I first met Mirco Mariotti over ten years ago in the castle-and-moat city of Ferrara, where I was then living. The city is located in the eastern, Romagna, part of Emilia-Romagna; an area much less well-known than Emilia part (which of course is home of Lambrusco and aceto balsamico). The part of Romagna where Mariotti is from is a laid back beach area, where locals eat grilled flat-bread sandwiches called piadina romagnola, and slosh back the frothy frizzante. In fact, Mariotti’s wines are named after local card games! Instead of charmat, he produces old-school bottle fermented (rifermentato in bottiglia) wines out the native grapes Trebbiano Romagnolo, and a rare red called Fortana – a savoury wild thing with high acid and a black cherry or wild strawberry notes depending on vintage; it also has a bitter vermouth-like spice to it. I find it similar to the Lambrusco di Sorbara, with a less refined acidity but a more a savory complexity.
His vines are in Fortana’s grand cru growing area of Bosco Eliceo, just 300 meters from the Adriatic sea. Since the vines are grown in sand (Beach Vines! Beach Wines!), they are non-grafted and on their own native rootstock (It. piede franco). Interestingly, he uses the process of propaggine, a type of selezione massale, for new vines. Many vines are over 100 years old, with roots good deep two meters to the aquifer below. They are gnarly. And, by growing vines so close to the beach, that savory, even salty mouthfeel, really come through. Mariotti is an excellent example of a producer who is making more interesting wines than a generation ago, that are less rustic but aren’t tying to follow the model of fine wines. They make me want to invite friends over to play cards. Kick off your sandals, light up the grill, and deal the cards. This is farmer-fizz from local varieties that’s unique, delicious, and without pretense.