San Severino Marche is the name of a small village east of the city of Macerata and south of the beautiful hilltop town of Cingoli. It is mountainous, rugged territory, perfect for viticulture. Many of the grapes found throughout the Marche region; Montepulciano, sangiovese, verdicchio, and pecorino, but it is the curious vernaccia nera that is most famous in this area. It is a varietal that nearly went extinct but like so many other varietals, was saved by the creation of the DOC I Terreni di San Severino (the terrains of San Severino) in 2004. Creating the DOC gave growers reason to continue to work with this obscure but excellent varietal, as they could now begin to get better money for the wine it made.
Vernaccia Nera’s main DOC prior to this was for a light, quaffable, and often “frizzante” (slightly sparkling) red Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. While the producers in Serrapetrona do certainly make still versions of Serrapetrona, the producers in the Terreni di San Severino DOC seems to take the varietal a bit more seriously. This was made evident to me years ago as I was being taken through the Marche region by my good friend Giancarlo Soverchia, an oenologist to many wineries of the region. We made a visit to the Antichi Terreni Ottavi wineryin the small hamlet of Càgnore, where Giancarlo consults to Cesare Maria Ottavi in the production of wines made from the montepulciano, sangiovese, and vernaccia nera varietals. The winery, at the time, was one of the smallest that I have ever visited, and has since been replaced with a newer, more high-tech cellar. It was my first taste of the vernaccia nera grape and I remember being impressed by the wine’s deep color, lively aroma and rich, concentrated fruit flavors. We get a small amount of Ottavi’s “Pianetta di Càgnore,” and hope to have it around by the quartino through the month, as long as supplies last.
The vernaccia nera should not be confused with the other vernaccia wines of Italy like the famous Vernaccia di San Gimignano of Tuscany or Sardegna’s Vernaccia di Oristano, or for that matter the Vernatsch of the Alto Adige. The word vernaccia is cognate to the word vernacular, and as such, can be taken to mean the local grape.
We have since found other examples of the vernaccia nera, like the Serrapetrona from Colli di Serrapetrona, as well as the Serrapetrona from Fontezoppa. Luca, our wine director, continues to leave no stone unturned in order to source out the best in the fascinating panoply that is Italian wine!