The Ebullient North II

(Continued from “The Ebullient North” on 21 July 2017:

The northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna is in fact an amalgamation of two historical regions, namely the substantially larger Emilia in the north and the much smaller Romagna at the southeastern tip. The former was named after via Aemilia, the Roman road which runs diagonally through the entire length of Emilia-Romagna from Placentia (now Piacenza) in the northwest to Ariminum (now Rimini) in the southeast; the road was in turn named after Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, during whose consulship – 187 BC – the road was completed. The latter came from the name the Lombards, a Germanic people, gave to the area.

Emilia-Romagna is a scintillating region in various regards: its capital Bologna, in addition to bestowing upon humanity the wonderful Ragù alla Bolognese, is home to the oldest university still in existence today, University of Bologna, established in ca. 1088; it is the birthplace of composer Giuseppe Verdi, conductor Arturo Toscanini and tenor Luciano Pavarotti; the cradle of automobile giants Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati; the origin of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Modena…

The one thing conspicuously missing is wine. Not that Emilia-Romagna does not produce wine, it possesses some 55,000ha under vine, almost double the hectarage of Bourgogne. It does not lack heritage either, as viticulture and winemaking were introduced by the Etruscans as early as the 7th century BC, when the Roman Kingdom was still in its infancy. The main problem is that, on the vinous front, Emilia-Romagna is hugely overshadowed by its illustrious neighbours, namely Piemonte to the northwest, Veneto to the northeast and Toscana to the southwest. Indeed, Emilia-Romagna has but 2 DOCGs and a score of DOCs, representing just 15% of the region’s total wine production; the percentage is significantly lower than the aforementioned trio.

This may be explained by Emilia-Romagna’s terroirs and grape varieties. Nearly half of Emilia-Romagna is flatland, which is great for agriculture in general, but great wines tend to come from vines living on the edge – ask Nebbiolo and Riesling producers. In addition, Emilia-Romagna seemingly focuses on varieties that are not particularly “noble”, e.g. Malvasia and Lambrusco (both are families rather than individual varieties), Trebbiano, Bonarda and Barbera. Interestingly, Emilia-Romagna has a time-honoured tradition of using vitis labrusca, whose descendants purportedly include Lambrusco, the region’s most famous wine.

Somewhat confusingly, Lambrusco is both a wine style and a grape variety, or more precisely a family of grape varieties not unlike Malvasia and Muscat. Depending on different sources, it is said that Lambrusco comprises between 15 and 60 varieties, but a pinch of salt here: the difference between clones and varieties can sometimes be a matter of fact and degree, cf. Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir Précoce) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

During the era of the mass market that was the 70s and 80s of the last century, Lambrusco was hugely popular alongside Mateus Rosé and Liebfraumilch, hence the preconception that all Lambruschi (plural of Lambrusco) are easy-drinking and semi-sweet pops still lingers on, but good ones do exist, especially those hailing from the DOC-level sub-regions, one of which is Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC, in which the grape variety Lambrusco Grasparossa must constitute no less than 85% of the blend.

To be continued…

By kind invitation of Mr. Ben Bost ( and Mr. Kit Sou ( Bene (, the Italian trattoria at Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel Cotai Central, where the tasting took place, has been hosting the Food & Wine Mercato since last year. The Mercato showcases each month the culinary traditions of a specific region, paired with local wines. The lesser-known regions are particularly interesting to oenophiles, e.g. Valle d’Aosta in November 2017 and Emilia-Romagna in March 2018. A “deconstructed” and interactive wine dinner concept, diners can talk to wine producers and suppliers, gaining first-hand knowledge of regions and wines in a relaxed, non-didactic setting.

Chiarli 1860 “Gala” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC Amabile

Luminous garnet with cardinal-crimson rim, the sprightly nose effuses mulberry, black cherry, sage and peach blossom. With crunchy acidity, tangy tannins and medium-fine mousse, the candid palate emanates blackberry, plum, crushed leaf and geranium. Semi-sweet and medium-full bodied at a healthy 8%, the toothsome entry persists through a buoyant mid-palate, leading to a moreish finish. Enjoyable and versatile in equal measures.

Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages

Categories World of Bacchus