Italy is one of my favourite wine destinations, but in all of my many trips to this amazing country I had never thought of visiting Emilia–Romagna for its wines. For its food, now that’s something else; but I have never been a fan of the local Lambrusco — that fizzy, fruity red that used to be a huge seller south of the border but never really caught on here. Remember those Riunite ads?
There is an infallible rule that wine always tastes better in the presence of the winemaker — or at least when you taste it in its region of origin; and as a guest it is churlish to turn up your nose when offered a glass of Lambrusco to accompany a plate of culatello di zibello (the prosciutto made from the black Parmesan pigs).
To my embarrassment and shame I had never considered Emilia–Romagna a region where I would find fine wine. Fine cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati, all of which have their factories here, and fine food like Parma ham, Parmigiano–Reggiano and Modena’s balsamic vinegar; but wine to stack up against the best of Piemonte, Toscana and Veneto, not a chance.
So I had my prejudices roundly put in their place when I tasted wines made by Cristina Geminiani, proprietor of Fattoria Zerbina. This winery is named after the warm southerly wind that blows through the valley of Marzeno. Its vineyards, 29 hectares in all, are planted mainly to Sangiovese. They sit on slopes that rise to the Apennines, the mountain range that runs like a spine along the length of Italy and separates Romagna from neighbouring Tuscany.
Cristina Geminiani graduated with a degree in agronomy from the University of Milan and subsequently went on to train at the University of Bordeaux. In 1987 she took over the family estate and soon her wines were regularly featured in Gambero Rosso’s annual wine guide with tre bicchieri (three glasses — the ultimate accolade for Italian winemakers). One American wine publication called her the most talented woman in Italian win・and, having tasted her wines, I wouldn’t argue with that.
Cristina was gracious enough to come to the hotel in Bologna where our group of Canadian wine-lovers was staying to introduce us to her portfolio. We bracketed the tasting with two white wines — one dry, one sweet — made from the local Albano di Romagna, the first Italian white wine to receive the DOCG appellation in 1987.
Zerbina Albana di Romagna 2010: minerally, white peach flavour with citrus acidity; very fresh with great energy and lemony finish.
Zerbina Torre di Ceparano 2008 (Sangiovese with 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Ancellotta, a local grape also used in Lambrusco): richly concentrated, black cherry flavour; full-bodied and firm on the palate with a savoury finish and powdery tannins.
Zerbina Marzieno 2007 (75% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah): tobacco and black-cherry nose with an earthy note; full in the mouth with concentrated black fruit flavours. Perfumed and porty with a lovely mouthfeel.
Zerbina Arrocco Albana di Romagna Passito 2008: honeyed, botrytis nose with notes of tropical fruits; candied-orange-peel flavour balanced by lively acidity. Sauternes-like.
The hotel’s sommelier was so impressed by the wines that he took from his cellar a bottle of Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2006 and opened it for us (dry, austere and majestic; still tight but with great extract and a chocolate finish). And Cristina Geminiani’s presence at dinner in a Bologna restaurant called Caminetto d’Oro had a similar effect on the owner: he opened up for our party a magnum of Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2004. At this point I put away my notebook and just enjoyed the wine.