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A Big Claim on Behalf of Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva
By Michael Franz
Apr 10, 2012
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Many of the world’s most accomplished wine appellations are struggling to minimize their market share losses in today’s crisis-racked commercial climate.  Taking that into account, one can only image how challenging it must be to try to break into the top ranks of world wine regions.  That is precisely the challenge confronting producers of Sangiovese di Romagna, whose often-terrific wines deserve to emerge from international obscurity--as well as the giant shadow cast by neighboring Tuscany.  They deserve a place in the limelight, but they’ll only get it if consumers open themselves to the possibility that northern Italy might still hold wonders for wine lovers that have yet to be discovered.

Although I was dubious about that possibility myself, I was sufficiently open to travel to the Romagna in early 2011 to conduct extensive tastings of Sangiovese di Romagna.  The wines were so impressive that I felt the need, earlier this year, to return to the region for the purpose of confirming or disconfirming my initial impression.

A second round of tasting sealed the deal for me.  I’m now convinced that Riserva renditions of Sangiovese di Romagna are the very best wines in a broad and important category, namely, little-known Italian reds produced north of Naples.

I’m not a writer who makes Big Claims lightly just to get attention, so let me be clear about what I’m asserting here.

First, here’s what I’m not asserting:  Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva isn’t yet as broadly outstanding a category as Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone della Valpolicella, Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, or the “Super Tuscan” wines from various places like Bolgheri.  To be sure, the best renditions of Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as these other wines, but there aren’t enough stellar examples for the category as a whole to join this vinous Italian pantheon.

However, once these famous categories are removed from the equation, there are no other red wine regions above Naples from which one can look down on Sangiovese di Romagna.

If not for a single exception, I’d actually be willing to strengthen my claim.  Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva would be the very best of the little-known reds in all of Italy if it were not for Taurasi, which remains little known despite its indisputable greatness.  Made from the Aglianico variety in the Avellino province in the southern region of Campania, Taurasi can be spectacularly good but remains rather obscure on account of being rare, expensive, and sourced from a portion of Italy that is less prosperous and publicity-savvy than the north.

So, while Taurasi plays the spoiler, holding me to a Big Claim rather than a Really Big Claim for Sangiovesi di Romagna Riserva, there’s still plenty in the Big Claim to consider.  If I’m correct about Sangiovese di Romagna’s excellence and promise, and if you subtract the Pantheon wines noted above, it is stronger than any other category of red wine from Friuli or Alto Adige or Trentino or Lombardy or the Veneto or Piedmont or Umbria or the Marche or Abruzzo or Lazio.

Whew.

Looking south from Rome, I’d go on to claim that there’s no other red category in Campania other than Taurasi that’s as strong as Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva, and that there’s no category at all at its level in Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily or Sardinia.  Sure, there are some terrific examples of Aglianico del Vulture and some wonderful wines here and there in Puglia and Sicily, but no DOC or DOCG region in the south can put forward excellent reds by the dozen--which is exactly what you’ll find if you dip into Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva.

Before turning to reviews of current releases, I should note that my Big Claim is limited to Riserva wines rather than straight Sangiovese di Romagna.  These lesser wines have their own virtues, to be sure.  However, the climate in the Romagna is notably warmer than in Tuscany, and Sangiovese shows more roundness and juiciness in this warmer environment.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these characteristics, and early-released renditions can be delicious, but Sangiovese di Romagna tends to show its real nobility only after this juiciness has been tamed by time and the roundness has been augmented by structure from oak.

With that said, however, you’ll notice that some of the outstanding wines reviewed below are not labeled as Riservas, and a few are designated as Ravenna IGT rather than Romagna DOC Sangiovese.  As you may already know, things are never entirely orderly and straightforward in Italy, so this is not entirely surprising.  If a tasting note below doesn’t include a reference to Ravenna, you can assume that the wine is Romagna DOC Sangiovese.

Most of the wines are from the 2009 vintage, but you’ll also see some from other vintages.  Availability is spotty due to the fact that the wines aren’t as well known or highly demanded as they deserve to be.  We’ve got to start somewhere, though, in trying to remedy that situation…which explains my continuing efforts to get the word out about this terrific under-the-radar category.  It you experience some frustration when trying to track down some of the wines reviewed below, you’ll ultimately be rewarded by prices that are significantly lower than they would be if the wines were more widely appreciated.  Using a top search site like winesearcher.com will ease the process greatly, and the wines below are well worth your efforts:

Ca Longa Superiore Riserva “Michelangiòlo” 2009:  The darkest and most concentrated of the 2009s with the possible exception of the Tre Monti Thea, this is nevertheless still quite tender and generous in structure and flavor.  It is strongly savory, with deep, persistent flavors.  There’s plenty of wood and lots of tannin, but the yields must have been very low, as this has a Brunello-like ability to just power right through them without seeming like a brutish wine in terms of ripeness or intensity; really a thoroughbred.  94

Tre Monti Superiore Riserva “Thea” 2009:  Rich and generous at every turn, this shows lots of ripe fruit with tones of both red and black berries and cherries.  There’s oak influence in the form of spices and light toast, but the sheer energy and ripeness of the fruit pushes these to the wings, and likewise the tannins play an entirely--and appropriately--supporting role.  Sweet, but not over, this is terrific stuff.  94

Zerbina Superiore Riserva “Pietramora” 2009:  This is complete and convincing, a terrific wine from the first whiff to the end of the impressively persistent finish.  The fruit shows both red and black notes, with quite good concentration and very nice balance of fruit and oak and tannin.  93

Drei Dona – Tenuta la Palazza, Superiore Riserva “Pruno” 2009:  This wine shows a seamless profile that has fruit concealing wood and tannin rather than the other way round.  It shows lots of sweetness with no over-ripe notes, as well as very delicate texture thanks to super fine-grained tannin.  The wood integration is simply superb.  93

Drei Dona – Tenuta la Palazza, Superiore Riserva Cuvée Palazza 2009:  Not as showy right now as the “Pruno” bottling, but essentially equal in quality, this is a little sleeker and more polished, though not quite as expressive.  93

Trerè, Superiore Riserva “VioLeo” 2006:  This was a star that showed up at the end of a long tasting, and the wine was poured at a second disadvantage on account of being too cold.  So, the fact that it was such a standout is a real testament to its excellence.  It shows terrific Brunello-like depth and power, but with no hint of over-extraction or over-rip ening (alcohol was indicated as 14%). The wood integration is terrific, and the wine is savory and fruity at once.  93

Treré, Riserva “Amarcord d’un Ross” 2008:  This wine shows terrific depth and tenderness throughout the sensory experience.  It displays dark color and superb concentration, but with no harshness and no hint of over-extraction.  The overall impression is of a super low-yield, high-class “statement wine,” with notable wood influence but a foreground impression that is all about gorgeous fruit interwoven with savory notes.  93

Drei Donà, La Palazza Superiore Riserva “Pruno” 2008:  Savory and sweet and very nicely integrated, this exhibits plenty of new wood in the mix but is still very well integrated and already quite harmonious--with a good decade (or maybe two) of positive development ahead of it.  Rich and full of power and purpose, this shows real depth and class in addition to impressive concentration and intensity.  93

Costa Archi, Superiore Riserva “Monte Brullo” 2007: 
A wine that is dark and dense but still able to display delicacy and balance and an inviting depth to the flavors without any harshness or any hint of over-ripening.  Dark fruit notes predominate, but there’s nothing overdone here, and the finish is symmetrical and long.  92

Costa Archi, Superiore Riserva “Monte Brullo” 2008:  I did not taste these wines next to one another in Italy, but display the reviews adjacent to one another to convey the not-by-chance fact that the descriptor “inviting” showed up in my notes for both:  “This shows very serious concentration and yet still comes off as inviting and balanced, but there’s a lot of fruit and wood and extract…a powerful wine easily earning 92, and this certainly has 15 years of positive development ahead of it.”  92

Celli, Riserva “Bron & Ruseval” 2009:  This excellent wine shows real guts and depth that ride right through a substantial sum of wood and tannin.  It features excellent overall balance, but there’s lots of muscle too, though (if you’ll permit me to pursue the analogy) it is natural-seeming and well-toned muscle.  Dark fruit notes predominate, but there are still some pretty bright red notes peeking through.  92

Paolo Francesconi, Superiore Riserva “Le Íadi” 2009:  A wonderful wine that is sweet and charming.  It isn’t over-ripe, but shows real tenderness and a pronounced sweetness to the fruit, which is mostly red in tone.  The tannin is very fine in grain, with subtle wood that offers welcome structure to the succulent fruit.  92

Poderi Vecciano Superiore Riserva “D’Enio” 2009:  Delicious, dark and deep, with good concentration, and yet the wine is still fresh and focused.  The wood balance is very good and there’s real power and drive through the finish.  92

Stefano Ferrucci, Superiore Riserva “Domus Caia” 2009:  An indisputably excellent wine, this displays a tender texture and delicate fruit profile, with a very deft touch on the wood, which is subtle but still notable as a positive accent to the fruit.  The tannins are delicate and entirely in keeping with the weight and capabilities of the fruit, which shows predominantly red notes but little flashes of darker tones as well.  92

Ca’ di Sopra, Sangiovese di Ravenna IGT “Cadisopra” 2009:  Lovely wine…complete and charming throughout.  The fruit is all ripe red cherry and strawberry, with accents including subtle savory notes, a lightly mineral tinge, subtle wood, and very ripe, soft tannins. Feminine in character, but not lacking for flavor or structure, this shows exceptional ripeness and balance.  92

Cantina Marta Valpiani, Vendimia Tardiva “Castrum Castrocari” 2008:  This was the only wine that I tasted that was designated as late harvest, but it really still seemed more savory than sweet or overly ripe, though it was obviously made from very ripe fruit.  Really complex and interesting, with savory accents recalling carpaccio and mushrooms.  The acidity is low and the tannins are quite ripe, but there’s still sufficient structure.  92

Uva delle Mura, Superiore “Selva d’Olmo” 2008:  Soft and succulent, yet hardly lacking for muscle or drive.  The wood is a little less notable than in most of these wines, but the wine is strikingly dark and dense, so there’s no lack of guts here, yet the dark fruit is still deep and inviting in flavor and texture.  92

Fattoria Zerbina, Superiore Riserva “Pietramora” 2008:  This is very deeply flavored and quite persistent, but not due to any hint of over-extraction, though there’s a bit of heat in the finish that made me turn the bottle around and…sure enough…15% alcohol stated on the rear label.  Still, with that caveat, this is an indisputably gorgeous drink, with terrific depth and flavor impact, yet not a syrupy texture or any extraneous weight relative to the flavors that the wine delivers.  92

Uva delle Mura, Superiore Riserva “Trepastori” 2007:  Balanced and very successful, with big, deep flavors and balanced alcohol and very fine overall quality.  Rich and generous, but focused and formed.  92

Gallegati, Superiore Riserva “Corallo Nero” 2008:  A clear star in this year’s tastings, this is a big wine with notably deep, dark color and excellent concentration and lots of sexy wood…but not so much that the fruit can’t counterbalance it.  Very intense, with serious power and drive, yet the wine still shows balance and dexterity, as the finish isn’t over-extracted or harsh.  92

Branchini Riserva 2009:  This exhibits lots of wood influence, but the balance really works, with lovely spice and toast notes that flatter rather than obscure the fruit.  It is quite striking how showy the wood is on its own but also how it somehow manages to emphasize the wine’s fruit component.  Very successful, and quite promising based on the synergy.  91

Umberto Cesari Riserva “Laurento” 2009:  This shows bold wood influence, but the wine is certainly none the worse for it, as there’s a nice edge of spice and a faint whiff of toast that works beautifully with the fruit.  91

Podore Morini, Superiore “MorAle” 2010:  Delicious, already.  Open flavors are the key here, as the wine is soft in texture and modest in aroma, but displays lovely soft, rounded texture and overt flavors of red cherry and wild strawberry.  There’s lots of fine-grained tannin in the background, but the overall impression is really not aggressive in the least.  91

Ca Longa, Superiore Riserva “Michelangiòlo” 2008:  Not quite up to the sensational 2009, but still very good, with a shorter finish and a certain hardness that the riper 2009 didn’t show.   Still, this should be judged on its own terms, and when that’s the standard it shows very well indeed:  Dark and deep, with lots of tannin and wood but a lovely sweet softness that brings everything together almost as effectively as in the 2009.  91

Trerè, Colli di Faenza Sangiovese “Re Nero” 2009:  This delicious wine is meaty and quite robust in body and fruit and intensity, but with very fine balance and integration.  There’s enough acidity and tannin to counterbalance the big, ripe fruit, but the whole package is deftly made and produces a harmonious overall impression. 91

La Berta Riserva “Olmatello” 2009:  Very well done, with nice tenderness to the fruit, but the wine is equally notable for concentration.  Oak is apparent but subtle and well integrated.  90

Condé, Superiore “Capsula Rossa,” 2009:  An interesting, but with a ripe, soft, red-based fruit profile.  Notably savory and mineral, but quite ripe and sweet.  90

Ca’ di Sopra, Superiore “Crepe” 2010:  Soft on the palate, with fruit notes recalling sweet cherry and wild strawberry, but this wine shows savory accents as well as a minerality and a bit of woodsmoke and spice that’s subtle but effective.  90

Cantina San Biagio Vecchio, Superiore “Serraglio” 2010:  Very tasty, with both dark and red cherry notes.  There’s a hint of subtle wood influence, an appealing sweetness, savory backnotes, and a light mineral undertone.  90

Condé, Superiore Riserva “Capsula Blu” 2008:
  A strong performer showing good depth and plenty of muscle, with the fruit holding its own against plenty of wood and tannin.  90

Fattoria Zerbina, Riserva “Torre di Ceparano” 2008:  This isn’t as dramatic a wine as the “Pietramora” 2008, and yet it reaches almost the same level in overall quality as it shows none of the alcohol issues of the other with nearly the same overall flavor impact.  If you are skeptical about my enthusiasm for these wines but are willing to take a chance on a single bottle, this is the producer to choose.  90

San Valentino, Superiore Riserva “Terra di Covignano” 2007:  This is a delicious if potentially controversial wine, with terrific depth and softness at only the cost of some heat in the finish.  And indeed, a spin of the bottle showed 15.5%, but this is a success nonetheless.  90

Tre Monti, Riserva “Petrignone” 2009:  This excellent wine shows lots of aroma and flavor and persistence, but still in a civilized mode, with very fine-grained tannin backing the fruit in an unobtrusive manner while it is enlivened with fresh acidity that never turns overly tart.  Enjoyable now, but certainly capable of up to a decade of additional development.  90

Costa Archi, Superiore “Assiolo” 2009:  This winning wine succeeds on the strength of a sweet and savory one-two punch.   It is impressively integrated and very nicely balanced, with lots of structure from freshening acidity and fine-grained tannin.  Red fruit predominates, but dark-toned fruit shows as well, and the wood influence is notable but subtle.  90

Costa Archi, Superiore “Assiolo” 2010:  This is a markedly serious wine, with bigger body and more concentration than most of the 2010s, yet the tannins are delicate and ripe, with fine overall balance.  Showing both dark and red fruit notes, this is already very interesting, with strong promise for the future.  90

Poderi Morini, Superiore “Torre di Oriolo” 2010:  Charmingly sweet and open, but not over-ripe or overt, this shows nice ripe sweetness but hangs just on the right side of the line.  Accented with lovely savory notes and very, very ripe tannin, this is a charmer.  90

Paolo Francesconi, Superiore “Limbecca” 2010:  Open and sweet and interesting both aromatically and in flavor, this displays some savory and even earthy notes recalling balsamic vinegar and wild mushrooms.  Nice gutsy tannins provide grip in the finish, but the wine never turns astringent or rough.  90

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Comments or questions?  Write to me at michael@franzwine.com