Bubbles are hot right now and there is no better place to try something new than Emilia, the western half of the Italian region Emilia Romagna. Having lived in Bologna, the capital of this region I discovered that each city in Emilia Romagna has their own sparkling wine. Each of which, by the way, goes so well with the meats and cheeses that make this region so famous.
Think about how great a nice refreshing glass of bubbles is while you munch on an infinite array of prosciutto, mortadella, or parmigiano drizzled in balsamic vinegar. Don’t forget about Culatello, Castel San Pietro cheese or my personal favorite Squaquarone cheese. These are just a few of the lesser known delicacies that you’d be hard pressed to find here stateside but I strongly suggest you seek out on your next visit to Emilia Romagna.
In Emilia Romagna you can’t have this spread without a lightly fried bread of sorts used, the name of which differs from city to city. This bread is made simply with water and flour, sometimes also stuffed with cheeses or meats like mortadella.
Historically it is fried in pig lard, thus known to be historically enjoyed in the fall when pigs are slaughtered. It is thought to have been brought down by Germanic tribes known as the Lombards sometime before the middle ages and spread particularly throughout Emilia but also into Romagna and the Veneto. It is served warm with an elaborate platter of meats and cheeses all eaten by hand, the bread serving as the perfect medium to create mini sandwiches and simply because every good meal in Italy requires some form of bread, plain and simple. Like the argument over the best wine to pair with such a spread, the name of this fried bread depends on where you find yourself in Emilia Romagna.
Whatever your dream spread includes it would be hard to argue against a glass of sparkling wine to go along side it. Here’s a quick breakdown by city, moving from west to east along the Via Emilia. This ancient via, or road, was built by the ancient Romans to help connect Pianceza to Rimini, a famous coastal town in Italy of significant importance in ancient Roman times. Amazingly this road still exists (known as the SS9) and one can trace the steps of the ancient Roman army who paraded back and forth with all its might. Full disclosure this road is paved over and full of rotaries, roadside restaurants and stop lights, but the path it follows has not changed since the Romans. By the end of this journey we hope this can act as a guide to the sparklers of Emilia and it’s fried counterpart!
Piacenza is a quiet little city, a stone’s throw from Piedmont. In fact, this region was once part of Piedmont until the unification of Italy. In the Colli Piacentini, the name of the wine production zone here, almost every grape grown has both a still and sparkling version. For example even international varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and made into sparklers by a majority of producers. The real indigenous white sparklers are Otrugo and Malvasia and on the red side Gutturnio; a blend of Barbera and Bonarda.
Gutturnio is the famous D.O.C. wine of Piacenza named for the Gutturnium which in ancient Latin was known as the ceramic cup Roman soldiers would drink from. In it said that remains of these cups were found all over the Po’ river that flows through Piacenza. The D.O.C. calls for a blend of from 55% to 70% Barbera and from 30% to 45% Bonarda, locally known as Croatina. Sparkling Gutturnio is made in the Charmat Method, where second fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks. The idea behind these wines is to create a light bubble helping to digest all the meats and cheeses that are in my mind a requirment when you open a bottle of this wine.
Try the Gutturnio from La Tollara and pick yourself up a bottle at American Provisions in South Boston. It’s super dry, lightly sparkling, very fresh, and full of ripe red fruits. The wine has a very cool homemade quality to it that makes you believe producers like La Tollara are happy to make this wine to share with their family particular on the hot, sticky days of summer.
In Piacenza the aforementioned fried bread is called chisulén or chisolino and it goes extremely well with Gutturnio and Ortrugo in particular. The tradition of this fried bread is thought to have been brought down by German Tribes living in what is now present day Lombardia, Italy.
The home of balsamic vinegar, Maserati and the fried bread gnocco fritto, that goes so well with the local wine, Lambrusco! I’ve covered Lambrusco a fair bit on the blog, bit it’s important to understand the many styles from amabile (semi-sweet) all the way to to Brut, each of which has their merits particularly when paired with the meats and cheeses of the region. I’m partial to a dryer style myself but what can’t be argued is the importance of acidity when munching on lots of different meats and cheeses, helping to refresh the palate.
Try a wine from Cantina Della Volta up against a sweeter style and see which you prefer! My choice, the Rimosso, new to my portfolio seems as though it was made for charcuterie. This wine just landed in April and is available at Social Wines in South Boston.
To me the fried bread I speak of is called one thing and one thing only, crescentine. This is because I spent a year in Bologna and am quite partial. By confessing this I’ve certainly upset a few folks but I’ve made my friends at Manaresi who make some great Pignoletto very happy! Pignoletto is the wine of Bologna, one of the cities few indigenous varietals, if not the only one. I’ll be honest Pignoletto and crescentine haunt my dreams often as this combination is one of the first things I think of when looking back at my experiences living in Bologna. I spent countless days dreaming of starting Mucci Imports while snacking on crescentine, parmigiano and prosciutto while sipping on a glass of Pignoletto at Bologna’s original osteria, Osteria Del Sole built in 1465!
Osteria Del Sole is an osteria in the true sense of the word in Italian. Historically an Osteria was simply a bar that served alcohol allowing guests to bring in their own grub from their travels. Osteria Del Sole stays true to this and is conveniently located in the heart of the Mercato Delle Erbe in Bologna, one of Italy’s richest concentrations of high quality parmigiano, prosciutto, culatello etc. It’s hard to control ones excitement when shopping for an aperitivo at Osteria Del Sole. Overeating
was the norm but boy was it worth it. Quite often you would be invited to sit with strangers making friends and eating and drinking till your hearts content…..Anyways, I digress..
Pignoletto is an aromatic varietal with notes of white flowers and pear, maybe some apples and tropical fruits too. The Pignoletto from Manaresi, like the Gutturnio from La Tollara, is lightly sparkling, as they believe this is a great way to enjoy the wine with meats and cheeses. The wine is incredibly refreshing and well balanced. It will certainly make your mouth water while eating the local delicacies. Pick up a bottle at Sea Glass Wine & Beer in Swampscott!
So with the table set it’s up to you to accept the challenge.
This summer will offer plenty of opportunities to try these wines with your next spread. Impress your friends and experience a little bit of Emilia.