As part of the always informative (and delicious!) Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour, I was delighted to attend the Romagna: Albana to Sangiovese, A Journey Into Native Italian Varietals tasting seminar. Held at the Eventi Hotel in NYC, the class was taught by the wonderfully gregarious Giammario Villa; UCLA wine instructor, Master Taster and International Sommelier, along with the assistance of the winemakers and members of the Consorzio Vini di Romagna.
Emilia and Romagna are often grouped together, however they are two vastly different regions, both culturally and viticulturally. Divided by the ancient Roman road via Emilia, the Emilia region is known for its Lambrusco, Barbera and red Bordeaux varieties, while Romagna has made a name for itself with Sangiovese. Cultivated in the area for centuries, the Sangiovese di Romagna DOC was established in 1967 [the name recently being changed to Romagna Sangiovese].
Under the DOC, wines need to be at least 85% Sangiovese and oak ageing options are left up to the winemaker. These guidelines opened up a huge window for variance within the wines, and did not always present a pure expression of the grape or the land from which it came. With a desire to preserve the purity of Sangiovese and recognize and express the different soils within the Romagna region, 12 subzones were created in 2011. The minimum amount of Sangiovese allowed was increased to 95% and longer, more specific ageing requirements were established.
Additionally, 3 classifications are recognized: “Young” or “d’annata” which are fruity, easy drinking wines usually tank aged and seen on the shelves just a few months after harvest, “Superiore” which can spend a few months in oak, has a bit more tannic structure and intense fruit, but can still be enjoyed young and lastly, “Riserva” wines which are aged for at least 2 years in oak and appreciated for their ageability and concentrated, complex flavours.
Romagna’s unique location between the Apennines Mountains of Tuscany and the Adriatic Sea give it a range of microclimates and also position it is as the link between northern and southern Italy. There is a balance of heat and cold temperatures, along with sea breezes from the Adriatic. The soil is clay limestone, which in addition to providing good drainage, is exceptionally well suited to Sangiovese. Expressing striking flavours of violet, black cherry and herbs such as thyme and oregano, Romagna Sangiovese tends to be more floral with bright fruit and softer tannins then its Tuscan counterpart.
More specifically, northwest mountain vineyards have richer soils, resulting in bigger bodied wines with more tannins and exuberant flavours. These hillside vineyards make use of “spungone Romagnolo”, a vein of blue clay, marine soil deposited during the Pliocene era. Vineyards near the sea have lighter soils, producing wines that tend to be subtler in character, and with pronounced minerality. Breaking it down further, each subzone has distinctive characteristics. For example, Sangiovese from Brisighella displays an elegant, delicate character. Marzeno Sangiovese are known for their tannic, powerful expression, and the subzone of Oriole with its iron and sulphur soils, results in succulent, fruity wines.
Romagna is known as the food valley of Italy, and Romagna Sangiovese is not just food friendly, but is made to be enjoyed with food. With its tannic structure and crisp acidity, it enhances just about every dish all the while refreshing your palate. It is not a coincidence that one of the proverbs on the region is “good food, good wine, good life”.
Our journey into Romagna Sangiovese was launched with a trio of one of the region’s most ancient and historical grapes, Albana. Known as “gold in the vineyard, gold in the glass” the Albano grape can produce wines that range from light and dry to sweet passito style. The grape is entwined with the history and legends of Romagna. It was described by Pliny the Elder and the Younger as a fine wine. Galla Placidia, the daughter of the Roman emperor Theodosius I and regent of the Western Roman Empire from 425 to 437 AD, referred to it as liquid gold. Famous for that golden colour, it is a distinctive wine displaying aromas and flavours of apricot, magnolia, peach, apricot, citrus, honey, almond, cashew, minerals, whilst passito versions express orange peel and candied fruit notes.
All of the wines presented are from family estates that like the majority of the Romagna region, practice a blend of environmentally friendly, lute raisonnée, organic, and sustainable viticulture methods. They are passionate about family tradition, the future generations and drink the wine they make, which is reflected in their philosophy that drinking Sangiovese “means taking a sip of this land”.
I greatly enjoyed all of the wines presented, below are the ones I found the most engaging and expressive of where they come from, along with representing a range of winemaking approaches.
Leone Conti ‘Progetto 1’ Romagna Albana DOCG 2015
Pale gold in colour, very aromatic; with exquisite floral aromas accompanied by fresh herbs and hints of summer hay. Honey, apricot, and herbs are accented by citrus zest and a bitter nut note on the refreshing finish. Just lovely, rather like a summer day in a glass.
* Aged for 7 months in steel tanks.
Cantina Sociale de Cesena – Tenuta Amalia Romagna Albana DOCG 2015
Deep gold with green tinges in colour, with aromas of rain washed minerals laced with sweet, smoky hints. Golden honey and graham cracker flavours are complimented by bright acidity. Butterscotch and orange zest linger enticingly between each sip. Engaging and charismatic.
* Aged in stainless steel tanks for 4 months.
Currently not imported into the US
Only 6,000 bottles made
Enio Ottaviani ‘Caciara’ Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOP 2015
Caciara translates to “happy noise” or “great rejoicing”. For the 3rd generation winemakers of the Ottaviani family it means shared joy and represents how wine is a system of dialogue and a way of meeting people. Friendly and engaging with sweet fresh berries, garden herbs and hints of violet backed by bright acidity. Baking spices linger cozily on the dry finish.
* Fermented in concrete vats, finished in big barrels for 6 months.
Currently not imported to the US
Azienda Agricola San Valentino ‘Bacaia’ Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2015
Individual and distinctive, with aromas of sweet allspice wrapped around a funky note. Silky layers of cherry, plum, graphite and oak are complimented by licorice and clove on the sweet and spicy, plush finish. A fantastic example of how Sangiovese is exceptional at expressing terroir and winemaking methods.
* Fermented in stainless steel and concrete tanks, aged for an average of 8 months in 2yr old 500lt French wooden casks.
Currently not imported to the US
Trerè ‘Amarcord d’un Ross’ Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2013
Striking and delectable, my note verbatim “smells like a cozy, spicy meal”. Herbaceous notes really shine, think smoked paprika and black pepper. Currents and cherry flavours round out the body whilst eucalyptus and pink peppercorn comprise the lengthy finish. Dry and savory with a wonderfully rustic edge, a fantastic pairing with anything roasted.
* Aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, then 6 months in the bottle.
85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
Celli Bron & Rusèval Sangiovese Riserva Bertinoro DOC 2013
A powerful, elegant expression of Sangiovese, with red berries framed by pepper spice and herbaceous elements. Eucalyptus notes radiate on the dry, clean finish.
* Aged 1 year in middle toasted French barriques, followed by 2 years in the bottle.
Fattoria Zerbina ‘Pietramora’ Romagna Sangiovese Riserva Marzeno DOP 2013
From female winemaker Cristina Geminiani, a powerful, complex Sangiovese bottled only in the best vintages. Black licorice, black pepper and tobacco notes elevate wild cherry and herbs. Dry, silky tannins glide along, whilst baking chocolate and spiced oak linger between each sip. Iron minerals impart an all-embracing meaty character. A big wine with a luxurious, polished edge
*Aged 1 year in French barrels.
98% Sangiovese, 2% Ancellotta
Media event hosted by Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour