Greetings! I am sorry this is late, and also that this is as long as it is -- it's a sort of a shaggy dog tale that grows out of a weekend spent driving around Romagna this winter -- but given its length we had best get started:
A few years ago I visited the annual presentation of Sangiovese di Romagna held in Im322ola's imposing XIII century Rocca Sforzesca, and it was an eye opening experience that led to a fairly long article dedicated to Sangiovese di Romagna. Very briefly, though the wine does share some characteristics with Tuscan Sangiovese, but is also quite distinct from its southern cousin, and since you may not have seen what I wrote then it follows below:
Mention Sangiovese and most wine enthusiasts will likely think of Tuscany's great red wines, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and so on. This is only half the picture: There's also Sangiovese di Romagna, which is produced in a broad swath of the Romagnan foothills of the Apennines that extends southeast from the province of Bologna on down to the coast.
"But that's jug wine produced by the cooperatives," some will say, and the objection is at least partly true. Historically Emilia Romagna has always been a hotbed of labor organization and this extends to farmers; understanding the strength of numbers many of those who grew grapes formed coops to make the wine, most of which was plonk -- one has to remember a couple of things, however. First, the coops paid the farmers by weight, and the farmers therefore jacked up yields, with a consequent loss in concentration. Second, the official policy of the Italian ministry of Agriculture was, until not too long ago, to aim for quantity -- every day wines to go on the table -- while leaving quality to the French. So the farmers were producing what was expected of them.
Now things are changing throughout Italy, and though it has taken longer for the changes to happen in Romagna than elsewhere they are becoming apparent; as one might expect it's the smaller, family run wineries rather than the coops that are leading the way, though everyone is participating. First of all, there has been a tremendous amount of replanting, and the low-density Fiat vineyards, planted with high-yielding clones in widely spaced rows that allow comfortable tractor access, are vanishing, to be replaced by high-density vineyards planted with clones that yield quality rather than quantity. The per-plant yield goes down, resulting in significantly greater concentration, while the vineyard yield remains high enough to allow for a good return.
Cellar techniques are also changing; fermentation is no longer empiric (as it once was), wood use is being reevaluated and corrected, and new talent is arriving, both in the form of consultants who either advise the vintners or buy wineries and start working for themselves (or both), and in the form of members of the younger generation who go to enological school, and then return home to apply what they've learned, sticking with the coops in some cases, and pulling out in others.
In addition to replanting and otherwise modernizing, the wineries are showing much greater concern for aesthetics; whereas in the past if they needed a new building they put up a shed, now the new addition is designed to blend in with the existing structures, which they also are restoring if need be. In short, they are working to attract tourism and offer hospitality as well as wine. Since Romagnans are known for their hospitality, this means that a trip to the area could be an exciting and unusual getaway. On the one hand there are beautiful, relatively off-the-beaten-track art towns, for example Ravenna with its Byzantine mosaics, or Faenza with its ceramics. And on the other, there's the coast, which is packed with amusements and nightlife, especially the area from Rimini (which also has Roman and Renaissance buildings and artworks) to Riccione, which draws people from all over Europe and offers things for every pocket and taste.
To return to the wines, Imola hosts an annual Sangiovese show in late fall; I attended it a few years ago and tasted through the region with the help of one of the Sommeliers; I told him I wanted an overview and he selected wineries from the various towns, after telling me that as a general rule the wines produced inland, near Imola (the production area begins in the township of Castel San Pietro Terme, Province of Bologna) tend to be a little lighter and more delicate, what he calls vini da merenda, in other words picnic wines that are best drunk young. Going more towards the coast, where it becomes drier and better ventilated, in other words towards Predappio and Bertinoro, he said, the wines become more substantial and age better.
My general impression, a few years ago, was that though they are making strides, from an enological standpoint the Sangiovese di Romagna area still lags behind central Tuscany, and as a result there's more variability from vintage to vintage, with the great vintage being head and shoulders above the rest, whereas in Tuscany improvements in cellar technique and vineyard management allow producers to draw more when Nature is stingy with her gifts.
This said, I liked most of the wines very much, and especially the vini d'annata, which are for the most part fairly light and delightfully fresh, with a richness of flowers and berry fruit in the bouquet, and fresh youthful fruit supported by tannins that provide backbone without impinging overmuch on the palate. In short, spontaneous wines that go very well with food and are just the thing to open with pasta dishes, creamy soups or minestroni, or lighter meat-based entrees. The Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore wines also generally follow this pattern. With the Riserve things are a bit spottier; some of the wineries manage to maintain the freshness and spontaneity of their younger wines while adding more depth, but others instead are obviously trying to make an Important Wine, and in many cases these flag, settling and taking on weight, and bring to mind, at least to me, humdrum Chianti.
I sincerely hope that those who are working in this direction take a step back and rethink their path, because it's the spontaneity of Sangiovese di Romagna that makes it such a delight to drink. There are lots of good serious wines, but good fun wines can be harder to come by -- much of what is light is just that, but here they achieve depth and complexity as well. As such they occupy an important niche in the market that they should exploit, rather than cast it aside in an attempt to become something else.
In terms of specifics, the Sangiovese di Romagna production area extends over 5900 hectares, which yield about 150,000 hectoliters (19,500,000 bottles).
The composition must be at least 85% Sangiovese, with the remainder being red grapes authorized by the DOC commission; most of the producers I talked to said they use 100% Sangiovese. The maximum allowed yield per hectare (from hillside, foothill, or flat-lying vineyards, the latter planted on well drained sandy to sandy-clayey soils) is 110 quintals, which is frankly high, though it has come down from what it was in the past. Most of the quality producers have considerably lower yields; many harvest between 50 and 60 quintals per hectare, and some less. Once the harvest is in, the yield of grapes into wine is 65%.
The vino d'annata has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%. The Superiore instead has a minimum alcohol content of 12% and is released in the April following the harvest. The Riserva is again 12% alcohol, but is released in the second January following the harvest. Many of the young wines are fermented in steel and held there until bottling time; this generally makes for freshness. The Superiore and the Riserva instead generally also go into wood, which varies from producer to producer. Some favor the large traditional oaken casks, which are primarily storage devices that allow microoxygenation while not ceding much to the wines, whereas others prefer to use barriques, which add notes of vanilla and spice, and contribute oak tannins to the wine as well.
The vino d'annata and to a lesser degree the Superiore are best drunk within 2-3 years of the harvest.
The Riserve as a rule can age longer, up to 5-8 years depending upon the vintage and the producer.
Thus ended my article: I very much liked the wines, and was quite pleased to accept an invitation this winter from Roy Berardi, who works with an organization called Romagna Terra del Sangiovese, which promotes Sangiovese di Romagna from all the Communes where the wine is produced, (and also local foodstuffs and tourism).
It was a very nice weekend -- Roy's quite personable and an excellent guide -- during which we tasted quite a number of wines, and my general impressions mirrored those I had a few years ago -- namely that Sangiovese di Romagna gives its best when made to be drunk young, while it all too easily comes across as settled when made in a more substantial key.
We began with a visit to Umberto Cesari, in Castel San Pietro Terme, and over the course of the next two days worked our way to Predappio, where we finished Sunday morning with a non-enological visit to Mussolini's tomb (one of the other journalists wanted to see it).
The wines, and our meanderings.
Via Stanzano, 1120 - Loc. Gallo Bolognese
40050 Castel San Pietro Terme (BO)
Umberto Cesari's vineyards are in the most western-lying part of the Sangiovese di Romagna production area, almost within sight of Bologna. It's one of Romagna's larger privately held (as opposed to cooperative) wineries, and is quite pretty to visit -- we watched dusk steal over the hills, and then retired to the tasting room.
Malise IGT Emilia 2006
Pignoletto is one of the classic Bolognese white varietals, and indeed this wine, which is a blend of Pignoletto and Chardonnay, identifies with Emilia rather than Romagna. It's pale brassy gold with greenish highlights and has a rich bouquet with bright honeysuckle mingled with sage and herbal accents. Inviting in an up-front sort of way. On the palate it's pleasantly round and fairly full, with clean bitter accents and sweet tropical fruit -- the former from the Pignoletto, and the latter from the Chardonnay -- supported by deft acidity that flows into a long bitter finish. Direct, but pleasant, and will drink well as an aperitif or with cold cuts and antipasti, especially cheese or egg based ones, and will also be nice with simple meats or fish.
MOMA IGT Rubicone 2006
This is a new addition to Cesari's line, and is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, and is dedicated to the Museum of Modern Art in NY, with the label a work by Morandi. It's deep black cherry ruby with brick reflections, and has a fairly rich bouquet with red berry fruit supported by moderate spice black currant fruit, and some herbal accents. Very approachable in a distinctly international key. On the palate it's smooth and very soft with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by cedary bitter accents and some graphite shavings, with the tannins being very smooth, and it flows into a clean rather bitter finish. It is more a wine to drink by the glass far from the table than a food wine because of its low acidity and softness. Within this context it displays pleasing finesse and will drink very well, but it won't work for you if you prefer the scrappy acidity of a more traditional Sangiovese.
Laurento Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Riserva 2004
This is 90% Sangiovese and 10%. It's deep brick ruby with some garnet in the rim, and has a fairly rich bouquet with cherry fruit and some prunes supported by tangy vegetal acidity and some greenish accents, underlain by cedar and some spice. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright red berry fruit supported by cedar-laced tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's very young, and needs another few months to come together, but will drink well with grilled meats or stews -- more red meats than white. It's good, but you have to like decidedly oaky wines, and though the oak will fold in with time it will always be present.
Liano IGT Rubicone 2004
This is a 70-30 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, and is inky black with garnet rim, and has a powerful bouquet with red berry fruit supported by cedar and hints of spice. Nice balance in an international key, and gives an impression of softness. On the palate it's full, smooth, and soft, with bright berry fruit supported by clean smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish. Quite a bit of oak, well used, and the Italian word that comes to mind is "ammiccante," which means enticing in a "come hither" sort of way, and indeed the wine is quite approachable and will drink well by the glass with simple meats or light stews; it has a pleasing directness and is quite up front, and also particular -- if you like more acidity in a wine it won't work for you. In other words, it's not for traditionalists, but if you like a smoother, softer style you will like it very much.
As a group, Cesari's wines have acidities that are held firmly in check, and are clearly aimed at a more North American/Northern European than traditionally Italian palate. One would expect as much considering that they export 80% of their production.
We had dinner in a little restaurant in Imola called Il Parlaminte (Parliament, or Congresspeople in Imolese; Via Goffredo Mameli, 33, 40026 Imola (BO), Tel: 054 230144). It was quite nice -- I started out with passatelli in brood, a very traditional thick sort of noodle (for want of a better term) in broth, and don't recall what followed it. But I do recall the wines:
Castelluccio Ronco dei Cigliegi 2003
This wine is made by Claudio Fiore, Vittorio Fiore's son, and tasting it leads one to believe in genetics. It's deep almandine ruby with cherry rim, and has rich bouquet with delicate red berry and cherry fruit deftly supported by cedar that stays firmly in the background. Beautiful balance and great depth. On the palate it's deft, with lively cherry fruit that gains depth from prunes and is supported by clean cherry acidity that flows into a clean berry fruit finish. A beautiful wine that seems simple; if you want to, you'll find all sorts of things to think about, though it has an easy seductive grace to it that will have you wondering where it went and wanting a second bottle.
We followed Claudio's Sangiovese with Thea, a Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore made by Tre Monti, which is going to merit a brief aside. My tasting note from the dinner:
Tre Monti Thea Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore 2005
Deep pigeon blood ruby with garnet rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, and tart, with bright deft cherry fruit laced with cedar and some minerality that adds a degree of airiness, and underlying hardwood ash. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and clean fairly rich mineral acidity that flows into a clean bright finish with underlying bitter underbrush. Pleasant and deft; it is still young, and will drink well with red sauced pasta dishes, hearty soups, and grilled meats. Expect it to go quickly.
The Aside: I also tasted this wine about a month later at home, in a flight of Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, and had a somewhat different impression:
Tre Monti Thea Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2005
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with elegant red berry fruit supported by clean cedar that has a haunting air to it, supported by some graphite and some underbrush. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by considerable cedary bitterness from oak, and indeed the tannins have an oaky feel to them, and flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish. It's more studied, than the Campo di Mezzo, and has more depth, but also comes across as trying too hard; 2005 was a wet summer and I have a feeling that there was less fruit than there was in a richer year, say 2004. Therefore wood steps in to fill the void, and the wine thus seems more alcoholic and less rich.
Clearly, I liked it less the second time, and as I said, this invites reflection.
First of all, the two bottles could have been different, because though the wine of a single-lot bottling (which this was, I think) is all the same in the tank, after bottling every bottle follows its own path, and they can diverge faster than one might expect.
Second is the setting: when one is drinking a wine with foods they affect one's judgment of the wine, negatively if the pairing is off, or positively if the wine and food work well together. These did, and the dry oakiness that bothered me when tasting the wine as part of a flight interacted positively with the richness of the passatelli in broth, and also with the stew that followed them.
And this simply underscores a point I have made many times, namely that context and setting do have an impact upon wine tasting. Going flight by flight may be more objective, because there are no food-related distractions but even then what came before has an influence on what follows: A concentrated fruit bomb will seem much more so if the preceding wine was tart and brambly, while a tart brambly wine on the heels of a voluptuous fruit bomb will seem that much thinner. I do keep this in mind when I taste, but the effect is there.
Tre Monti also makes a slightly less charged Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, which I tasted when I retasted the Thea:
Tre Monti Campo di Mezzo Sangiovese Superiore DOC 2006
Lively almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is bright, and young, with a pleasant mixture of irises and violets supported by lively cherry fruit and some greenish brambly undertones. Invigorating. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright cherry fruit supported by clean brambly bitterness and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly sour cherry finish. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with foods, everything from hearty pasta dishes through richly flavored grilled meats, including sausages and ribs, and on to fried meats and vegetables. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and you may well want another. Worth seeking out.
Returning to our trip, the next day we visited Dozza, a pretty walled medieval town in the foothills overlooking Imola. The hulking Rocca Sforzesca now hosts Emilia Romagna's Enoteca Regionale, and I could have spent a day (or more) tasting the wines, had we had the time. Alas, we didn't, but did try a few things:
Tre Re Albana di Romagna Secco DOCG 2006
Albana is one of the classic varietals of the area around Bologna -- it is said to be Roman in origin -- and is also the first Italian white wine to obtain DOCG status, in 1987. Though most of the attention Albana receives is directed towards the sweeter incarnations (Albana Passito), we had a dry wine. It's pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and has a fairly intense bouquet with considerable vegetal bitterness at the outset that opens to reveal sea salt and white plums as well, supported by considerable green apricot acidity. On the palate it's fairly rich, with pleasant white plum fruit supported by bracing bitterness that flows into a clean white plum finish with citron. Pleasant, and will drink quite well with cold cuts, cheeses, and white meats, especially with creamy sauces. For that matter, Welsh rabbit and cheese fondue come to mind.
We next tasted a Pignoletto, from the Azienda Agricola Vallona, in Castello di Serravalle (BO). Pignoletto is an autochthonous white varietal thought to be distantly related to Grechetto, which is grown primarily in the area around Bologna. Much is sparkling, as was our bottle:
Vallona Pignoletto 2006
Fairly deep brassy gold with fine white sparkle that settles into nothing. The bouquet is mineral, with some bitter almonds mingled with almond blossoms, while the palate is bright, with lively acidity and minerality that flows into a clean bitter almond finish. Quite pleasant, and will drink well with antipasti or delicate fish, and will be nice with broth (with passatelli, even); the fullness and life also flow from the petillance. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
We finished with another autochthonous varietal, Bourson, which was traditionally used in Romagna as an uva complementare, or blending grape, to add depth to other wines. People have begin to make it In Purezza (by itself) of late, and are also aging it. This was made with late-harvested grapes and was aged in wood:
Tenuta Uccellina Bursôn Ravenna Rosso IGT 2003
This is a flatland wine, and is deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim that has a slight orange cast to it. The bouquet is powerful and vinous with green leather and considerable cherry plum fruit supported by berry fruit jam and cedar, with some India ink bitterness mingled with minerality and iodine. Quite a bit going on and quite concentrated, which isn't too surprising considering how hot the 2003 summer was. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by ample tannins that have an underlying India ink bitterness to them and flow into a clean jammy berry fruit finish that gains depth from underlying bitterness. It's powerful, and though it does reveal the summer heat in the jammy cast of the fruit and the relative lack of acidity, it's not heat struck, and will drink well with a rich roast or hearty stew. Quite interesting, and a pleasant discovery. I'd expect it to age well for another 3-5 years at least.
As we left Dozza, heading east into Romagna, Roy told us that in Romagnolo the word Bé means both "to drink" and wine, a fact that gives an idea of how important wine was for Romagnoli in the past, and also ties in nicely with what a guy in Rimini once told me, namely that you know you've left Romagna and entered Emilia when you ask for a drink and get a glass of water, rather than a glass of wine.
Following our visit to Dozza we went to La Sabbiona (see http://www.lasabbiona.it/), a winery not far from Faenza, to taste their wines and enjoy a traditional Pranzo Romagnolo. I've already written about Centesimino, their Sauvignon Rosso, which greatly impressed me. But not about the meal.
I began with a tour of the cellars (the other journalists were less enological), during which I tasted a tank sample of a white wine from an autochthonous white varietal called Famos -- or in Italian Famoso, famous, which is still being evaluated. It's quite interesting, with honeysuckle and loquat mingling with heather and gunflint on the nose, and a pleasingly rich palate with powerful greenish apricot fruit supported by considerable structure and tannins (from the grapes) and bracing acidity that lead into a long bitter finish. I found it rather seductive, in a briskly athletic sort of way, and think it will be something to keep an eye out for when they release it officially.
Lunch began with (if I remember right) mixed cold cuts and formaggio di fossa, of which I have already written, accompanied by a La Sabbiona Bianco della Torre, a Trebbiano/Late-Harvested Malvasia blend that gains pleasing aromatic richness from the Malvasia and Backbone from the Trebbiano. The antipasti were followed by curzol (a handmade pasta shape that resembles shoe laces, curzol in Romagnolo) served with a scallion sauce, and strozzapreti, priest-chokers, with a sausage and wine sauce, and both are worth words of explanation.
First, Scallions: Though we now think of them as a relative of the onion, in Romagna they were one of the staples of poor farmhands, who would eat them for breakfast, washing them down with wine and chewing on a slice of prosciutto if they were lucky enough to have it. Because of this close association with poverty scallions were largely abandoned during the great economic boom of the 1960s and almost disappeared from Romagna. Their rediscovery and rehabilitation began in the 1990s, and they are by now welcomed on Romagnan tables, though not, I would venture, for breakfast.
Next, Strozzapreti, or Priest-chokers: though one might think the word to be a blatant example of the anticlericalism Romagna is known for (their being ruled by the Vatican, as part of the Papal States, certainly contributed to this sentiment), the dig is a little more subtle: Strozzapreti are poor people's pasta, made with just flour and water, but none of the eggs richer folk added to their pasta dough, and are therefore coarser. Being coarser, they don't go down as well, and this posed a serious problem for priests used to the genteel pasta made with eggs.
And the sausage-and-wine sauce? Very simple; we were told it was made by peeling fresh link sausages, crumbling them into a pan, adding wine to barely cover, and simmering gently until the wine had evaporated, leaving sausages and pan drippings behind. They went very well with the strozzapreti.
To be honest, the food was good, and I talked rather than take notes during the rest of the meal, but before we left I did taste one more wine:
La Sabbione Rosso della torre Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOCG 2006
It's fermented and aged in steel, and is lively ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, and fairly tart, with cherry fruit supported by heathery floral accents and some lemony acidity. Scrappy, and light on its feet, bringing a tomboy to mind. On the palate it's medium bodied and deft, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by lively cherry acidity and clean slightly splintery tannins that flow into a clean tart cherry finish. Pleasant, in a rather aggressive way, and will drink quite well with grilled or fried meats, and also with light stews. It's one of those bottles that may not stand out at a tasting, but that will drink very well with the food that follows.
Following our meal we worked our way towards Castrocaro Terme - Terre del Sole, which owes its present form to its having been the Capital of Romagna Toscana, the section of Romagna extending down to the flatlands that Tuscany's Medici Dukes annexed to guarantee access to the Adriatic trade routes. In addition to building an imposing fortress, the Medici had their architects lay out an ideal town, and it's quite pretty, though the shadows were lengthening by the time we arrived, and we simply drove about town (an interesting history, in Italian, alas http://www.proloco-castrocaro.it/storia.php) before heading back up into the hills to the Tenuta Pennita, where Gianluca Tumidei is attracting considerable attention with his olive oil.
The Tenuta has been in the family for a while -- his father Edmeo bought it in 1980 -- but he really got involved in 1998, and began making olive oil in 2002, which was a more serious undertaking than one might think, because cultivation of olive trees had lapsed in the Forlì-Cesena area in the 50s due to a lack of good olive presses. His trees are a mixture of cultivars from around Rimini and elsewhere, he says, adding that the oldest resemble trees from around the town of Brisighella. In other words, mostly Romagnan stock that has had time to adapt to the land, and the oils they yield are very low in acidity. Also very good; he set six different oils in front of us, and I found myself wishing I were competent to say something meaningful about them. "They're good" doesn't quite do them justice.
Fortunately, though Gianluca says he derives his greatest satisfaction from olive oil, he does also make wine.
Tenuta Pinneta Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore 2006
Deep cherry ruby with violet in the rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, with lively cherry fruit supported by brisk sour cherry acidity and brambly accents, with heather as well. Deft. On the palate it's equally deft, and medium bodied, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by slightly greenish acidity and smooth sweet tannins that have a slight splintery burr and flow into a clean bitter finish. Expect it to go quickly when paired with hearty meat-based pasta dishes or risotti, or grilled meats.
Tenuta Pinneta Terra del Sol Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva 2004
Deep cherry ruby with lively cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with cherry fruit supported by fairly intense cedar and some graphite shavings. It's aged in large wood, but is heavily influenced by it. On the palate it's full and rich with bright red berry fruit supported by lively sour cherry acidity and tannins that have a warm splintery burr and flow into a clean tannic finish. It's very young, and needs another few months to get its bearings; by comparison with the vino base it lumbers some and is more settled. However, the cedar faded some as the wine opened, and I think it will work well with succulent grilled meats.
Tenuta Pinneta Edmeo Forlì IGT Rosso 2003
This is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Merlot Gianluca named after his father; it's inky ruby with cherry rim, and has a powerful bouquet with cherry and prune fruit supported by intense vegetal accents and some graphite shavings. The heat of the summer is evident, and it's also fairly direct. On the palate it's ample, and smooth, with moderately rich cherry and berry fruit laced with plums and supported by ample splintery tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's a bit heat-struck and doesn't have the richness nor the definition of the Sangioves, both of which are from better vintages.
Gianluca changed enologists with the 2006 vintage, and there is a difference: the 2006 is scrappier and has more depth than the 2005, though it's clearly a Superiore as opposed to a Riserva.
By the time we finished tasting Gianluca's wines and oil it was quite dark out, and a chill wind had sprung up.
We worked our way back over hill and dale to Predappio, the town now known for being Mussolini's birthplace.
Actually, he wasn't born in Predappio proper, but rather in a farmhouse halfway down the hill, and in 1923, after taking power, he ordered that what had been Romagna Toscana be reassigned to the Region of Emilia Romagna, perhaps because he felt closer ties to Romagna than Tuscany. He also decided to rebuild Predappio below his house, summoning the finest Fascist architects to lay out an ideal Fascist town (the parallel with nearby Castrocaro is obvious) with a long avenue which had the major civic buildings, including the church -- Sant'Antonio da Padova -- the town hall, and the Casa del Fascio, or Fascist Party Seat (which has been closed since the war), and more. There's an ample porticoed square directly below Mussolini's home, and, just beyond the town, San Cassiano, the Romanesque church by the cemetery. San Cassiano was closed by the time we arrived, so we drove up to Predappio Alta (though Mussolini expected people to abandon it in favor of the new town few did).
Predappio Alta is a pretty hilltop town whose houses are built through and around thick steeply inclined sandstone beds locally called Spungone, and we ate in a restaurant called La Vëcia Cantêna D'la Prè that's on the main square. It was in the past a wine cellar, and below the restaurant there are several floors of casks, each with the nickname of the person who owned the wine in it. Now, of course, it's a restaurant, ably run by Barbara and Riccardo -- she cooks and he serves. We ate very well, though I confess that I neglected to write down what we ate. But not what we drank:
Fattoria Cassetto dei Mandorli Nicolucci Tre Rocche Sangiovese di Romagna DOC Superiore 2006
Deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim. Deft bouquet, with cherry fruit supported by some brambles and heather, and, as it opens, acidity too. On the palate it's clean, with bright red berry fruit supported by clean bright acidity and tannins that have a brisk splintery burr that flows into a bright clean sour berry fruit finish. Quite drinkable, and will go well with meat based pasta dishes, legumes, and also with quickly grilled meats.
Fattoria Cassetto dei Mandorli Nicolucci Predappio di Predappio Vigna del Generale Riserva 2001
Impenetrable pyrope with pyrope rim -- poured ink. The bouquet is fairly rich, with violets and red berry fruit supported by underlying prune and pleasant spicy aromas, especially nutmeg and cinnamon. On the palate it's fairly full and quite smooth, with moderately intense plum berry fruit supported by tannins that have savory accents and flow into a clean finish. To be honest, it tries too hard to be a big wine, and as a result comes up short; I found myself preferring the Rocche.
When we emerged, there was a dusting of snow on the ground, which made the drive to the Fattoria Trere (http://www.trere.com/ita/menu.html) quite pretty. At Trere I was greeted by a beautiful room, with delightful antiques, and the next morning we wandered about the Tenuta, crossing paths with a number of peacocks. It's quite nice, and if you visit the area would be a fine base.
After breakfast we returned to Predappio, driving though Predappio Nuova to reach San Cassiano, which was open. Though the outside is Romanesque the inside was thoroughly restored between the wars and has a great many Fascist symbols that somehow survived the period of architectural "cleansing" that followed the War. The cemetery behind the church was remarkably peaceful -- the dusting of snow and the early hour contributed to the atmosphere -- though I expect it is often much busier, because Mussolini's family tomb is part way down one of the lanes.
There's a flight of stairs lined with nostalgic plaques leading to a chamber with Mussolini's tomb under a massive bust of Il Duce. A number of other relatives are also buried around him, and before you leave you can sign the guest book, or simply browse through what others have written. Some of which makes for interesting reading indeed. The stairs leading back up have more plaques, and then you're back into the light.
It was by now almost noon, and since more snow was forecasted, I slowly made my way home, where I had a number of other wines to taste, which were kindly sent by an organization called Convito di Romagna, a group of seven top Sangiovese di Romagna producers who have decided to pool their resources when it comes to promoting their wines. The wines:
Azienda Agricola Stefano Ferrucci
Via Casolana 3045/2 - Castel Bolognese (RA)
Ferrucci Centurione Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2005
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, in a brambly way, with sour cherry fruit supported by greenish herbal notes and underbrush, with hints of dried porcini mushrooms and saddle leather. On the palate it's medium bodied, with moderately intense sour cherry fruit that's supported by sour berry fruit acidity, and by smooth, sweet, slightly greenish tannins that flwo into a clean slightly greenish finish that has an unusual bitter sweetness to it, a combination of (I think) alcohol and bitter accents from wood. It's direct, but pleasant, and will drink well with grilled meats that aren't too fatty, or with light stews and drier meats, for example a pot roast.
Ferrucci Domus Caia Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. Elegant. The bouquet is powerful, with cherry and forest berry fruit supported by savory accents and hints of dried mushrooms that add depth, and by nose thingling spice as well. Harmonious. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful fairly sweet cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins, while there is some bright raspberry acidity to provide direction, and it all flows into a clean fairly sweet berry fruit finish with bitter accents balanced by acidity. It's pleasant, in a rather voluptuous key, and to be frank brings to mind a 50s Vargas girl, full of cheeky promise. Because of its richness it will work well with flavorful meats that aren't too fatty, for example a thick slab of roast beef cooked medium, or roast poultry served with a creamy gravy. If you like the smoother, more international style you will like it very much, and it is in any case quite approachable. It will also age nicely for 3-5 years, though I might drink it now to enjoy its freshness.
Azienda Agricola San Valentino
Fraz. San Martino in Venti - Via Tomasetta 11 - Rimini
San Valentino Scabi Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Elegant black cherry ruby with black reflections and ruby rim. The bouquet is fresh, and bracing, with fairly rich red berry fruit supported by savory accents and considerable brambly bitterness with underlying greenish notes. On the palate it's bright, with rich cherry fruit supported by clean bitter accents and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly bitter finish. It's pleasant, and light on its feet in a very polished style; if you like scrappier traditional wines you may find it too polished, but it is quite approachable, and the bitterness of the tannins will nicely balance the richness of grilled meats, while the slight sweetness of the fruit will instead complement drier roasts, stews, or pot roasts. In short, it's versatile in a modern key.
San Valentino Terra di Covignano Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some black almandine in the rim. The bouquet is intense, with cherry fruit mingled with bitter chocolate, cedar, and some mineral accents, and though it's quick to write it's also harmonious in an international key. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with fairly rich savory red berry fruit supported by clean sweet cedar-laced tannins that have some balsamic warmth to them, and flow into a clean warm savory berry fruit finish with underlying cedary bitterness. It's pleasant, in a decidedly modern oak-laced key, and if you like this style you will enjoy it. Drink it with succulent red meats that will balance the bitterness of the oak.
Loc. Castiglione - Via Castel Leone 8 - 47100 Forlì
Calonga Ordeaffo Forlì Sangiovese IGT 2005
An unusual, arresting label with an eye in green. The wine is deep pigeon blood ruby with hints of almandine in the rim. The bouquet is bright, and brambly, with lively cherry fruit supported by pronounced bitter acidity and slightly pungent underbrush with savory sea salt accents as well. As it opens, it becomes quite deft. On the palate it's equally deft, with brisk cherry fruit supported by clean bitter minerality and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish that leaves the palate squeaky clean. Pleasant, in a gangly way that brings a smiling tomboy to mind, and will drink quite well with grilled meats or light stews. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
Calonga Michelangiòlo Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with powerful berry fruit supported by intense cedar that has a haunting feel to it, and by bitter oakiness as well. Lots of wood here. On the palate it's full, with bright berry fruit supported by tannins that have bitter oak-derived cedar accents that flow into a clean bitter finish. It's powerful, and gives an impression of trying very hard, but the oak is, at least for me, overpowering with respect to the fruit. It is well made, and light on its feet notwithstanding, but you have to like heavily oaked wines to enjoy it. If you do, its richness will make it a good bet with a steak or thickly sliced rare roast beef.
Tenuta La Palazza - Drei Donà
Via del Tesoro, 23 - FORLÍ
Drei Donà Notturno Forlì Sangiovese IGT 2006
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich and quite fresh, with youthful violets mingled with irises and lively berry fruit, which gains direction from some peppery spice and underlying brambles. Appealing, in a sunny youthful sort of way, though there are some dusky shadows as well. On the palate it's full, and bitterer than I expected, with fairly bright cherry fruit supported by tannins that lay an angular bitter wash over the tongue and flow into a decidedly bitter, almost abrasive tannic finish. It's not a wine I would be tempted to open far from the table, but this aggressive bitterness will make it work quite well with succulent meats off the grill, say ribs or chops, and it will also work well with mixed fried meats and vegetables (less artichokes). Particular, and not for those who like smoother softer reds, but in the proper setting it will work very well.
Via Gesuita 4/B - 48018
San Biagio Faenza (RA) Italy
Poderi Morini Beccafico Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Black cherry ruby with black reflections and black brick in the rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, with berry fruit supported by some greenish vegetal accents, and some underlying bramble that suggests acidity. On the palate it's bright, with fresh cherry fruit that gains direction from bitter mineral acidity, while the tannins have a slight greenish burr to them and flow into a clean sour berry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. It's pleasantly sassy, in a slightly lean key, like a kid in the midst of a growth spurt, and will drink quite well with rich meat-based pasta dishes, quickly cooked meats, either with red sauces or off the grill, and will also do nicely with fried meats or vegetables. In short, what Italians call a vino a tutto pasto, or wine to be drunk throughout the meal. Expect it to go quickly, and you will want a second bottle.
Poderi Morini Nonno Rico Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2003
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and ruby rim. The bouquet is powerful, and fairly alcoholic, with jammy red berry fruit that's saved from being cloying by greenish vegetal accents with underlying cedar that agins in intensity with swishing; the overall impression is one of brooding power. On the palate it's full and quite smooth, with jammy cherry plum fruit supported by ample smooth tannins that have a slightly splintery cedary burr, and flow into a clean fairly bitter finish with some hints of sweetness as well. The wine clearly reveals the influence of the long hot 2003 summer in the plum cast of the fruit and the relative lack of acidity, which surrenders to tannic bitterness, but it wasn't completely overcome by the heat, and will drink nicely with flavorful, not too fatty roasts, including drier white meats, and will be nice with pot roasts as well..
Azienda Agricola San Patrignano
Via San Patrignano, 53 - Ospedaletto di Rimini (RN)
San Patrignano Aulente Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2006
Lot 910.07 (? - Hard to read)
Impenetrable purple ruby with lively violet rim. Looks young. The bouquet is a little wilder than some, with bright berry fruit supported by wet stable straw and underlying bitterness. On the palate it's medium bodied, and quite smooth, with fairly rich cherry fruit that has a certain seductive languidity thanks to a relative lack of acidity, while the tannins are smooth and sweet, and flow into a clean fairly long bitter finish. It's pleasant, and very drinkable, though you have to like this slightly more rustic cast of aromas on the nose. If you do, you'll find the bottle going quite quickly with quickly cooked grilled meats or light stews.
San Patrignano Avi Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot not apparent
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, in a rather brooding overripe key, with jammy berry fruit with plum overtones and some hints of balsam as well, mingled with mentholated spice and hints of grilled pepper. It comes across as trying very hard, but isn't as light on its feet as I might have liked. On the palate it's full and rich, with fairly bright cherry fruit that gains depth from slight plum, and is supported by tannins that carry with them a tremendous load of dusty cedar bitterness, which flows into a clean bitter finish. It's powerful, with has a detached bitter elegance that for some reason made me think of the dark hull of a ship sliding through a calm night time sea -- it seems to be drawing away. It comes across, to me, as trying very hard to be a Wine as opposed to a wine, and while the basic elements are nicely bound together it doesn't have the easy grace I associate with Sangiovese di Romagna. Rather, it advances, looking neither right nor left, and flows past us. I would drink it with a succulent roast because the bitterness is sufficient to balance meats along the lines of lamb, but I'd have liked more grace than I found.
Via Vicchio, 11 - Marzeno - FAENZA (RA)
Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2006
Lively cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, with berry fruit supported by brambly acidity and some greenish vegetal accents; the effect is both bracing and inviting. On the palate it's bright, with rich cherry fruit that gains direction from lively cherry acidity, and is supported by sweet tannins that have a slight splintery burr, and flow into a clean bright berry fruit finish. Quite nice, in a youthful sassy key, and will drink very well with foods, ranging from pasta with meat sauces 8or lasagna tout court) through rich soups -- broth with Passatelli come to mind -- and on to grilled meats or light stews. It's what I expect of Sangiovese di Romagna, a deft lively wine you set out on the table and immediately have to replenish, because it drinks very well, but at the same time is a wine with a story to tell, if you care to listen -- it won't force itself on you. Worth seeking out, and you will want more after the first bottle.
Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva DOC 2004
Lot not apparent
Impenetrable pyrope with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, and nicely balanced, with slightly jammy berry fruit supported by spice with cedar overtones, while there is sufficient mineral spice to keep it from seeming brooding. On the palate it's full, rich, and quite smooth, with fairly intense cherry plum fruit supported by ample smooth tannins that have dusky cedar-laced bitterness with some warm savory balsamic overtones, that flow into a clean cedar-laced bitter finish, while there is (as with the nose) sufficient underlying mineral acidity to give the wine direction. It's obviously designed to be a Wine, as opposed to a wine, and is more successful in achieving this status than the other "important" Sangiovese di Romagna wines I tasted. But I found myself missing the easy grace of Ceregio. This said, it will drink nicely with succulent stews or roasts, and will age nicely for at least 5 years.
Azienda Vitivinicola e Agrituristica Trerè
Via Casale 19 - 48018 Faenza (RA)
Tre Rè Re Bianco Colli di Faenza DOC 2006
A slight detour; this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc an Chardonnay. Pale brassy gold with greenish highlights. The bouquet is bright, with herbal cents and gooseberries mingled with some pineapple fruit and some floral accents, with underlying heather. On the palate it's pleasingly full, with fairly rich gooseberry fruit supported by spicy acidity that has hints of sage and underlying bitterness for depth, and flows into a clean almost peppery finish with underlying mineral acidity. Pleasant, and will drink quite well as either an aperitif or with fish, and while they're obvious I'd be tempted to serve it with cheese-filled pasta too. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
Tre Rè Vigna del Monte Sangiovese di Romagna DOC 2006
Lively black cherry ruby with ruby rim paling to white. The bouquet is bright and rather brambly, with cherry fruit supported by wet underbrush and some jammy accents. Inviting in a brash sort of way. On the palate it's light to medium bodied and deft, with fairly bright cherry fruit that gains direction from pleasant cherry-raspberry acidity, and is supported by brambly greenish tannins that have underlying bitterness, and flow into a clean fruit-laced finish with underlying tannic bitterness. Quite pleasant, in a light key, and it's one of those wines that will work very well with foods, supporting rather than taking the limelight. I would be quite happy to drink it day to day, though its best pairings will be pasta dishes -- red sauces, especially -- simple grilled meats, and light stews. Expect the bottle to go very fast. It's what I look for in Sangiovese di Romagna, a food wine free from pretension, and it's worth seeking out.
Tre Rè Amarcord D'Un Ross Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva 2003
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, and warm, with jammy berry fruit supported by polished saddle leather and some balsamic notes; the wine is fairly mature. On the palate it's ample, and quite soft, with fairly intense cherry plum fruit supported by moderate acidity backed by a fair amount of alcohol, and by tannins that have an inky India ink bitterness to them, and flow into a clean soft berry fruit finish. It's very much a child of the 2003 vintage, with fruit that's not as rich or as full as it would be in a less hot vintage -- I have the impression that the grapes suffered the heat and didn't ripen as well as they normally do -- but pleasant within this context, and the alcohol and tannins carry well enough for it to work well with roasts that are flavorful but not too fatty, for example roast beef cooked medium rare, or perhaps roast chicken or turkey. I wouldn't hold it too long.
Campo del Sole
via Cellaimo, 121 - 47032 Bertinoro (FC)
Campo del Sole Palpedrigo Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore DOC 2005
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with cedar mingled with jammy berry fruit, and the interaction is almost candied in tone, with hints of violet and underlying clover honey as well. A bit unusual, especially the honey. On the palate it's full and soft, with fairly rich cherry prune fruit supported by alcohol, moderate acidity, and smooth bitter tannins that flow into a clean bitter finish where the hints of honey again emerge. It doesn't have as much fullness of fruit as I would normally expect of a Sangiovese, and this is likely due to the cooler, damper character of the 2005 vintage; this relative lack in turn allows other things to emerge, especially the hints of honey, which may be sweetness from the barrel toast. I'll be curious to taste another vintage of the wine, which will in any case drink nicely with simple grilled meats or light stews.
Tre Monti (mentioned above)
Via Lola 3, Bergullo - 40026 Imola (BO)
Well, here you have it. I'm sorry it's so long and so meandering, but this is the way it came out.
This time's proverb is Romagnolo: I bajoc i' fa andè l'acqua d'in sô - Money even makes water flow uphill.
Until next time,
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com
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