THE MAGIC OF RO­MAGNA’S SANGIOVESE

It’s time to take a good look at the oft-over­looked San­gioveses of Ro­magna

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A good look at the oft-over­looked San­gioveses of Ro­magna

Sangiovese is the great Ital­ian grape. The most widely planted red va­ri­ety in Italy, it is re­spon­si­ble for some of the coun­try’s most mem­o­rable wines, and best known for the part it plays in the fa­mous Tus­can wines of Chi­anti Clas­sico, Vino No­bile di Mon­tepul­ciano and Brunello di Mon­tal­cino.

In the last 15 years, this grape has achieved out­stand­ing qual­ity and crit­i­cal ac­claim in the re­gion of Ro­magna, an area of around 8,000 square kilo­me­tres, which lies on the other side of the Apen­nines from Tus­cany and is bor­dered to the east by the Adri­atic Sea. This prox­im­ity to the Adri­atic en­sures a mild cli­mate, which is par­tic­u­larly favourable for the cul­ti­va­tion of Sangiovese.

Yet all too of­ten, when lists of great Sangiovese are drawn up by hasty jour­nal­ists, wines from this su­perb area slip through the cracks in favour of the siren call of Tus­cany. Not this time.

FROM THE GROUND UP

The un­du­lat­ing hills of Ro­magna—which have an av­er­age height of 150 to 250 me­tres above sea level—are gen­tler than those in Tus­cany and the wines pro­duced here dur­ing great vin­tages tend to have more pow­er­ful aro­mas and higher ex­tract than their Tus­can coun­ter­parts. Th­ese qual­i­ties, along with their sup­ple­ness and juicy cherry/rasp­berry fruit flavour, make Ro­magna Sangiovese very food­friendly.

Their con­sis­tent and con­tin­ued suc­cess in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions has led lo­cal pro­duc­ers to set their sights even higher. To do this, they have ini­ti­ated a se­ries of stud­ies to iden­tify the dif­fer­ent soil com­po­si­tion and mi­cro­cli­mate of each vine­yard. This has al­lowed them to give their San­gioveses from spe­cific ter­roirs highly dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics that lead to a wide range of taste pro­files in the fin­ished wines. For in­stance, some soils and cli­matic con­di­tions— es­pe­cially those near the coast—pro­duce wines that are par­tic­u­larly fruity and el­e­gant, whereas those from fur­ther in­land tend to be more savoury and aus­tere.

This con­certed ef­fort on the part of pro­duc­ers means that there are a large num­ber of small- to medium-sized, qual­ity-con­scious winer­ies in the zone. Among my fa­vorites are Fat­to­ria Zerbina, Drei Donà - La Palazza, Gio­vanna Mado­nia, Tenuta Santa Lu­cia and San Pa­trig­nano. All of th­ese winer­ies have long and il­lus­tri­ous track records for the pro­duc­tion of suc­cu­lent and stylish wines, and each has a unique story to tell.

WINER­IES WORTH EX­PLOR­ING

In my opin­ion, Cristina Gem­ini­ani, owner of Fat­to­ria Zerbina, may be con­sid­ered the Queen of the zone. Her es­tate was one of the first to make world-class wines, which have been win­ning in­ter­na­tional ac­claim since the late 1980s. Her three most well-known Sangiovese-based wines are Pi­etramora, Marzieno and Torre di Ceparano.

Like all great es­tates, Fat­to­ria Zerbina can be said to have a house style. Its San­gioveses have a lus­cious fruiti­ness and sprightly acid­ity when young, but they also have the ca­pac­ity to evolve over time. Bot­tles of Zerbina’s premium Sangiovese crus from the 1995 vin­tage are still giv­ing plea­sure and main­tain a silky tex­ture and a dol­lop of creamy, cherry-like fruit along with a sprin­kling of spici­ness, thus creat­ing a won­der­ful weave of sen­sa­tions.

“I think the rea­son why peo­ple en­joy Ro­magna Sangiovese so much is its abil­ity to ex­press the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of its ter­roir, while al­ways re­tain­ing very pure fruit char­ac­ter,” says Cristina. “Also, its tan­nins evolve well. They are never over­whelm­ing, but rather are al­ways el­e­gant.”

Cristina also makes white wines, among which is a su­perb Sauternes-style dessert wine called Scacco Matto, which means ‘check­mate’ in English. It is made en­tirely from the white in­dige­nous Al­bana va­ri­ety. This lush, fra­grant nec­tar is the re­sult of the sub­stan­tial pe­riod Cristina spent study­ing in Bordeaux.

The Drei Donà - La Palazza es­tate is now run by En­rico Drei Donà, heir to a prom­i­nent lo­cal noble fam­ily. Most of the win­ery’s vine­yards are planted with Sangiovese. The house style tends to be par­tic­u­larly silky tex­tured, with lushly at­trac­tive bit­ter-cherry fruit that is quin­tes­sen­tial of Sangiovese. Here, too, the wines ex­hibit a re­mark­able abil­ity to age well. It is not un­com­mon to find wines still

giv­ing juicy plea­sure af­ter 20 or even 30 years from the vin­tage.

Drei Donà makes two 100 per cent Sangiovese wines: Not­turno and Pruno, as well as the Sangiovese-based blends Palazza Ris­erva and Graf Noir (55 per cent Sangiovese, 30 per cent Uva Lon­ganesi, 15 per cent Caber­net Franc). They also pro­duce el­e­gant whites and sparkling wines, in­clud­ing a Dosage Zero Rosé sparkler made from 60 per cent Chardon­nay and 40 per cent Sangiovese; and Mag­ni­fi­cat, an award-win­ning Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. A note for ded­i­cated an­i­mal lovers: all the Drei Donà wines are named af­ter the horses they raise on their farm. En­rico was him­self a suc­cess­ful three-day even­ter and his sis­ter Ida Vit­to­ria re­mains one of Italy’s most skilled ex­po­nents of the art of dres­sage.

In the late 1980s Gio­vanna Mado­nia made the de­ci­sion to take over her fam­ily’s es­tate, which now bears her name Gio­vanna Mado­nia, and in 1992 she over­saw the plant­ing of new vine­yards. Her stylish wines can be de­scribed as fresh and sprightly on the palate, with a tex­ture of raw silk. The es­tate makes two 100 per cent San­gioveses: Fer­mavento and Om­broso, a well as Te­nentino, which is a blend of Sangiovese with a small amount of Mer­lot. The win­ery also pro­duces three whites made from the Al­bana va­ri­ety and two Mer­lots.

Paride Benedetti, owner of the small Tenuta Santa Lu­cia es­tate, prides him­self on his ad­her­ence to bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples. I have tasted the com­pany’s wines many times in the last few years and have al­ways found them to be bright and juicy, of­fer­ing real plea­sure. Tenuta San Lu­cia makes two suc­cu­lently ap­proach­able 100 per cent Sangiovese wines: Sas­sig­nolo and Taibo. The es­tate also pro­duces whites from un­usual in­dige­nous grape va­ri­eties, such as the de­li­cious and in­trigu­ing Famoso (in both still and sparkling ver­sions), Re­bola and, of course, Al­bana.

San Pa­trig­nano is un­like the other winer­ies. Rather than a fam­ily busi­ness, it might more ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as a

‘com­mu­nity busi­ness’. Its wines are pro­duced by the res­i­dents of Italy’s largest drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre, un­der the guid­ance of world-fa­mous wine­maker Riccardo Cotarella. The 1,800 res­i­dents learn trades such as car­pen­try, farm­ing, fur­ni­ture man­u­fac­ture and wine­mak­ing which help them lead pro­duc­tive lives once their treat­ment is com­pleted. San Pa­trig­nano’s wine­mak­ing en­ter­prise be­gan in 1978, con­tem­po­ra­ne­ously with the open­ing of the com­mu­nity. The win­ery pro­duces two firmly struc­tured and fruity Ro­magna San­gioveses: Avi and Oro.

DE­LI­CIOUS DUOS

When it comes to food matches for Ro­magna Sangiovese, most pro­duc­ers in the zone sug­gest tra­di­tional dishes such as fet­tuc­cine with meat sauce, roasted white meats (such as rab­bit, free-range chicken) or recipes that fea­ture meats from mora ro­mag­nola, a breed of pig that is in­dige­nous to the area. Other equally sat­is­fy­ing pair­ings are a nice juicy T-bone steak or even a ham­burger with caramelised onions, cheese and ba­con.

I have also matched Ro­magna Sangiovese with Chi­nese-style grilled spareribs, where the wine’s fresh yet mel­low dark cherry fra­grance com­ple­ments the smoky flavours of the dish. For the same rea­son, it is ex­cel­lent with sa­tay, where the fruiti­ness of the wine pro­vides a sub­tle, silky coun­ter­point to the peanut sauce. And I will ad­mit to a weak­ness for pair­ing Ro­magna Sangiovese with the soft, al­most creamy bland­ness of a bean bur­rito. The wine’s tex­ture and flavour go par­tic­u­larly well with nut-based (par­tic­u­larly wal­nuts) and bean­based veg­e­tar­ian dishes in gen­eral.

The next time you are look­ing for a full yet sup­ple-bod­ied red to en­hance your meal, choose a Ro­magna Sangiovese. It has ev­ery­thing you could want: class, style, lus­cious plea­sure-giv­ing flavour and food pair­ing ver­sa­til­ity. Try it once and you may well fall in love.

Be­low Liv­ing well in scenic Ro­magna

This page Sangiovese, the most widely planted red va­ri­ety in Italy

This page, clock­wise from right A vine­yard in Imola, which is tra­di­tion­ally re­garded as the west­ern en­trance to Ro­magna; En­joy your glass of Ro­magna Sangiovese with pasta and meat sauce

Op­po­site page Civitella di Ro­magna

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