Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France


Emilia – land of Lambrusco, Spergola and more

Romagna – intense Sangiovese and more

Update of 2021: 

Click here for 2017 update: visiting Faenza for the release of the new vintages of Sangiovese

In the English-speaking world of wine, Sangiovese is almost exclusively associated with Tuscany and its sub-zones, while Emilia-Romagna is associated with prime food products – balsamic vinegar, parmesan, parma ham and tortellini.  Even in wine terms, the two regions which are now joined in administrative matrimony have quite different identities.  Emilia has been landed with the struggle to relaunch Lambrusco, sparkling and still, as a serious wine, while Romagna at least has the benefit of Sangiovese.  Further afield this variety is widely grown in central Italy and as far south as the northern part of Puglia. Apart from Tuscany, it is important in Le Marche but in Romagna it is the principal red grape variety, dominating both the large co-operative market and the small but significant sector of private high-quality growers.  And, of course, as in any Italian region, there are fascinating and worthwhile local varieties, here especially Albana. 

Featured wineries

All the signs are that we will hear much more about Romagna Sangiovese in the future. This name replaces Sangiovese di Romagna from 2011 for the wines from the hilly DOC of 7000 hectares. The real innovation is the twelve official sub-zones related to the three principal cities of Faenza, Forlì and Cesena. The idea is that names of places such as Brisighella, Predappio and Bertinoro will in time have the same resonance as Greve, Radda and Castellina. One really helpful initiative taken by the Consorzio was to commission Alessandro Masnaghetti to produce a map of the sub-zones in his magnificent series of maps of Italian vineyard areas which can be downloaded for free on your iPad …

Geographically Romagna is a broad strip of land which lies north and east of the Apennines.  Nowadays it is defined by the motorway and its predecessor which run from Bologna to the sea at Rimini.  Chianti Rúfina lies just on the other side of the mountains, but the land here is very different, with clay being the predominant soil type.  The picture shows a vineyard being prepared for replanting in the foothills of the Apennines south of Forlì.  The colour of the soil shows how relatively rich the land is here.  Even though this picture was taken after one of the wettest springs on record, it is safe to say that the issue here is not water retention but good drainage.  As you can see these foothills are pleasant countryside with mixed agriculture, with vines on favoured, well-drained, sunny sites, mostly enjoying a warm, continental climate – warm summers, cold, lengthy winters, rainfall between 700 and 900mm per year depending on altitude, typically 100-300m (Masnaghetti).   The most distinctive feature of the viticulture is the re-adoption of alberello (ie gobelet) style pruning as a way of moving from high yielding systems to quality, though there is also plenty of cordone speronato to be seen. 

What is the character of Romagna Sangiovese?   To be bold enough to generalise: clay soils and relatively low altitudes undoubtedly make robustness and medium-plus to high tannins a feature of these intense wines.  This is what makes it possible to produce some very good quality Sangiovese at low price levels in the large-scale co-operatives and for the best wines to be long-lived and capable of (and needing) ageing.  Without getting into preferences, the contrast with the equally long-lived but light high acidity wines of neighbouring Rúfina could not be more marked.  The challenge – which the best featured here rise to – is to manage the level of extract and the tannins in wines which are designed to be drunk in less than five years.  And don’t forget to try high-quality Albana, in both its sweet and dry forms. 

Key denominations in Romagna

All the key denominations were revised and published in September 2011 to come into effect with that year’s harvest:

Romagna Sangiovese DOC (was Sangiovese di Romagna)
  • must come from the delimited area
  • can also include the name of one of 12 possible sub-zones: Bertinoro, Brisighella, Castrocaro – Terra del Sole, Cesena, Longiano, Meldola, Modigliana, Marzeno, Oriolo, Predappio, San Vicinio, Serra
  • plus the possibility of a riserva
  • minimum 85% Sangiovese or 95% if with a named sub-zone
  • simple Romagna Sangiovese can be released from 1st December of the year of harvest, Sangiovese Superiore from the following 1st April or 1st September if a named sub-zone
  • the riservas of Romagna Sangiovese and Romagna Sangiovese Superiore must be aged for a minimum of 24 months from 1st December of the year of harvest or not before 1st September of the third year after harvest for the named subzones
Romagna Albana DOCG 
  • can be secco, amabile, dolce, passito or passito riserva
  • minimum 95% Albana
  • for the passito and passito riserva, the sugar level must reach a minimum level of 284g/l after the period of drying

There are also DOCs for Cagnanina, Pagadebit (still and frizzante), Pagadebit with the named sub-zone Bertinoro (still and frizzante), Trebbiano (still or sparkling) The 2011 composite Romagna decree can be downloaded from here

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