Great food. Where's the wine?
One of the greatest contradictions in Italian food and wine, a disconnect that I've never fully understood, is the odd reality that Emilia-Romagna - arguably the epicenter of Italy's culinary scene and so honored for its food that its capital is nicknamed "Bologna the Fat" - gets so little attention for its wines.
Emilia-Romagna offers food lovers such familiar delights as prosciutto di Parma hams, Parmigiana-Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses, the balsamic vinegars of Modena and so much more. Marcella Hazan, the patron saint of Italian cooking for many American "foodies," hails from Bologna, and even our familiar American "baloney" is a much devolved heir of the great Bolognese pork sausage mortadella.
I can't explain why this food-favored region's wines fly so far beneath the radar, but in the wake of a memorable tasting session, I can tell you that it's not about any lack of quality in the wines.
A couple of missionaries came through our town last night, bearing an armload of wines from Emilia-Romagna that aren't available in the U.S. yet but that I hope soon will be.
Although Emilia-Romagna borders the Adriatic, and Bologna isn't all that far from Verona and Venice, it's a long, narrow region that reaches far inland along the south bank of the Po River and the flank of the Apennines mountains. Piacenza is actually well into northwestern Italy, near the borders of Lombardia, Piemonte and Tuscany - a point that Mills (who's assuredly an Italian guy despite the family name passed down by his British father) is not loath to bring up in discussing the region's hearty red wines.
They poured two whites and four reds from the Colli Piacentini DOC ("Hills of Piacenza"), and passed around big chunks of crumbly, creamy and tangy Grana Padano cheese in increasingly sharp samples aged 14 months, 18 months and 24 months, finishing up with rich 30-month Parmigiano.
The sociable environment, outdoors on the lovely patio of a private home, didn't inspire deep, analytical tasting, but the wines spoke for themselves. You'll find below my brief notes on the six wines tasted. They're available in limited amounts in the UK and parts of Europe, and Mills said he hopes to have distribution in the U.S. next spring. For now, if they're not available where you live, make a mental note: They'll be well worth looking for when they get here.
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Cardinali 2004 "Solata" Colli Piacentini Val D'Arda Monterosso - This was my first taste of Monterosso, a regional white grape. It's a clear, straw-color wine with greenish brassy glints. Spicy notes elevate apple and pear aromas and something more exotic ... quince? Good body and mouth-watering acidity. Its pure fruit presence sees no wood, and the grapes are grown with minimal chemical intervention, Mills said.
Castelli del Duca 2005 "Isabella" Colli Piacentini Malvasia - This pale gold wine is made in the lightly sparkling style that Italians call "frizzante." It pours with a foamy froth that falls back fast but leaves a crisp, prickly sensation on the tongue. Pretty floral aromatics lead into a flavor that's dry, light and crisp, frothy and very, very refreshing. Castelli del Duca is the label for the regional cooperative that comprises many of Piacenza's small producers.
Castelli del Duca 2004 "Ottavio" Colli Piacentini Bonarda - A fruity, high-acid grape that's also grown across the Po in Lombardy's Oltrepò Pavese - and in Argentina, where it was surely imported by Italian immigrants - Bonarda shines in the Piacentini translation. Very dark reddish-purple, it offers complex aromas of black plums, spice, pepper and a whiff of leather. Cherries and very subtle "barnyard" add an odd but appealing hint of tangerine peel on the palate, and crisp acidity makes it a fine food wine.
Cardinali 2004 "Nicchio" Classico Colli Placentini Gutturnio - "Gutturnio," Mills explained, is the Piacenza name for a 50-50 blend of Bonarda and Barbera so inky that it was traditionally served in a white bowl so revelers could swirl it and admire the way it painted the ceramic purple. This one lives up to the tradition with an inky blackish-purple color. Smoky black plum aromas lead into a full-bodied flavor, ripe fruit balanced by mouth-watering acidity that makes it an excellent food wine.
Castelli del Duca 2001 "Sigillum" Colli Piacentini Gutturnio Classico Riserva - Aged in barriques, it's a very dark garnet color. Dried fruit, brown spices and subtle woodsmoke join in the aroma. Full-bodied, dried-fruit flavors follow the nose, well-balanced by snappy acidity.
Cardinali 2004 "Torquato" Colli Placentini Gutturnio Classico Riserva - Very dark garnet. There's a lot of high-toned volatile acidity in this one, a characteristic not uncommon in dry Italian reds, but it works well in concert with exuberant dried currants and cranberries and fragrant black pepper. Bright and juicy fruit flavors and zippy acidity.
Cardinali, the producer of three of the wines tasted, has its own Website (Italian only) at this link:
The Italian Trade Commission's ItalianMade.com Website has a history, maps and facts in English about Colli Piacentini here:
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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006