Discovering Serrapetrona DOCG
7th February 2018
About 10 years ago, in 2006 to be exact, on a quick visit to Le Marche, I took a wrong turn and ended up in a place called Serrapetrona. It was a foggy day, but there was something very mystical about the place. Heading down a side street, I came across an open door and the wonderful perfumes of fermenting wine that were flowing from inside. I was met by an elderly gentleman who invited me in for a glass and over the course of the next few hours, he explained about the traditions of the region and how sacred this unusual wine is to them and their fathers and mothers before them.
I also discovered that many of the plots of land surrounding the town were being planted to new vineyards, which led me to the local bar, a hive of local information in any small town! My next meeting was with a producer, who I met in the bar having ‘coffee’, or at least that was what he told me he was drinking. He told me about the plans for the future and how these new vineyards would be ready for “real winemaking” in about 10 years time so I should call back then, for another coffee.
Time passes slowly in Le Marche and each year over the last 9 years of living here, I would drop my own agricultural tools and head off into the mountains to check on every harvest and pruning season and meet the producers, talk about the future, sample more wine and ‘coffee’ and follow the evolution of this great variety and the people who make it.
10 years have since passed and it was time to keep that producer to his word and revisit to find out exactly what he meant by “making real wine”
Vernaccia Nera Di Serrapetrona Spumante DOCG Unique in every way – A Brief History:
The smallest DOCG zone in Italy was awarded Doc status in 1974 and Docg status in 2004. With 950 inhabitants, 8 wineries, not to mention everybody living there growing their own grapes for private consumption. Not a bad ratio, In some way like the villages in Ireland, 10 houses with 11 pubs!!
Vernaccia Nera as a sparkling wine
Vernaccia Nera di Serrapetrona spumante DOCG is much more than just a sparkling wine. Let’s take a little trip back in time and into the world of Serrapetrona and the making of Vernaccia Nera. Unlike every other sparkling wine in Italy or indeed throughout the world, Vernaccia Nera, a variety which is grown exclusively in Serrapetrona, is the only wine to go through not one fermentation, not 2, but 3 stages of fermentation! Add to that, the fact that it is a sparkling red gives you an idea of the amount of work that goes into making each bottle of this fabulously unique wine.
Technical information and location of vineyards
The vineyards are high altitude at a level of approx 600 metres above sea level. Warm-hot days give way to cool-cold nights, with fog rolling in through the valleys from the Adriatic coast, catching evaporation on its way from Lago do Caccamo which sits at the foot of the town, dragging a blanket of mist and fog up the valley and through the vineyards, creating a wonderful and natural cooling microclimate, which the grapes love and excellent growing conditions for the production of this great wine.
The region and its microclimate
The region of Serrapetrona is located in the heart of Le Marche, not the first place to spring to mind when talking about Italy and the many wonderful wines that come from this country. Of course, We all know of Veneto (Prosecco) Verona (Amarone, the great bitter) and that little known region bordering Le Marche beginning with T, that’s right, Tuscany!
Le Marche is bordered by Emiglia Romagna to the north, Umbria to the West, Abruzzo to the south and Tuscany to the Northwest, all great wine growing regions in their own right. The Conero mountains cover the Northern part of Le Marche and are the only mountain range in Italy to finish at the sea. The Sibillini Mountains cover the south, The North-South Apennines range covers the west of Le Marche and the Adriatic sea covers the east. Le Marche is therefore completely surrounded, creating the most unique of microclimates, complimented by salty sea air which sweeps inland, bringing with it a rich and vitalizing minerality. The Soils of Le Marche are made up of sand, clay, marl and limestone, There are also 4 seasons here, in fact, the region of Le Marche is affectionately known as “All things Italian in one region.”
Important historical facts
It is important to note that Italian sparkling wine boasts a very rich culture and diversity, in part because of the many different wine regions and the specific characteristics of the wines that are produced in these zones, namely, Metodo Classico, the Charmat and Martinotti methods, right down to Spumante and Vini Titillans, otherwise known as Frizzante. Historical records show that Italians have enjoyed making and drinking sparkling wine going back to Renaissance times. In fact, the single most important Italian document that mentions sparkling wine states that carbonated wine was in production, in Le Marche in the year 1622, That’s 50 years before the famous Dom Pérignon Champagne was officially introduced to the market! Francesco Scacchi, a famous Italian physician of that era and architect of this document dedicated his studies to the therapeutic benefits of drinking sparkling wine. Today, although the market is awash with Proscecco, there is a very deep vein of high quality Italian sparkling wines from many other regions of Italy, just waiting to be discovered.
Harvesting and fermentation
Vernaccia Nera is harvested in the first week of October. The first stage of the harvest is complete with the selection of the best grapes. This is done totally by hand and placed into small wooden crates, some holding no more than 10kg of fruit. Vernaccia Nera is harvested in a very particular way as a section of the vine is also cut with 2 bunches of grapes attached, one on either end. This plays a very important part in the process, which we will cover later. From here the process splits.
The vines are thoroughly checked before the harvest is split in 2, 60% of the harvest begins the journey to press, and the other part of the harvest, 40%, is hung in dark cool temperature controlled rooms to begin the process of drying and developing concentration and in some cases, noble rot.
The 1st stage of the process involves making a young fresh still wine with a slight natural spritz. This must go through partial or full fermentation, creating either a sweet or dry still wine. This wine is then stored in temperature controlled steel vats and the first stage of carbonic fermentation commences.
The remaining 40% of the harvest is hung, boxed and stacked and left to dry for 3 months. After 3 months, the hanging grapes are then gently pressed and made into a concentrated wine which brings us to the second stage of fermentation. This is called Apassimento or Assassinate. “To concentrate the sugars and flavours” I hear everybody whispering, “This is how the best Amarone and Valpolicellas are made!!!”
The wine and cellaring
The fermented wine from the first stage is then added to the concentrated fermented wine from the second stage, and the combined wines from the 1st and 2nd stages go through a 3rd and final stage of fermentation in autoclave tanks. When the 3rd stage of fermentation is complete, the wine is then left to settle in bottles for 2-3 months before release.
Personally, I am not aware of any wine, anywhere, in the world, to go through 3 stages of production. In fact, from one single harvest of Vernaccia Nera, the wine can be produced into many formats.
Spumante di Vernaccia Nera Rosso Docg, in sweet or dry styles.
It can also be made as a still wine and left to develop into a Riserva, again in sweet or dry styles. The still versions can be aged in oak or in steel tanks or blended between the concentrated passito and still wine. Most Vernaccia Nera is made to be drunk young and fresh. A wonderful, rich and velvety Vernaccia Nera desert wine (passito) which is to die for, is also produced and of course there is also a Spumante di Vernaccia Nera Brut, which is vinified in white! Although this wine is outside the Docg zone, its clearly shows the potential of this great grape.
Let me know if anybody hears of any other single grape variety that is so versatile and yet produces such high quality wine. This is Vernaccia Nera Spumante DOCG, the smallest Docg in Italy and the only Italian DOCG sparkling wine to undergo 3 totally distinct and consecutive stages of fermentation!!
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