Cannara’s Festa della Vernaccia
La Festa della Vernaccia is celebrated in the tiny walled Umbrian town of Cannara just after Easter for this treasured dessert wine is intertwined with Easter in local tradition. The cannaresi traditionally inaugurated their wine of the vernaccia grapes on Easter Sunday morning accompanied by the traditional Umbrian cheese bread and the new salami. Many gave the wine as a present to dear friends and family…..a most treasured gift considering the intense labor required to prepare this wine.
The Vernaccia grape is also called “cornetta” (or “little horn”) by the locals due to the curved shape of the grape before it takes on the oval shape of full maturation. Harvested at the beginning of October, the vernaccia grapes are spread out on drying racks made of reeds for two or three months – until the grapes shrink to raisins, the sweetness heightened. Only then does the month-long vinification process begin, that is in the winter. The name “vernaccia” most probably derives from the Latin, “vernum” (“winter” – “inverno,” in Italian).
During the three-day festival celebrating the vernaccia, a variety of cultural events take over the village of Cannara, ranging from lectures on wines to cooking contests to crossbow demonstrations to theatrical events to antique car and motorcycle displays. Cannara’s meandering narrow alleyways are lined with booths selling artisan crafts.
In the evenings, locals and visitors gather to taste the wines and tasty dishes highlighted with vernaccia. In the massive food tent lined with plank tables and benches and filled with ebullient visitors, young people run trays laden with goodness to the tables. In the kitchen, local women dish up plates of local specialties, each highlighted with vernaccia. We started with a bruschetta trio, one of them topped with pork cheek slices in vernaccia…and how not to try the renowned Cannara onions in a vernaccia sweet-and-sour sauce? I had to try the gnocchi alla vernaccia – resisting the risotto with vernaccia and salt-cured beef tidbits- while Pino opted for the beef braised in vernaccia. And of course, this fruity cannarese sweet wine starred in desserts: vernaccia ice cream, puffy maritozzi filled with a vernaccia chantilly cream, topped with fresh strawberries.
Vernacci stars in Cannara:
Outside the food tent in the main piazza of Cannara, the local choir provides a musical backdrop as thoughtful sommeliers sip the vernaccia wines of local vintners undistracted by the TV cameras filming the event as they pass judgement. Seated locals observe seriously but offer no distraction to the sommeliers: full concentration is on the vernaccia.