An Identity Crisis?

An Identity Crisis?

The Vini ad Arte convention was held at the International Ceramics Museum in Faenza on 21st and 22nd February. The protagonists of this event were the eight founder members of the Convito di Romagna (Tre Monti, Stefano Ferrucci, Fattoria Zerbina, Poderi Moroni, Calonga, Drei Dona-Tenuta La Palazza, San Patrignano and San Valentino) as well as 20 other producers from the region selected as guests by the Convito.

The main objective of the event  was to evince to the world at large that Sangiovese di Romagna has all the credentials for being judged on a par with Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico. Whilst the image of some of the Tuscan wines have seen something of a setback recently that of Sangiovese di Romagna is going from strength to strength.

It has long been recognised by serious wine commentators that Sangiovese di Romagna is one of the premium regions for producing Sangiovese, with a whole host of top quality crus, without being in competition with nearby Tuscany. You only have to look at the introductory comments on the Italy overview on page 294 and the Central Italy introduction on page 401 of the latest edition of Wine Behind The Label to see this. In Romagna, Sangiovese’s roots go deep into the soils of clay mixed with limestone, which allows it to express a refined character with a lot more upfront fruit than its Tuscan neighbours. Even within the appellation the varied microclimates and geographical locations stretching from the the hinterland of Imola through the high reaches of the Appenines, down to the maritime climate around Rimini gives a broad spectrum of styles from the concentrated wines in the hills to the sweeter wines coming from those vineyards in proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

So why are these wines such a hard sell? Enough praise has been bestowed on them by the serious wine press, but is was rather a shock that a survey by Wine Intelligence (a market research company specialising in the wine trade) revealed that in six major markets in the world, Sangiovese was ranked at lees than one quarter of other well-known varietals (Cabernet, Chardonnay etc.) and that Sangiovese di Romagna was hardly mentioned presumably as not being distinct enough from other Sangioveses. Even more shocking was a report from the president of the association of wine retailers in Italy itself, that less than 10% of Italian wine shops carried any wine from Romagna at all.

It seemed to me that there is a real identity crisis here. Many of these wines are good, some excellent and even some outstanding. In fact, one of the producers, Cristina Geminiani of Fattoria Zerbina,  will be featured as our winemaker of the month in April. So what is the problem?

My own view is that Sangiovese di Romagna per se gives the notion that because it is qualified by a geographical nomenclature, it is somehow inferior to the real thing which comes from Tuscany. However, the top Tuscan appellations are all geographical, so why not re-name the Sangioveses from Romagna as just “Romagna” DOC with the word “Sangiovese” or “Sangiovese Riserva” as an ancillary identification of the wine. In this way “Romagna” (or even some other historical name) could be construed as being on a par with “Montalcino”, “Montepulciano” or “Chianti”. Furthermore, many producers make white wine as well, especially from the indigenous Albana grape as well as Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, to name but three. So a “Romagna” appellation would set the tone for Sangiovese and Albana with perhaps some of the blends coming in as IGT wines.

Apart from the conference, we had a chance to taste some of the 2009 “primeurs”. Probably a bit too early – some of them were barely through their malolactic fermentation and had the appearance of being over extracted, but some of the older vintages tasted (from 2006 and 2007) certainly seemed well integrated and well balanced. Older vintages were on hand to taste, too and I can report that on the whole quality has improved over the years.

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