Perched in the Northern region of Italy, Emilia-Romagna is home to some of Italy’s most notable wines and gastronomic treasures. Emilia-Romagna borders Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont in the North, and Tuscany, Liguria, and Marche in the west and south. The Po river marks Emilia-Romagna’s northern peak and flows from west to east, linking the Apennine mountain peaks to the Adriatic Sea. The vast geographical differences and various terroirs at play make Emilia-Romagna’s grapes and vineyards incredibly diverse.
Viticulture in Emilia-Romagna was started by the Etruscan people in the 7th century. They were followed by the Romans, who named the region for the road “Via Aemilia” they constructed to link it to the cities in the southern part of Italy.
Emilia was first settled by the Barbarian populations, who relied heavily on butter and fatty pork. This left them longing for a balanced sparkling wine to mediate the fatty flavors. Romagna was colonized by the Romans, whose diet revolved around the use of olive oil. Olive oil leaves a nutty sensation on the palate rather than a rich and fatty sensation. This sparked the need for a wine with structure to restore the balance of flavors in the mouth. Eventually, the two regions joined forces, bringing us “Emilia-Romagna” along with many different grape varietals and Italian dishes to pair them with.
One of the first grape variety found by the Etruscan people was Lambrusco. Archeologists found the remains of the “Vitis Labrusca” plant (Lambrusco), which dates between 12,000 and 20,000 years old.
There are 9 provinces in Emilia Romagna including: Ferrara, Forli-Cesena, Bologna (the capital), Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio Emilia, and Rimini.
THE TERROIR OF EMILIA-ROMAGNA
Wine production in Emilia-Romagna ranks 3rd among Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions. Roughly 136,000 of its acres of the region are under vine. The vineyards benefit from the regions humid, subtropical climate that has virtually no dry season. There’s year-round rainfall and the summers are hot and muggy with thunderstorms. The rainfall provides mineral-rich soil and the hilly landscape helps with excess water drainage.
The hills in the west of Emilia are an area of low calcareous soils providing rich nutrients for Barbera and Bonarda grapes. Closer to the Adriatic Coast near the Ferrara province, the landscape has a Tuscan feel, with vineyards flourishing among cypress trees and mineral-heavy clay and sandy terrain. The area extending from Bertinoro to the Imola hills is famous for producing Emilia-Romagna’s famous Albana variety. The hilly landscape offers a mixture of rocky, limestone, and chalk soils; and the hot dry climate is tempered by cooling breezes from the Adriatic sea. This inspires higher-quality wines, especially on the well-drained foothills of the Apennines.
THE WHITES OF EMILIA ROMAGNA
Albana – This white grape variety has been produced since Roman times. It’s grown out of rocky, limestone-rich, and chalky soils. The variety is light-bodied with good acidity. Its residual sugar content allows Albana to produce sweeter wines, however, it is usually produced in a dry style. Tasting notes include nuts and fresh fruits such as green apples, pineapples, and peaches.
THE REDS OF EMILIA ROMAGNA
Barbera – This grape provides an intense dark color. It’s dry, full-bodied and is grown in the region of Colli di Parma. Barbera has flavors of cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. Barbera is low in tannins and high in acidity making it perfect to pair with rich foods.
Bonarda – This also can be found in Colli di Parma. This is a ruby red wine with a fruity bouquet and moderate acidity. Bonarda has black fruit and plum flavors and leather and tar as the wine ages.
Lambrusco - The most famous of the region, Lambrusco, is a sparkling red wine bursting with juicy red berry notes. The wine is meant to be chilled due to its crisp bubbles which makes it deliciously drinkable. The grapes are found in the provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio-Emilia, and Mantua. There are 8 different versions of Lambrusco DOC.
Sangiovese – The grape is mainly grown in the Romagna region, which occupies the south-eastern portion characterized by hills. Wines produced from Sangiovese have hints of flowers, herbs, and leather, and has an acidic and tannic finish.
THE FOOD OF EMILIA-ROMAGNA
Emilia-Romagna is often referred to as “the food capital of Italy”. The foods we think of that are quintessentially Italian originate from the Emilia-Romagna region. The cuisine revolves around meat, cheese, and of course, carbs.
The syrupy, wonderfully acidic Aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) is produced in Modena, the province of Reggio Emilia and contains the DOP label. This is an especially important ingredient because the vinegar is made by using the skin, seeds, stems, and juice of freshly pressed grapes from Trebbiano, and Lambrusco grapes.
A star of the cheese world, Parmigiano-Reggiano, comes from the province Parma and is a DOP protected food that is said to have been created by monks as a way to preserve milk. The taste is a perfectly balanced umami flavor, embodying everything you’d want in a bite of cheese. Savory, salty, delicate, and velvety. The cheese can age for up to 30 years but are generally aged for 24 to 36 months.
Emilia-Romagna is famous for its production of meats and cured salumi. Bologna is home to the famous mortadella, which can be stuffed in tortellini and eaten as one of bologna’s famous pasta dishes, tortellini en brodo. Prosciutto di Parma gets its perfectly salty taste by way of the Parma River. It is also a DOP product ensuring that it is made in a specific geographic area to ensure consistency and quality.
The pasta in Emilia-Romagna has a rich and beautiful yellow hue due to the use of high-quality eggs in their pasta dough. They like to use longer and wider noodles such as tagliatelle or pappardelle. Often when you walk the streets of Bologna or Modena, you’ll see grandmas in windows rolling long sheets of pasta with a ragu Bolognese simmering on the stovetop.