Sangiovese from Romagna has a well-earned bad name. Most of it is industrially produced cheap grocery store wine, a significant amount of which disappears down the throats of thirsty tourists crowding Ravenna, Rimini and other Adriatic coast tourist favorites. However, there is a small group of producers that are making wine lovers sit up and take notice - if they actually get the opportunity to taste the wines.
Clearly the finest wine estate in Romagna is Fattoria Zerbina where the dynamic and energetic Cristina Geminiani (pictured above) has taken her family's estate to the peak of winemaking excellence. These are probably the best Italian wines you have never tasted. Cristina is working tirelessly to change this situation and spends a significant amount of time on the road crusading for not only her wines, but those of Romagna's other top producers. The best Romagna producers, Drei Donà, Fattoria Zerbina, San Patrignano and Stefano Ferrucci, have banded together in an organization called Il Convito di Romagna to help spread the word that Romagna is home to some very fine vineyards and wines.
After graduating with a degree in agriculture from the University of Milan, Cristina's passion for the great sweet wines of Sauternes led her to continue her studies at the University of Bordeaux. Then after a stint with famed enologist Vittorio Fiore she began her personal quest to make great wines at Fattoria Zerbina. Her experience and drive has created one of Italy's finest wine portfolios that includes: the "Super-Romagna" Marzieno; Scaccomatto, one of Italy's best dessert wines; Pietramora, a stunning pure sangiovese and Ceregio, one of the tastiest red wine bargains you can find anywhere.
Cristina describes her winemaking philosophy in this way, "In my winemaking I aim to complete and integrate each of the values of each single vineyard, fully respecting the high potential of the fruit from each special area. Only by releasing the pure character of the vines in each microclimate can we show the real value and richness of our terroir."
The foundation of Cristina's success has been her dedication to the vineyards themselves. Comments Cristina, "In each vineyard you can find small areas where the soil is different and where the response from the clone (specific type of vine) and its rootstock can radically change. It is our duty to follow these small individual aspects and to keep them as a treasure and to use this knowledge for the following harvest so we can be always increasing the quality of our wines."
Over twelve years of experience came together with what Cristina calls "a perfect vintage" in 2001 to make some memorable wines at Zerbina. The warm dry summer created the perfect climate for the red wines while the white albana variety she uses for her dessert wines saw an excellent development of botrytis (noble rot) in the late fall. Cristina considers this to be a benchmark vintage for their wines.
Out of this great vintage comes two outstanding wines from Fattoria Zerbina. Each wine is distinct in character and deserves a place in your wine collection.
2001 Fattoria Zerbina, Marzieno, Ravenna Rosso IGT ($50)
(70% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and 5% syrah)
Aging prior to release: 15 months in 225 liter French and American oak barrels (70% new) and 12 months in bottle.
Tasting notes: A vibrant brilliant ruby, barely translucent. The aromas are complex and dramatic with dark fruit and floral perfume leaping out of the glass. This is an almost perfect wine with a seamless blend of power and complexity. Pungent tobacco notes highlight the concentrated cassis with bitter cherry fruit flavors. The oak components harmonize with the deep fruit flavors and round tannins. This wine is so lush now it may be tempting to drink, but five or more years will bring out a whole new layer of complexity. (A)
2001 Fattoria Zerbina, Pietramora,
Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (100% sangiovese) ($65)
Aging prior to release: one year in 225 liter French oak barrels (70% new) and 18 months in bottle.
Tasting notes: A brilliant glittering ruby that is dark yet still translucent. The aromas are firm, still a little closed, but already showing a bright raspberry fruit with a touch of iodine and a hard mineral note. The wine starts a little slow on the palate then explodes with a layered complexity. The finish is still hard at this point with plenty of tannin, but leaves a very long bittersweet fruit finish full of spiced plums and baked cherries. Do your best to wait at least five or more years before pulling the cork on this structured, powerful beauty. (A+)
All too often only the top wines of an estate get all the attention, but in the case of Fattoria Zerbina it is not wise to ignore their fine pair of wine values at the lower end of their price list. Fortunately, winemaker Cristina Geminiani applies the same rigid standards to these wines that she does to her top-of-the-line selections and she produces two gifts for wine lovers on a budget.
2002 Fattoria Zerbina, Ceregio, Sangiovese di Romagna ($14)
Brillant ruby. Just translucent. Racy, bright bitter cherry fruit flavors. While filled with gorgeous fruit, this is no Australian shiraz-style wine as it has a firm backbone of acidity, plenty of sangiovese varietal character and structure that clearly speaks of its Italian birth. This wine has become a perennial candidate for house-wine-of-the-year. (B+)
2003 Fattoria Zerbina, Dalbiere, Trebbiano di Romagna ($14)
A more refreshing white wine you won't find. Absolutely packed with bright peach and apple flavors with a clean note of walnuts. The zesty acidity will leave your mouth watering and the fresh flavors will leave your palate satisfied. Fresh seafood anyone? (B)