Lacrima di Morro d’Alba is a wine with imperial connotations, in the sense that it was enjoyed by Frederick I, i.e. Frederick Barbarossa when he resided in Morro d’Alba in 1167.
My own experiences are not as imperial but more familial. My brother and his family used to go to Le Marche for their holiday every summer when their children were small, close to Morro d’Alba, and I often went to visit them for a couple of days. It is very close to Florence. There, in the evenings, we would often drink Lacrima. Now, it was often as a house wine in a local trattoria…but, still.
I was in Le Marche earlier in June, as part of a press tour organized by the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini. While being in Morro d’Alba, I came to think of the summers when I went to visit my brother there.
Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
Lacrima di Morro d’Alba is a grape that used to be grown not only in Le Marche but also in Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, and Campania but during the years it almost disappeared as a grape. Today, it is mainly grown in Le Marche where producers such as Stefano Mancinelli, Mario Lucchetti, and a couple of others already in the 1980s and 1990s started to work to restore the glory of the Lacrima grape.
Lacrima is believed to be related to the Aleatico grape. (See Ian D’Agatha, Wine Grapes of Italy, pp. 321-322.) The skin of the Lacrima is thick but quite sensitive, in fact, it breaks easily and starts bleeding the grape juice, the ‘tears’, thereof, the name Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Another hypothesis is that the name comes from the fact that the grapes are shaped like tears. I believe more in the first ‘name explanation’ that the grapes ‘cry tears’ when the skin breaks.
Lacrima is a hidden gem, though not as hidden anymore, that is a vital part of the Italian viticultural heritage. The closeness to the Adriatic Sea in Morro d’Alba is essential for the cultivation of Lacrima grapes. It was a very small Doc when it was instituted in the mid-1980s. When we visited Mario Lucchetti Winery during the event I Magnifi 16 in June, Paolo Lucchetti and Lorenzo Marotti Campi explained that there was only 7-10 ha cultivated in the mid-1980s, in the 1990s, and early 2000s approximately 50 ha while there are around 300 ha under vine today.
Lorenzo Marotti Campi emphasizes the unique traits of the Lacrima grape. If it is grown and produced with proper attention, “it is so much more than it was 20 years ago in the historical and collective public imagination,” says Lorenzo. It might not be a wine for everyone or even for every day, but its particular terroir-driven characteristics make it a wine to explore and that can never be standardized.
From the 40-year-old Lacrima vineyard of Mario Lucchetti Winery, Lorenzo Marotti Campi and Paolo Lucchetti continued to talk about the Lacrima grape and how the Lacrima vines are very vigorous and often have a bit of a “wild” appearance. They grow in mainly clay soil with calcareous strata. Another interesting aspect is that it is the local Lacrima producers who together have made and created a selection of the best Lacrima vine cuttings. Contrary to many other grapes, especially the international ones, where nurseries are providing a selection of vine cuttings, this has been made ‘in-house’ in Morro d’Alba. Lorenzo Marotti Campi underlines it has been a lot of trial and error and that they are still taking it step by step.
Paolo Lucchetti continued to tell us that the Lacrima grape started out with mainly two biotypes, namely:
- Lacrima comune with a bit smaller grape cluster, more delicate but very productive
- Lacrima gentile is much less productive, has a longer-shaped grape cluster, and the skin breaks less easily.
Climate change has its effects also in Morro d’Alba and one change is that the Lacrima now has a tendency to bleed the grape juice less and less. The reason for this, argues Paolo Lucchetti, is higher summer temperatures and drought that often lasts into September nowadays. The main problem during the last few years, according to Lorenzo Marotti Campi, is hail that often follows rain storms.
Historically, Lacrima was used in blends because it has a high level of anthocyanins, and to smooth out wines with other grapes such as Montepulciano. Locally, in Morro d’Alba the Lacrima producers that are bottling have always tended to make 100% Lacrima wines. Often, it was consumed young, but in the last 10-20 years producers are showing the aging potential of this particular grape. As very young, you feel the solid floral note of rose and violet, and fruity notes of blackberry, while as it ages spices and herbal notes, such as salvia, and maquis emerge.
Lacrima di Morro d’Alba has grown in the last two decades, probably in line with the general trend in Italy and beyond to focus on native grapes and make slimmer and more elegant wines with great drinkability, without forsaking structure.
More About the Lacrima Producers…
Producers such as Mario Luchetti, Marotti Campi, Stefano Mancinelli, Tenuta di Frá, Cantina Luigi Giusti, Filo di Vino, and others are making Lacrima wines that are an expression of the Morro d’Alba soul at the same time as they show the greatness of Lacrima both as a young and aged wine.
They each had their own interesting story connected very much to the local territory. For example:
- Mario Lucchetti Winery has a long family history of cultivating Lacrima and has some of the oldest planted Lacrima vines.
- The Marotti family estate dates back to the 19th century, and in recent times has become more focused on viticulture when Lorenzo Marotti Campi’s father – Giovanni Marotti Campi – decided to give a new start to the estate in 1999.
- Tenuta di Frá has a more recent history with a fusion of Le Marche and Alto Adige ideas. In 2018, Franziska Waldner, whose family are owners of the hotel Muchele in Alto Adige, decided to invest in a winery in the Morro d’Alba area. The former winery owner has stayed on as a collaborator on the winemaking side. Waldner and her family have turned the winery into a true gem.
- The most dramatic and fascinating story is probably the one Piergiovanni Giusti, the owner of Cantina Luigi Giusti, told me while I was tasting his wines. This involved his grandfather going to America in the early 20th century to build dams close to New York, coming back to buy land, and being robbed of his money. The story continued with him going back to America for another couple of years to earn more money, coming back to confront the guy who took his money (there was a gun involved in the story too), getting them back and, finally being able to buy a piece of land close to Morro d’Alba.
Returning to the wines…
Lacrima has intense aromas at the beginning that then over time become more subtle and give more finesse to the wine. I think that the producers we met in June showed how they are taming the over-intensity of the floral side that sometimes could be found, in favor of more elegance already from the beginning.
I tasted Orgiolo Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Doc 2010 from Marotti Campi, Guardengo Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore Doc 2007 and Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore Doc 1999 from Mario Luchetti. It was a wonderful way to understand the longevity of Lacrima wines.
The Future of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
Well, I am not sure if I have the knowledge to say something about the future of the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba wines per sé, but I do think they have taken huge leaps forward in the last few years. As I mentioned before, this might be in line with the general development in the wine world in the last couple of decades, that is to focus on native grapes and strive for fresher, slimmer, and more elegant wines without being trivial or lacking in substance.
Anyway, I hope that more people can get to taste these wines because they help you to learn more about what Le Marche is, and to understand the heimat of Le Marche, so to say.