When people think of Emilia-Romagna, they think food first. As of yet, no wine of the region has anywhere near the international cachet of Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Aceto Balsamico di Modena. In fact, the best-known wine of Emilia-Romagna is the sweet version of Lambrusco—a commercial sensation in its own right, but not exactly the connoisseur’s choice.
This is not to say that there aren’t good wines in Emilia-Romagna, just that no one really knows about them yet. Let’s start with Lambrusco: Maybe you think you’re too sophisticated to drink fizzy wine, but anyone with even a passing interest in Italian wine culture knows that frizzante(semi-sparkling) styles still have their place. In the case of Lambrusco, it’s the dry, or secco, versions of the wine you want to seek out, not the soda-like amabile (semi-sweet) that people poured over ice in the seventies.
The Lambrusco grape is thought to have been a wild vine of the Italian peninsula, one that was first “domesticated” and vinified by the Etruscans. Today its principal growing areas are the broad plains around the towns of Parma, Reggio, and Modena, so it should come as no surprise that a plate of prosciutto or a hunk of Parmigiano is most often accompanied by a glass of Lambrusco in the local restaurants. Anyone who’s visited these towns has probably tried (and liked) dry Lambrusco, and there’s no denying its affinity with the rich foods of the Padana plain. The crisp, almost sour acidity of the wine, combined with the gentle sparkle, enliven and cleanse your palate between bites ofBolognese sauce.
The only problem is that good dry Lambruscos are hard to come by. The sweet versions are still huge export products(it was we Americans, along with the Germans, who made theamabile style so popular), and most importers I’ve talked to say they really don’t see a market for dry Lambrusco in the states. Well, Babbo is a market—why don’t we start there? Right now I’ve got a great dry Lambrusco from Ermete Medici (see below) on the list, and I’m actively looking for others.
But of course I’ve got more to recommend beyond Lambrusco. In the hills around Piacenza, in the northwestern reaches of the region, the wines of the Colli Piacentini appellation continue to get more interesting. In particular, check out the reds of the area, the best of which combine the fruity barbera grape with the spicy, savory bonarda, a local variety also known as croatina. You’ll see varietal wines labeled with the Colli Piacentini DOC, but for my money the most interesting stuff carries the designation Colli Piacentini Gutturnio. “Gutturnio” refers specifically to barbera-bonarda blends. We regularly feature Gutturnios from La Tosa and Castello di Luzzano, and I love the way they work with Mario’s food—especially pastas.
Moving east, the the “Romagna” side of Emilia-Romagna, you find sweet wines made from the Albana grape (Albana di Romagna) and, with growing regularity, solid reds made from sangiovese. There are some in the region who believe that sangiovese, made famous in neighboring Tuscany, is actually of Romagnan origin. At the very least, research has shown that sangiovese originated in the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines. On which side remains a mystery.
Although not all of the good Romagnan sangioveses carry the DOC designation Sangiovese di Romagna, that’s certainly a good place to start. There are a number of excellent producers of Sangiovese di Romagna with a good presence in the states, including Umberto Cesari, Castelluccio, Tre Monti, San Patrignano, Fattoria Paradiso, and Fattoria Zerbina. You’ll definitely see most of these names on our list.
Whatever you do, don’t assume that Emilia-Romagna wine begins and ends with Riunite.