Enologica Bologna Fat and Happy
In this month’s Final Blend, Anthony Gismondi reports on Enologica Bologna, discovering a wealth of wine and food that speaks to the heart of Emilia-Romagna.
Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi
The administrative district of Emilia-Romagna spreads across Northern Italy encompassing the historically significant regions of Emilia and Romagna, roughly halfway between Piemonte and Tuscany. Bologna is the capital of what is surely one of wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe and while Vancouverites like to brag about the quality of life on the West Coast it pales by comparison to what Bologna has to offer its citizens. The locals refer to the city as la grassa, ‘the fat’ for its rich culinary history.
In the year 2000, Bologna was named the cultural capital of Europe for a year, an easy choice given its first settlements date back to at least 1000 BC. From the Etruscans to the Celts and the Romans Bologna’s history is as rich as its food and wine. It is also home to the oldest university in the world – the University of Bologna founded in 1088. The centre of the city has been largely restored and conserved since the 1970s and it is a delight to walk the city center rich in monuments, medieval towers, churches, shops and some amazing restaurants.
I recently spent a weekend in Bologna and environs attending the 2nd Enologica Bologna discovering a wealth of wine and food that speaks to the heart of Emilia-Romagna: things like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, Mortadella and Culatello di Zibello and well, the list goes on and on. The wines are equally charming, and ancient, involving a score of DOPs, DOCGs and IGTs. You need a handbook to navigate some of the labels, names like gutturnio – a blend of barbera and croatina (aka bonarda). Lambrusco salamino, lambrusco sobara, albana, bombino bianco, pignoletto, centesimino, malvasia and trebbiano are but a few of the names you are likely to encounter. Perhaps the best known is the resurging Sangiovese di Romagna.
It’s the same sangiovese that made its way to Tuscany. Historically the grapes were planted to the hillsides of the Apennines, a ridge that neatly divides Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna. Over time it made its way down to the flat lands and lost its purpose. There was a notion back then that the sangiovese clones of Romagna weren’t the best, but more diligent grape growing and vastly improved winemaking suggests the clones of Sangiovese di Romagna are among the best grown in Italy.
It’s not an easy grape to grow or even to come to know in the glass. According to Giorgio Melandri, a local journalist and true expert on most wine and food matters in Emilia-Romagna, the local sangiovese can be challenging. “It is always austere, moody and disrespectful (as well as relatively pale in colour), but as he correctly points out, “At the same time [it’s] able to maintain the ability to be elegant and profoundly interpret its territory.”
The final point is key. If a grape can express its terroir, and as a grower you know that, then you are well down the road to making the best wine you can. This is the story of the Sangiovese di Romagna in 2015. Throw in younger winemakers, a return to natural yeast fermentations by many, organic grape growing, older barrels, larger barrels, gentle winemaking and you have a story of growers in search of nuances that will set their wines apart from their famous neighbours to the south.
According to Melandri, “When the sangiovese grape grows on the clay soil of the first hills going in the direction of Romagna, the resulting wine has distinct floral characteristics, becoming more mineral the higher, less fertile and less compact the terrain becomes. Romagna is a true representation of mosaic terroirs and the sangiovese is able to express all of its potential as an interpreter of both the soil and microclimate.”
Knowing how slowly any changes in regulations move in Europe I admit to being shocked and exhilarated to learn that the growers of Emilia Romagna are working hard to develop a series of subzones within the existing DOCs and DOCGs to better differentiate their soils and wines. Most of these zones lie south of the historic Via Emilia, first constructed by the Romans in 187 BC, along the northern Italian plain, stretching from modern-day Rimini on the Adriatic coast, to Piacenza on the river Po.
This sense of place, something you might think is embedded in all of Europe’s wine, is all new in 2015 Emilia-Romagna where sub-regions are actively being identified to better tell the story of Sangiovese di Romagna. It’s a theme I experienced throughout the tasting room at Enologica where scores of wineries from all across the region gathered to showcase their latest bottles. While I was seeking to learn more about the Sangiovese di Romagna, after wandering the tasting room only a short distance it became clear there is so much more to discover in Emilia-Romagna.
Moving from the plains to the hills, sangiovese and so many other indigenous grapes are going back to where they began. The sites are tougher to manage, the sloping, shallow soils poor and hard to work but the resulting grapes are so much more interesting. Couple that with the region’s waning fascination with international wines and the signs all point to a new authenticity in the region. Less oak, more acid, clean wines that taste different than the rest of the world are becoming the hallmark of the new Emilia-Romagna. That and seemingly endless and energetic supply of young people forming the next vision of this ancient region.
Today there are 87 different grapes varieties growing in the region. They range from red sangiovese to sparkling pignoletto and lambrusco. Throw in a few well-known ‘international’ varieties, albeit planted during the Napoleon era, along with various indigenous grapes with curious names and stories, like albano famoso, pagadebiti, centesimino, sgavetta, spergola, burson and uva ruggine and you still have barely scratched the depth of the region’s vineyards.
Here in Canada the region of Emilia-Romagna is better known for its specialty food like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano than most any of its wines. And like most markets, our wine buyers tend to specialise in the easy to sell wines of Tuscany and Piedmont long before they would even consider a label from Emilia-Romagna.
Too bad I say. Eventually, just maybe, consumers will push back and force buyers everywhere to consider abandoning the ‘lowland’ brands for the ‘hillside’ labels and wines that matter.
Emilia-Romagna has found its way, can it only be a matter time before we do.
Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna 2013, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Villa Papiano i Probi, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2011, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Il Nespoli Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2012, Emilia-Romagna, Italy