indigenous Vernaccia Nera grape. A percentage of the grapes used – regulations say a minimum 40% of Vernaccia – need to raisinate on racks (the same way as when making Vin Santo), after which grapes are fermented and blended with the must of the fresh grapes (sometimes mixed before fermentation). Everything is then put in an autoclave to create the effervescence. Thus you might even say that this is the only wine that is triple fermented.
Personally I find this whole processes a little excessive and adds little to the product. In fact, the tannins from the raisinated grapes tend to dominate, even in the sweet version, which creates a certain unbalance. The aroma often suffers from this in that it fails to make the wine captivating, with the bouquet filled with incipient reductions and scents of dry wood. It is difficult to understand why producers have done nothing to remedy the evident problems created by a method that is, in my opinion, obsolete. Perhaps it is because respect for tradition has won out over developing a more innovative vision. One solution could be to ferment only fresh grapes and adopt a long period of effervescence, better yet using the traditional method. This could exalt the particular characteristics of the area, which is quite cool, and those of the grape with its high acidity. Furthermore, it is not written in stone that the future of this zone is tied to making bubbly. This became clear to me when I tasted a still Vernaccia fermented in a traditional way (aging in barriques) by the producer Fontezoppa. The wine is called Morò and it is quite good. In fact, a Serrapetrona DOC exists and uses the same ingredients as the sparkling wine (85% of the grapes need to be Vernaccia Nera) but it is s dry, still wine. One wonders whether it would not be better to boost the production of this wine and make less of the DOCG bubbly.