On the northern peninsula of Italy lies Emilia-Romagna, a sprawling area that, as the name suggests, was once two distinct regions. Within the region are distinctly different climates and soils, from Emilia’s rolling hills in the west, influenced by the Apennines, to Romagna’s plains to the east of Modena and Bologna. Viticulture began here in the 7th century, when vines were introduced by the Etruscan people. It is difficult to characterise the wines of this region, except to say that the region is unique in its sheer diversity.
In the past, Emilia Romagna's vineyards were mostly known for their copious productions of cheap, sweet, sparkling Lambrusco. The quality of the region's enological output has since improved drammatically. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.
Emilia’s best-known wine is Lambrusco, the much-misunderstood delicate bubbly red whose best examples are seldom found abroad. In its native region it is enjoyed as a dry wine that is exceptional with local cuisine, whereas the wines that are exported tend to be off-dry to sweet and lack the character of the "true" Lambrusco that the Emilians tend to keep for themselves. Such was the international demand for Lambrusco that the tank method was introduced for its production, as a more efficient method of producing more wine. The frothy style of Lambrusco is popular in Emilia and reflected in other wines throughout the region. There are three DOC zones for Lambrusco - Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce - as well as a Lambrusco subappellation under the Reggiano DOC
Contrastingly, Romagna DOC’s best wines are largely based on the red Sangiovese grape. Earlier examples were relatively light but modern versions have great depth and flavour and are capable of ageing majestically. In terms of white wines, Albana and Trebbiano, which are grown in abundance around the hills below Imola, Cesena and the historic Rimini, are important. The Trebbiano produced under the Romagna DOC is native to the region and its wines tend to be a cut above the often neutral Trebbiano wines offered by other regions. Albana di Romagna is a local speciality that is best known for being Italy’s first DOCG for white wine. This DOCG covers secco, amabile, dolce wines and an intriguing passito. A sparkling Albana wine is also produced under the Romagna DOC.
Extending from the Appennines mountain ridge to the southern bank of the mighty Po river, over the Pianura Padana lowlands, Emilia Romagna can boast a great variety of micro climates. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.
Foreign grape varieties perform well in the region, with frequent plantings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pinots which are responsible for some stylish modern wines. Nonetheless, many producers are keen to exploit the potential of Italian grapes in this varied region. Easy-drinking whites are made from Malvasia and Ortrugo (which has its own DOC) and fruit-driven reds from Barbera and Bonarda.
One key advance is the recent attempt to develop superior strains of the region’s most prized grapes, namely Sangiovese and Albana, in order to further distinguish the wines of Emilia-Romagna from those of other parts of Italy. Many producers are focussing on local specialities like Pagadebit, whose name means "debt-payer", a vigorous white vine that shows great potential and versatility. The subappellation Cagnina in the Romagna DOC is for red wines from the Terrano grape which tend to be easy to drink, fruit-scented and off-dry. Bosco Eliceo DOC offers agreeable dry reds and sparkling from the Fortana grape as well as some interesting Sauvignon and Merlot wines. In addition to the 20 DOCGs and DOCs there are 9 IGTs in the region.
Running from west to east, at the foot of the Appennines, Emilia Romagna's "colli" (hills) are by far its premium wine-producing area, with more then a dozen DOC appellations. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.
Albana di Romagna, Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto
Bosco Eliceo, Colli Bolognesi, Colli d'Imola, Colli di Faenza, Colli di Parma, Colli di Rimini, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa, Colli Piacentini, Colli Romagna Centrale, Gutturnio, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Modena or di Modena, Ortrugo, Reggiano, Reno, Romagna
Bianco di Castelfranco Emilia, Emilia or dell'Emilia, Forlì, Fortana del Taro, Ravenna, Rubicone, Sillaro or Bianco del Sillaro, Terre di Veleja, Val Tidone.