Certain grapes approach something like ubiquity, and Vernaccia Nera is one…Wait, what? Yes indeed, because Vernaccia Nera is none other than some strain of…Grenache. And I use the name French name “Grenache” because it is probably the name of this “family” of grapes that is most commonly used by the greatest number of growers worldwide though most indications point to Aragon in Spain as the homeland of this collection of vines, where it is called “Garnacha”. But in Catalunya it goes by the name “Garnatxa”, in Campania “Granaccia”, in Veneto “Tai Rosso” and “Cannonau” in Sardegna, and this is to mention just a small sampling of the raft of names by which this constellation of grapes is known.
With just rudimentary knowledge of Italian one can infer from the name that Vernaccia Nera is one of Grenache’s black-skinned sub-varieties, but there is also a pink-skinned type named Grenache Gris, the white-skinned Grenache Blanc, and even a cultivar known as Garnacha Peluda (“Hairy Garnacha”), a red-skinned sub-variety so dubbed because of its fuzz-covered leaves. What all of this diversity within this genetic line clearly implies is that Grenache (or whatever it’s called in any given zone) is a very old variety that has had many centuries to mutate, experience spotaneous crossing, or have undergone intentional crossing via human hands.
Typically, all of the strains of Grenache are sun worshippers, thriving in zones with lots of light and a long, hot growing season. But as with any grape variety that has experienced this many permutations, certain branches have become adapted to much cooler, cloudier and wetter places like Colli Berici in Veneto and to a somewhat lesser extent, the province of Macerata in Marche, Italy which is the place from where this evening’s wine comes.
Perhaps not surpringly, the red-skinned varieties that have adapted to/been husbanded to grow in these cooler zones produce lighter colored wines as well as ones with lower alcohol levels, two features that are quite divergent from the lion’s share of wines made with Grenache which tend to be very deeply colored and with alcohol contents often reaching 15% by volume.
Precisely how Grenache wound up in north-central Italy, how long it has been there, and how it acquired the name “Vernaccia Nera” (the name Vernaccia is linked to the world “vernacular” which would indicate that Vernaccia Nera is a grape that is decidedly local and common to the Macerata area, but paradoxically, Vernaccia Nera is absolutely NOT native to Marche and its total acreage there is actually very limited) is still basically unknown, but there it is…lurking.
Vernaccia Nera possesses a fairly large slice of the exhuberant fruitiness that bigger versions grown in hotter zones do, but with quite a bit less alcohol than these more corpulent examples, which for me makes Vernaccia Nera a great partner for a really good pizza…with fresh mozzarella and onions…and so my wife Jen made the call…
Fontezoppa Serrapetrona Vernaccia Nera “Campignano” 2009
True, deep garnet color. Rustically elegant nose of cherry, burnt orange peel, black raspberry, freeze dried coffee, roasted nuts, sea spray, celery seed and licorice. The palate has a charmingly austere medium body with a smooth, peppery tannic structure and a tart acidity, that perfectly frames earthy flavors of strawberry preserves, dried cranberries, blackberry, new leather, and hibiscus. Long, very complex finish. A truly unique facet of “Grenache”.