5 Apr 2012

Provincial life (Romagna, Italy)

You would think that after Vinitaly things would slow down, and producers would get an opportunity to recover. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, as often they are hosting guests around the timing of the fair, and also getting started on all the business they made (or missed) for the week. I myself gave myself half a day to recover and also get some emails out to producers I had met, before heading south of Veneto through Emilia-Romagna. The region itself is very large, and almost stretches from one coast to the other. It is generally separated into two areas; Emilia which is very flat and hot, and where Lambrusco comes from; and Romagna, closer to the coast and also more mountainous, known for the quality of its sangiovese wines. It is a shame that the region is not better regarded next to its neighbour Tuscany, but the region wasn’t as rich historically and has only been focussing on quality for the past 20-30 years. Not a lot of the wine is exported, but that is changing as quality is improving and there is better understanding about the wines produced from this particular part of Italy.

It's always nice to have some company in the vineyards
A winery that I was familiar with from back home was Fattoria Zerbina, located in the Marzeno part of the Ravenna DOC. The winery has been run by Cristina Geminiani for over 15 years, and according to her colleagues she has done much to improve the profile of this region. The winery dates back to 1966, when the land the family owned was converted to viticulture by Cristina’s Uncle Vincent. Without experience about grape growing or the region itself, he planted a wide range of grape varieties, and also focused a lot on white wines. When Cristina joined him in 1987, she changed the focus of the vineyards to sangiovese and albana. The quality of the wines began to rapidly improve, particularly since 1992, and she has received much attention from the media. There is still much to be done to enhance the profile of the region, but Cristina is hard at work to fulfil this daunting task.

Cristina Geminiani of Fattoria Zerbina
The importer of Fattoria Zerbina (Red + White) put me in contact with Cristina, and I met her during Vinitaly. She very kindly offered to put me up for a night, and thus I arrived the evening before and joined her for a well needed home cooked dinner. She was one of the most gracious and humble hosts I have had on my trip, and made me feel very at home (and slightly embarrassed at her generosity). The following morning she gave me short tour of the vineyards and winery, during which she explained her philosophies and practices. She firmly believes in the potential of the sangiovese grape in region, but understands that adding very small amounts of other varieties can improve the overall structure and depth of a wine. Like many in the industry she has recently pulled back on the amount of oak (particularly new), and has introduced crazy methods like fermenting and macerating in puncheons stood up, with one of the heads taken out.

Cement tanks in the cellars of Fattoria Zerbina
The only white wine I tasted was the AS Albana di Romagna DOCG, made from the indigenous Albana grape. The 2010 vintage had crisp fresh citrus notes with some floral aromas, was very clean and bright with good fruit and acid, and was an uncomplicated and unadulterated white wine. I tried three vintages of the Pietramora Sangiovese Riserva. The 2008 had darker fruit notes combined with earth and floral elements, was more intense and firm on the tannins, and had some fruit sweetness in its youth. The 2007 was closed but showed riper fuller yet softer characters than the 2008. The 2006 was the most intense and integrated, with the prominent oak and earth characters of youth softer and more complex. The Marzieno 2007 - a blend of 75% sangiovese, and 25% cabernet, merlot and syrah – combined blackcurrant and crushed flowers & herbs, but in its youth is overwhelmed by oak and very dense grippy tannins. I finished with the most interesting Italian dessert wine I have ever tasted, the Scacco Matto Albana 2007, which had floral, vegetal celery, eucalyptus, dried herbs, potato and even a subtle chlorine element.

Fibreglass tanks no longer used
A close friend of Fattoria Zerbina is Drei Dona Tenuta la Palazza, located between Forli, Castrocaro and Predappio. Count Drei Dona didn’t have much of a wine or even an agricultural background, he wasn’t even much of a wine drinker! But as a lawyer he often ate at very good restaurants and hotels, but noticed that there were rarely any wines from Romagna on the lists. Thus he decided to establish a wine business on his family’s property to make premium wines from Romagna, good enough to sit on the best wine lists in Italy and the world. He engaged famed winemaking consultant Maurizio Castelli to advise him, and subsequently planted a mixture of varieties (mostly sangiovese) in his vineyard. Over the past 10 years the winery has rapidly increased its reputation to be one of the most important wineries in the region, with the Pruno Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva regularly receiving much praise from wine critics.

La Palazza
During Vinitaly I had the chance to taste a few of the wines at their booth. The Il Tornese (85% chardonnay, 15% riesling) 2010 had fairly tropical fruit drive, with the chardonnay dominating the peach and apricot notes, full and fruity with generous approachability. The Le Vigne Nuove Sangiovese 2010 had slightly meaty earthy plum aromas, was juicy and plump on the palate with generous tannins and some cassis and liquorice to boot. The Notturno Sangiovese 2010 showed softer sweeter black fruit, and was a lot more subtle and quiet, but had more oak and tannin elements. The Pruno Sangiovese 2008 was very full and intense, and had very prominent new oak characters overwhelming the plump dark fruit. The Cuvee Palazza Sangiovese 2009 to finish had more floral savoury notes, was very inky and focused on the palate, with tight savoury tannins.

Dre Dona Tenuta la Palazza wine library
Click here to see more photos from Romagna, Italy.

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