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Lambrusco and Sangiovese: Legacy and Innovation in Emilia Romagna

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. With the rise in passionate producers focusing on native varietals and preservation of the land and vine, the Emilia Romagna region is receiving more accolades and attention on its distinctive wines. I was delighted to participate in the Lambrusco D.O.C. & Sangiovese D.O.C., The Cultural Heritage of the Territory master class. Part of the Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour 2018, organized by IEEM USA, the class highlighted the expressive wines and area. It is always a pleasure to be a student when Giammario Villa; UCLA professor, Master Taster and International Sommelier is teaching class. Gregarious, passionate and knowledgeable, Giammario is able to unravel and describe an area that can be rather complicated.

The name of both the wine and the region, Lambrusco is a family of closely related red grape varieties indigenous to Italy that make Lambrusco wines, the most famous sparkling red wine in the world. The region has 4 DOCs: Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and Lambrusco di Modena.

Distinct and approachable, Lambrusco is renowned for the following characteristics:

Crisp, refreshing acidity
Low in alcohol
Lively sparkling with frothy pink bubbles
Fruit and floral aromas and flavours
Super food friendly

Accompanying those foundational qualities, there are a wide spectrum of styles within Lambrusco, from light, Rosé types, to juicy fruit sparklers, to earthy, mineral driven inky reds. Below are 4 distinctive Lambrusco, expressing a range of styles for every occasion.

Cleto Chiarli ‘PremiumVecchia Modena’ Lambrusco di Sorbara DOP NV
Strawberry, citrus, cherry wrapped in racy acidity, tart fruit on the crisp finish. Refreshing and bright, a perfect pairing with fatty foods such as salumi and soft cheeses.
11% Alcohol
$14 [average price]

For.Mo.Sa Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP NV
Ripe black currant, blackberry and cherry are accented by lively acidity and light tannins. Wild berry fruit lingers on the lengthy, dry finish. Lovely on its own or with a wide variety of dishes.
11% Alcohol
€9 [average price in Italy]

Ca’ Montanari ‘Opera 02’ Lambrusco di Modena DOP NV
Dark berries fuse with almond and mocha, framed by refreshing acidity and light tannins. A streak of minerality shines on the dry finish. Well balanced and plush.
11% Alcohol
$16 [average price]

Lombardini ‘Il Signore Campanone’ Lambrusco Reggiano DOP NV
A traditional expression of Lambrusco, the style lovingly referred to as your “grandparent’s wine”. Silky dark berries and chocolate wrap around an earthy core. Blackberry lingers on the dry, mineral finish. Engaging on its own, fantastic with a wide range of dishes, especially creamy pastas, salumi, cheeses, anything roasted.
11% Alcohol
$15 [average price]

Traveling southeast over to Romagna, Sangiovese has been cultivated in the area for centuries, the Sangiovese di Romagna DOC was established in 1967 [the name recently being changed to Romagna Sangiovese]. 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.

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.

We tasted two Romagna Sangiovese Superiore and one Romagna Sangiovese Riserva. Grapes for the Superiore classification are grown on the best hills in Romagna, south of the Via Emilia. The DOC requires a minimun alcohol level of 12.5%, and the wines earliest the wines can be released is after April 1st, a year following the harvest. Riserva wines are a selection of the very best grapes from low yielding vineyards, also from vineyards south of the Via Emilia. There is a longer time skin maceration during vinification, wines must reach a minum alcohol level of 13% and are aged for a minimum of 24 months.

San Valentino ‘Bacaia’ Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2017
A lush synthesis of fruit, floral and spice; with cherry, violet, pomegranate, thyme and pepper framed by fresh acidity and round tannins. Spice and fruit linger between each sip. Soft and plush, fantastic on its own or with a wide variety of dishes.

Certified organic, natural fermentation with indigenous yeast in steel tanks, aged for 6 months in cement.
100% Sangiovese
14% Alcohol
$9 [average price]

La Sabbiona ‘Rosso Delle Torre’ Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2016
Spice driven, with plum, cherry, wildflowers, herbs and a trace of biscotti. Good tannins and fresh acidity compliment the spicy finish. Fresh, fruity and straightforward, a good companion at the table.

Aged in cement for 8-9 months.
100% Sangiovese
14% Alcohol

Calonga ‘Michelangiolo’ Romagna Sangiovese Riserva DOC 2015


The oak ageing adds big tannins and layer of cigar box spice to the cherry, baked wild berry pie filling, pepper and baking spice. Fresh acidity harmonizes with the fruit and spice on the dry, lengthy finish. Powerful, with a pleasant rustic edge, a perfect pairing with hearty dishes.

Aged for 12 months in French oak barriques; 50% new, 50% 2 year old.
100% Sangiovese
14.5% Alcohol
$22 [average price]

Media event organized by IEEM USA, held at The High Line Hotel in NYC.

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