THE MAGIC OF ROMAGNA’S SANGIOVESE
It’s time to take a good look at the oft-overlooked Sangioveses of Romagna
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.
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.
This page Sangiovese, the most widely planted red variety in Italy
Below Living well in scenic Romagna
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