I first met Mirco Mariotti over ten years ago in the castle-and-moat city of Ferrara, where I was living then. The city is located in the eastern, Romagna, part of Emilia-Romagna, which is a much less well-known than the western, Lambrusco, part of Emilia. In fact, you’ll notice that Mirco’s wines use an Emilia IGT designation for what should be Romagna IGT – if only it existed. Nevertheless, it’s a place with lots of local color, and there’s a beach nearby. Folks play cards here into the night, accompanied by sweating bottles of their own Do-It-Yourself sparkling wines from the local grapes. The local piadina romagnola grilled flat-bread sandwich hits the spot.
Back to the vinous flashback: Mirco had some of these DIY wines made from his own vineyards in the Bosco Eliceo area to share with me, so we decided to go for lunch in a local trattoria. The bottle he brought to the table was from a strange terroir: beach sand, 300 meters from the waves of the Adriatic Sea. And it was made from the rare variety Fortana, also known as Rapa in the Swiss canton of Ticino*. These Fortana vines are on native rootstock and over a hundred years old. He poured the farmer-fizz and ordered a platter of the local specialty, grilled eel. Intriguing wines, I remember thinking. Fortana is low-alcohol and high-acid. Yet, like many native Italian reds, it’s got some pretty rustic-rusty tannins. Vinification of these tannic varieties as a light red or rosato, instead of a hearty red, often yields something more delicious and versatile at the dinner (or playing-card) table. Sèt e Mèz (Seven and a Half) is this rosato-ish wine, named after a card game similar to Blackjack. The wine is savory – think onion skin, sage, and a red-berry briskness, with an understated tannic twang.
Smarazen, the other wine that we’re bringing in, is named after another card game – a local twist on the well-known Italian Scopa. Here Trebbiano Romagnolo gets some character from Malvasia di Candia. It’s one of those wines where the salty aspect of growing vines so close to the beach really comes through.
Kick off your sandals, light up the grill, deal the cards. This is farmer-fizz from local varieties that’s unique, delicious, and without pretense.
*Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes. Penguin Group, 2012, p. 363.