Wine notes

Wednesday 5 January 2011


In On the trail of Sangiovese di Romagna, I described the work of the leading group of producers, the Convito di Romagna. Its members voluntarily comply with a set of rules which are much stricter than the DOC requirements, the most crucial differences being lower yields, high-quality plant material, high-density plantings and a much later release date for the Riserva version than is normally the case. As the majority of the members have a relatively short history of producing and bottling wine, a clear profile of subregionality is still to emerge. Very promising, however, is the fact all members show restraint in their use of new oak, allowing the fruit to play the lead. Many of the members work their vineyards sustainably, while some have started experimenting with organic methods.

A comparison with Tuscany is unavoidable when talking about Sangiovese, and although there are similarities, there are also several marked differences. In general Sangiovese di Romagna seems richer, with bigger tannins which, in youth, can seem a little unpolished, even if ripe, and demand bottle ageing (a fact most Convito members honour by allowing their wines to age longer than is legally required, the current vintage on the market generally being 2006). There is usually considerable concentration on the mid palate, and acidity seems generally softer and better integrated than in many Tuscan Sangioveses.

At the moment stylistic differences within the Convito abound, perhaps partly due to the youth of several of the vineyards, but surely partly because of differences in terroir. However, as always, detection and recognition of terroir in any wine becomes easier as the taster's experience and knowledge increase. Therefore initiatives such as that of the Convito are urgently needed to get recognition for the wines on the international market. The (legal) practice of appassimento (using dried grapes) in the production of Sangiovese di Romagna seems less desirable, as it can blur terroir characteristics, although it is easy to see how it would appeal to an international audience.

Another marked difference in any comparison with Tuscany seems to be a relative absence of interest and money from outside of the region, and the accompanying phenomenon of the superstar oenologist-consultant. Romagna has proved, at least until now, to be a far less evocative name than Tuscany. The disadvantage of Romagna's relative isolation is that the process of bringing the best wines to international attention will take longer and won't be as explosive a process as it was in Tuscany until some years ago. But the advantage is that the best wines are in general a more truthful expression of their origin and the people who make them, and less the result of a standardised protocol.

CALONGA, Loc Castiglione, Forlì (Oriolo subzone)
The estate comprises 7 ha and is the smallest of the Convito members. Vineyards are at an altitude of about 120 m on the hills between Forlì and Faenza. Winemaking started as early as 1977, but only since 1996, when current owner Maurizio Baravelli started to get seriously interested in individual characteristics of the vineyards, have the wines been estate bottled. Fabrizio Moltard consults for Baravelli on the winemaking, while the estate's most important wine is the Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva Michelangiòlo.

Calonga, Michelangiòlo 2006 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 16.5 Drink now-2015
Fermented in stainless steel, and seven days of skin maceration after fermentation. 12 months in oak followed by 12 months in stainless steel for stabilisation and 6 months of bottle ageing, which in the future will be increased to 12 months.
Quite leafy tobacco nose, initially. Hints of sweet sour cherry and plummy notes, herbs underneath. Concentrated, spicy cherry and plum and firm but fine tannin. Slightly drying on the finish. Real Sangiovese flavours, but perhaps bolder than Tuscany. Honest, focused, with good length. 14% (WS)

Calonga, Michelangiòlo 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore 17 Drink 2012-17
Vinification similar to 2006. Shows posh new oak on a lifted nose (VA?). Clear oak impact, but there is complexity too. Almost Tuscan on the palate, with focused, succulent fruit. Firm tannins predominant on the finish. This will need time. 14.5% (WS)

DREI DONÀ TENUTA LA PALAZZA, Loc Massa di Vecchiazzano, Forlì (Predappio subzone)
The Drei Donà family has been producing Sangiovese grapes since the early 1900s, but the wines were sold off in bulk until Enrico's father, after a career as a solicitor, started a second one, this time as a quality wine producer. He embarked on an ambitious replanting scheme, but kept some of the old vines for massal selection purposes. The vineyards, at an altitude of 110–160 m, lie like an amphitheatre around the estate, and are planted with the classic Romagna Clones R23 and R24. Interestingly, R23 is also planted a lot in Tuscany. Whereas the old vineyards from the 1960s had a density of 3,300 plants per ha (which, according to Enrico, was quite high for the time), the newer ones are planted with 5,000-5,500 vines per ha. Since 1992 the vineyards have been tended sustainably, with very little intervention, while fungal diseases are rare thanks to the ventilation of the winds off the sea. Although the path was set for Sangiovese, in 1983 Cabernet, Chardonnay and Riesling (more out of curiosity than real conviction according to Enrico, pictured here) appeared in the Drei Donà vineyards. Until recently, Franco Bernabei, well known for his work in Tuscany, has been consulting at the estate, but now this role has been taken over by his son. The estate's most important wine is Pruno Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva, of which the first vintage was 1989.

Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza, Pruno 2006 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 17.5 Drink 2010-20
From a single vineyard. Half of the wine is aged in barrique, of which half is American oak (new as well as old) and the other half in new and second-fill tonneaux. The wine has 18 months of cask ageing in total.
Medium deep crimson. Very posh nose of oak and concentrated red fruits. Cherry, first and foremost. Succulent fruit palate with crunchy tannins and perfectly balancing acidity. Tannins are the main theme, persistent, but finely woven, and backed up effortlessly by ongoing fruit aromas. And huge length. Has potential, but difficult to resist right now. 14% (WS)

Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza, Pruno 1995 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 16.5 drink now 2010-18
Deep, developed ruby with small brickstone rim. Very impressive, fine, mature and complex. Developed with tobacco and a spur of mushroom, finely spiced. Very fine tannic waves with sweet, mature fruit and tobacco. Elevated acidity and with almost an orange note on the finish. 13% (WS)

Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza, Pruno 1998 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 17.5 Drink 2010-18
Very dark, mature ruby with brickstone hints. First impression is of notes of orange skin. Savoury, meaty, with very fine red fruit perfume slowly to emerge. Rich, sweet fruit attack, with immediate grainy tannin. Acidity seems well integrated, and turns up more clearly at the finish. Concentrated, with dry finish, still seems to need some time, at least decanting. Richer than 1995. 14% (WS)

STEFANO FERRUCCI VITICULTORE, Serra di Castelbolognese, Ravenna (Serra subzone)
The vineyards of Ferruci date back to 1932 and comprise 15 ha. The estate has had only a recent history of producing and bottling wine, but the main focus has always been in the vineyards (hence the Viticultore in the estate's name). In-depth research into clonal selection from their own plant material, with very low yields, has been the main principle of grape production here, and all red wines produced are from Sangiovese only. Interestingly, for all reds the grapes are dried for a period of up to a month, giving an unmistakable appassito character to the wine. The consequence of this procedure is that terroir characteristics are perhaps less easy to detect. The most important wine of the estate is the Domus Caia Sangiovese Superiore Riserva, as well as a sweet white from the Malvasia grape, obtained from grapes left to freeze on the vine until well into the winter.

Stefano Ferrucci Viticultore, Domus Caia 2006 Sangiovese Superiore Riserva 16.5 Drink 2010-15
100% Sangiovese from a vineyard planted in the 1960s and 1970s. The grapes are hand harvested and dried for 30 days, without using temperature or humidity control. Fermented in cement tank with temperature control, and with malolactic fermentation triggered at the same time (Ilaria Ferrucci tells me that the low ambient temperature in their cement tanks tends to delay malolactic fermentation, making the wine vulnerable, which is why they inoculate the wine with malolactic bacteria immediately after the fermentation has started, so that the warmth produced by the alcoholic fermentation helps initiate it, and it therefore ends practically at the same time as the alcoholic fermentation). The wine is aged aged for 12 months in tonneaux of which one third are new.
Plummy, and dried cherry and hints of dried fruit, but with depth. Note of cacao, ever so slightly. Hint of apple from the appassimento. Lively palate with very attractive, chocolatey, coating tannin. Vegetal touch of apple pie, seems ever so slightly oxidised, but very appealing, and with very good length. 14.5% (WS)

PODERI MORINI, Faenza (Oriolo subzone)
One of the last to join the Convito, the estate started bottling in 1998, and the first wine to be produced was Nono Ricco Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, named after the current owner's grandfather. The vineyards are planted on limestone clay, and, except for Sangiovese, play host to some pretty rare varieties, of which the red Centesimino (a variety indigenous to Faenza, and locally known as Savignon Rosso, but with no connection to Sauvignon whatsoever) has barely been saved from extinction.

Poderi Morini, Nonno Rico 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 17 Drink 2011-15
The first vintage of this wine was produced in1998. 13 months in tonneaux, and not yet on the market as the wine undergoes a further 12 months of bottle age.
Very dark ruby, but suprisingly young and elegant on the nose, almost like Teroldego. Rich, sweet maraschino cherry followed by an austere but long aromatic palate with fine tannin. Lifting acidity, slightly stalky finish. Very good but one doesn't immediately associate the wine with Sangiovese. 14.5% (WS)

SAN PATRIGNANO, Coriano, Rimini (no subzones in the Rimini area)
San Patrignano, one of the founding members of the Convito, is a community which helps severely addicted people by offering them accommodation, work and therapy. The latter two are intertwined in that San Patrignano finances itself by its agricultural activities, including the production of wine, carried out by the community members. Sometimes the charitable nature of an enterprise eclipses the quality of products on offer, but that is certainly not the case with this estate. Consultant for years has been Riccardo Cottarello. There are about 100 ha of vines planted and, unusually for such a large area, all the vineyards lie within the San Patrignano estate, and are only 5 km from the Adriatic coast. Although the estate has embraced international varieties, the most important wine of San Patrignano is Avi, a Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva.

San Patrignano, Avi 2006 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 15.5 Drink 2010-14
The grapes were hand harvested followed by a triage on arrival in the cellar. At the beginning of the fermentation there is lots of pumping over to extract the tannin, while alcohol levels are still low (higher alcohol levels speed up extraction, but also tend to leach out all the bitter tannins). The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation as well as ageing in barrique, Tonneaux, and large 20-hl oak casks.The goal is to reduce more and more the amount of oak. The wine remains in oak for almost three years.
100% Sangiovese. Medium concentrated ruby. Surprising nose of saddle and plum notes, blackcurrant, I almost thought it was Bordeaux. Initially peppery too, and leather (brett?). Could do with a bit more concentration on the mid palate, but undeniably Sangiovese. Completely dry palate, with slightly bitter tannin. There is complexity, but looks like this needs more work, or earlier release onto the market. 13.5% (WS)

SAN VALENTINO, Rimini (no subzones in the Rimini area)
This Convito member can look back on only a very recent history. Acquired in 1990 by Giovanni Mascarin, it leapt in quality only in 1997, the year his son and daughter Roberto and Maria Cristina took over. The vineyards, 14 ha in total, are very close to the sea in the hilly area around Rimini. Since 2000 the brother and sister team have been assisted by consultant Fabrizio Moltard, who also consults to several other members of the Convito, and who is especially known for his work in the Tuscan Maremma. The estate's most important wine is the Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva Terra di Covignano.

San Valentino, Terra di Convignano 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 16 Drink 2010-15
No maceration on the skins after alcoholic fermentation as the proprietor, Roberto Mascarin, wants to keep as much of the primary fruit flavour as possible: 'you extract something that diminishes the clear fruit flavour', he told me. Vinified in tronconic stainless steel tanks, with regular remontage and délestage. Malolactic fermentation also takes place in stainless steel. Ageing follows in tonneaux of 400 litres and 100% new oak. Subsequent vintages see a difference in vinification: manual destemming, while a part of the fruit is fermented in open tonneaux, with pigeage and with indigenous yeasts. The wines are extremely ambitious and alcoholic.
Herbal, with hints of sweet cherry liqueur. Inviting, hinting at rich cherry fruit, matched by bitter, ripe tannin. Acidic nerve creeps up on the finish. Quite rich and ever so slightly rustic, but carries its alcohol well. 15.5% (WS)

TREMONTI, Bergullo, Imola (Serra subzone for the Imola estate and Oriolo for the estate that they have in Petrignone)
The Navacchia family, owners of Tremonti, bought the estate in the 1960s but only at the beginning of the 1980s did they decide to focus solely on wine. From that moment on they completely changed their approach to the vineyards, with replantings, and much lower yields. Since 1996 Donato Lanati has been the consultant, but in 2004 the family decided to discontinue working with consultants to be completely in charge and 'personalise the wine', as Vitorrio Navacchi puts it. Extensive research into the soil structure of the vineyards (mostly consisting of clay and limestone) under the guidance of Professor Atillio Scienza resulted in a micro mapping of the estate, on the basis of which, clones from the estate's oldest vines will be matched with the most suitable plots. The most important wines of the estate are the Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva Thea and Sangiovese Romagna Superiore Riserva Pertignone. The estate started implementing organic methods, and additionally produces a unsulphured Sangiovese di Romagna, called 'SoNo'.

Tremonti, Petrignone 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 16.5 Drink 2010-15
From a vineyard on sandy clay soil planted in 1968. Stainless steel and 15 days of post-fermentation maceration. Malolactic fermentation is done on the gross lees, and ageing reduced to six months and only in second-year oak.
Distinct herbal nose, roses and crushed raspberries, with a seemingly light palate of fresh cherry flavours (young vines, I thought at first, but the vineyard is quite mature). Quite firm tannins for its constitution, but with lasting cherry fruit flavours on the finish. Youthful and lively and stylistically very different from the other Sangiovese di Romagna wines of the Convito. 14.5% (WS)

FATTORIA ZERBINA, Loc Marzeno, Faenza (Marzeno subzone)
One of the founding members of the Convito, Cristina Geminiani was one of the first to put her full weight behind Sangiovese as a high-quality variety. Backed up by postgraduate courses under Denis Dubourdieu in Bordeaux, she embarked on an ambitious, high-density alberello replanting scheme. Intense scrutiny of soil structure, plant vigour and grape-ripening patterns have resulted in a range of long-lived vintages of Sangiovese di Romagna Pietramora. Her motto '100% Sangiovese only or nothing' runs contrary to the DOC's 'at least 85%' rule and has given the wines originality and a real sense of terroir. (WS)

Fattoria Zerbina, Pietramora 2006 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 17.5 Drink 2014-20
Very youthful crimson and rim still shows some violet. Beautiful cherry and leafy nose with hint of sweet bread dough, and herbs. Lifted nose with yet more hints of that gingerbread. Very young, still somewhat shy to open up. Needs lots of air to show sweet cherry and dark crushed fruits. Sweet, rich fruit attack, very young, with boisterous, but ripe tannin, but everything falls neatly into place on the finish. Ends warm, but will mellow with age. On the palate the wine seems quite big, but the finish is lingering and elegant. The sweet spicy pâtisserie notes are, according to Cristina, characteristics of the soil, and you can find it in all the wines, even after she changed coopers. Half of this wine has been fermented in open tonneaux. This is the current vintage, as Pietramora is kept for 18-24 months in bottle before it is put onto the market. 15% (WS)