Emilia-Romagna, as the hyphenated name reveals, consists of two distinct sectors which coincide more or less at the capital of Bologna. To the west lies Emilia, with its prosperous towns strung like jewels along the ancient Emilian Way: Modena, Reggio, Parma, Fidenza, Fiorenzuola, as far as Piacenza on the Po. East of Bologna lies Romagna with the towns of Faenza, Forlì, Cesena, Ferrara, Ravenna and the Adriatic resort of Rimini.
Emilia-Romagna’s wines might be considered northern Italy’s most eccentric, different on the whole from their neighbors’, often facile in style but always refreshingly individualistic.
In Emilia the premier wine is Lambrusco, in frothy shades of purple to pink, made from grapes grown on high trellised vines, mainly in the flatlands south of the Po. Romagna’s wines come primarily from the native Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Albana, the variety that accounted for Italy’s first white DOCG.
Lambrusco is produced in volume in the four DOC zones around Modena and Reggio, though few consumers abroad have tasted the wine in its authentic dry style. Most Lambrusco shipped away is amabile or sweet, while most of what is drunk at home is dutifully dry and more often than not DOC. Though there are historical precedents for both types, the dry is considered the unparalleled match for the region’s rich cooking.
Even the hill wines of Emilia tend to be frothy. Vineyards in the foothills of the Apennines to the south render fun-loving whites made from Malvasia, Trebbiano and Ortrugo and zesty reds from Barbera and Bonarda. But there is a definite trend in the DOC zones of Colli Piacentini, Colli Bolognesi and Colli di Parma to make still and somewhat serious wines from such varieties as Sauvignon, Chardonnay, the Pinots, Barbera, Cabernet and Merlot. Natural conditions favor wines of depth and finesse, but markets seem to favor the lightweights.
Moving into Romagna, the plains of the Po basin between Ferrara and Ravenna are noted for fruit, vegetables and ultra productive vines, most of which are sources of blending wines. The hills south of Imola, Faenza, Forlì, Cesena and Rimini are known for wines from the native Albana, Sangiovese and Trebbiano, all of which carry the name Romagna.
Albana di Romagna, which emerged in 1987 as Italy’s first DOCG white wine, is most often dry and still with a distinctive almond undertone and occasionally some complexity. Albana’s best expression seems to be as a richly sweet passito from partly dried grapes. The traditional semisweet and bubbly versions are usually consumed at home. Romagna’s Trebbiano, distinct from other vines of the name, is almost always light and fresh, whether still or bubbly, with a fragility that makes it best in its youth.
The favorite of Romagnans is Sangiovese, usually a robust red with a certain charm in its straightforward fruity flavors. But increasingly producers of Sangiovese are making reserve wines of greater depth of bouquet and flavor with the capacity to age gracefully.
In Romagna, too, trends favor Sauvignon, Chardonnay, the Pinots and Cabernet. But many producers are devoting major efforts to developing superior strains of Sangiovese and Albana, while building interest in such rare local wines as the DOC white Pagadebit and red Cagnina and Bosco Eliceo Fortana.
The Emilia-Romagna region ranks 6th in size (22,124 square kilometers) and 8th in population (3,960,000). The average annual wine production is 6,060,000 hectoliteres (4th in volume among the regions) and includes 33% DOC/DOCG. Emilia-Romagna has ten IGTs which account for about 35 percent of total production. Red wine accounts for about 60% of Emilia-Romagna’s production.