And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Silvia Casali

What gives one the impetus to isolate yeasts, experiment with, say, cumbersome large barriques, and pursue crafting world-class Sangiovese in a region best known for bulk wine? Probably having regional winemaking in your blood.

That’s the sense that one might take away from a visit to Tenuta Casali, in Romagna’s Mercato Saraceno, where Silvia, Francesco and Daniele Casali now work with the previous Casali generation, Valerio and Paolo, who themselves took over in the late 1970s from grandfather Mario, who farmed their alluvial, stony, and white clay soils since the 1940s as a grower. So there are five family members now involved directly, doing all of the normal family-winery stuff while also attempting the aforementioned experimentation/fine-tuning, and yet I got the impression that things were running well enough, and personally did not notice anyone trying to kill one another while I was there…

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Tenuta Casali sits astride the Savio Valley, which itself sits astride Italy’s Appenine hills in Romagna, with approximately twenty hectares of vines (all but twenty percent of which are devoted to Sangiovese) in effect bordered by Tuscany and the Adriatic.

Their vineyard placement – which also enjoys an elevation of between 500 and 800 feet – seems to work some mighty Romagna magic on their Sangio fruit; their reds were some of the best that I tasted during my media trip to the region last year. Not that their whites are slouching, as we’ll get into, well, immediately…

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2017 Tenuta Casali Albana Romagna ‘Valleripa’ (Emila-Romagna, $NA)

Casali’s Albana is a bit of an extreme, planted at 400 meters on tuffa soils, and it hits the sweet spot between round fullness and fresh minerality. Floral, honeyed, and chock full of ripe stone fruit and brioche action, with impressive balance between a sense of energy and astringency. In other words, much ass is kicked here.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2016 Tenuta Casali ‘Baruccia’ Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore (Emilia-Romagna, $23)

Juicy, supple, and spicy, this is a red that’s easy to down. Black cherries and plum dominate, but it’s never overly or obnoxiously fruity; in fact, at turns this is fresh and structured in ways that should make many, many Italian wine lovers very, very happy.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2015 Tenuta Casali ‘Quartosole’ Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (Emilia-Romagna, $NA)

The grosso clone is used here, from lower-yielding guyot vines in the white-clay Baruccia vineyard, planted in 1990, with the wine being aged in 20hl wooden vats. You might expect a thoroughly old school, sit-on-it-for-20-years Sangio red, and you’d be wrong. While undoubtedly young, this is gorgeous and perfumed now, with dried herb spiciness, black cherry, mint, and cooked orange peel notes, and a palate that mixes structural grit with a supple juiciness and ample freshness. So, yeah… wow.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Cheers!

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Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Fattoria Zerbina’s Cristina Geminiani

“The soil is like a puzzle.”

When Fattoria Zerbina matriarch Cristina Geminiani talks about her Faenza area vineyards in Italy’s Romagna, she gives the distinct impressions that a) she knows what she is doing, and, b) isn’t prepared to take any sh*t about it.

At least, that’s the sense that I got when I got my feet into Zerbina’s 32 hectares of red clay and limestone soils during a recent press jaunt. Geminiani took over the reins of the family wine business (established in the `60s by her grandfather) in 1987, having studied at both the University of Milan and the University of Bordeaux.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Geminiani’s “puzzle” necessitates a pasticcio approach to crafting wine in this case, primarily from Romagna’s Sangiovese and Albana grapes) – combinations of alberello, gobelet, and trellised vine training, and often different pickings (sometimes within the same plots). Zerbina’s proximity to nearby rivers means that their Albana is prone to noble rot, which Geminiani understandably has totally run with for their passito wine, given her experience in Bordeaux.

Anyway… enough of my yappin’, let’s boogie…

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2017 Fattoria Zerbina Bianco di Ceparano (Albana di Romagna Secco, $13)

Albana is Romagna’s other grape, the name being a Latin reference to the fruit’s whitish color. Interestingly, Albana from the region achieved DOCG status way back in 1987, which, this being Italy and all, I can only assume had deeply political origins. Zerbina didn’t get into Albana until 2008, but they have caught up quickly. An earlier harvest gives this a lifted, mineral, perky presentation, with a clean, crisp, clear, and linear mouthfeel. Tropcial fruits move on to stone fruit, fresh citrus, and then wet stone, all of it subtle and impeccably balanced.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2017 Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore (Emilia-Romagna, $20)

Made from the grosso Sangio clone, this is all crowd-pleasing, early-drinking delight; bright, fresh, with plenty of the cherry fruit after which it’s named. Hints of herbs and tobacco add nuance to the friendly proceedings.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2015 Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (Emilia-Romagna, $NA)

The vines that go into Zerbina’s flagship Sangio produce small berries with thick skins, a fact that permeates everything about this leathery, herbal, mineral red that aims for structure over overt opulence. Black cherries, juicy red plums, orange peel, and overarching freshness all combine to make you want to invent a time machine to be able to immediately see what this will become in several years time.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2014 Fattoria Zerbina AR Passito Riserva (Albana di Romagna, $NA)

I don’t know exactly how much this little wonder would fetch in the states per bottle, but it won’t be cheap, of that I can assure you. Single berry selection is used here to pick the best of their noble rot-infected Albana grapes, resulting in a concentrated, potent 300 g/l of sugar. Sultana, biscuit, honey blossom, candied lemons… this is fresh, luxuriant, balanced, and stunning.

Cheers!

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Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

“Romagna had to fight a lot – and still has to fight a lot.”

So mentioned Alessandro Fiore – who, along with brother Claudio, oversee wine production of Castelluccio, one of their family’s three winery operations – recognizes the oddly ironic state of Romagna wine.

On the one hand, by most measures this hilly, picturesque northen-Italian area near Bolgna is synonymous with what we in the USA consider to be Italian food. Romagna is the birthplace of Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, lasagne, tagliatelle, tortellini, and prosciutto. On the other hand, Romagna is not synonymous with fine Italian wine, having spent decades churning out juice for the bulk market.

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)
Alessandro & Claudio Fiore, who are not actually members of Jethro Tull

But there are several smaller Romagna wine producers who are engaged in fighting the good fight to elevate the region’s craft, including Modigliana’s Castelluccio, nestled in what the Fiore brothers call “ancient Tuscany” (where I visited on a press jaunt back in November). While they might look more like members of early Jethro Tull, the Fiore brothers know that the struggle for Romagna wine recognition is very, very real. Their father, Vittorio Fiore, acquired the majority of their fourteen Romagna hectares of land over several years, and has been focused on quality wine production from their marl and limestone soils since the 1970s. They made a splash early on by producing a regional Sauvignon Blanc (“which at first was not very good” remarked Alessandro) in an area better known for Sangiovese…

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

That Romagna could produce excellent wine shouldn’t be all that surprising (and with the Fiores, I tasted several, including their neighbor Torre San Martino’s stellar ‘Vigna 1922’ Sangiovese Riserva), given that the Adriatic is a mere 30 kilometers away (leading Alessandro to mention that “the hill is always kissed by the sea breeze,” which you’ll have to imagine spoken in a lyrical Italian accent). Fresh, cold air from the Alps also influences the growing area, and the result is, according to the Fiore bros., “more elegance, finesse, and more bouquet” in their Sangio than can be found in the African-climate-influenced grapes grown further south in Tuscany.

This pair of Castelluccio sippers are making an especially good case for Romagna’s Sangiovese good fight:

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)2017 Castelluccio ‘Le More’ Sangiovese di Romagna (Emilia-Romagna, $13)

The Fiores have been making the all-stainless-steel Le More since the early 1990s. This is lovely, lively stuff, with juicy red plum flavors, bright berry aromas tinged with herbs, and enough vibrancy to light up a dark room. Having said that, it also has juuuuuust enough hint of structure to make you want to immediately start cooking burgers on the grill.

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)2012 Castelluccio Ronco dei Ciliegi Forli Rosso (Emilia-Romagna, $28)

This is single-vineyard, 100% Sangiovese that’s aged in 350 liter French Oak tonneau for a year, then in bottle for nearly another year. Older vines are used, and it’s considered one of the first “Super Romagna” Sangios, having first been released in the 1980s. Fresh, juicy, spicy, and lifted, there are plums of nearly every stripe evoked here, along with wood spices, leather, graphite, orange peel, and finish that is both quite long and very, very elegant. If a wine like this doesn’t punch you in the head with the realization that the Romagna fine wine Sangiovese fight is worth fighting, then you probably ought to be literally punched in the head…

Cheers!


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