While Tuscany may provide the most evocative illustration of Sangiovese’s prowess, it turns out this talented grape has many other homes too. Richard Baudains finds distinctive alter egos and wallet-friendly prices as he explores beyond its heartland
The undiscovered Sangiovese: Romagna
Area planted with Sangiovese 8,554ha
Leading Sangiovese producers Balià di Zola; Drei Dona; Fattoria Zerbina; Ferrucci; Giovanna Madonia; La Berta; San Valentino; Tre Monti; Villa Liverzano; Villa Papiano; Villa Trentola
Romagna Sangiovese, the relatively new (2011) name of the regional DOC, says it all. Of all Tuscany’s neighbours, Romagna is the one which identifies most fervently with Sangiovese, and in fact the Romagnoli have always maintained that the variety originated in their region and not in the hills of Chianti. The wines are almost exclusively solely Sangiovese. Although the production norms allow for the addition of up to 15% of other varieties, few producers take up the option. The DOC distinguishes three levels of quality and style. Romagna Sangiovese is for everyday drinking, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore has lower yields and comes out a year after the vintage, while Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Riserva ages for at least two years. The production area extends along a line of hills roughly parallel to the ancient Roman via Emilia that joins Bologna to the coast.
Character within this area varies according to soils and most importantly to elevation, but broadly speaking, the wines at the eastern and western extremes of the production zone are held to be the lighter and more immediate, while those in the centre, in the communes of Cesana, Forlì and Faenza, are more structured and complex.
The 2011 revision of the DOC introduced the potentially very interesting category of village cru, from 12 sub-zones. Even the locals would be hard pressed to place all of them on a map, but the best known, Bertinoro, Brisighella, Modigliano, Marzeno and Predappio, will strike a chord with aficionados.
Leaving aside the nuances, the basic character of Romagnolo Sangiovese is recognisably different to that of the neighbouring regions. The nose has the classic floral character (think violets and iris) and the fruit has a juicy clarity which comes through even in the more extracted styles. The tannins are fine, but often slightly gritty – more Rufina than Chianti Classico if you are looking for comparisons with Tuscany – and the acidity is both vibrant and mouthwatering. In the bad old days when overcropping was more in evidence, that acidity could be mouth-puckering, but in the vastly improved modern wines, it is an ally which gives brightness to the fruit and balances the often generous body. Romagna Sangiovese today offers some of the most engaging expressions of the variety made anywhere in the country.
The region has a solid core of top-quality producers as well as a growing number of exciting up-and-comers (Noelia Ricci, Tenuta Saiano, Maria Galassi, Costa Archi, Torre San Martino ). What is missing is wider recognition. ‘The challenge,’ says Cristina Geminiani, owner-winemaker at the leading Zerbina estate, ‘is to overcome the misconceptions about the region’s wines, to show that we are not just about simple everyday wines but also riservas, that there is high quality and a regional style, that Sangiovese can have nobility on this side of the Appenines too.’