When I first started learning about Italian wine, my knowledge was limited: Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Chalk it up to a mess of trips to Tuscany and Umbria, along with a messed up number of bottles of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. Later, I learned about Lambrusco. If you would have told me at the time that I would be touring small wineries in the Romagna region of Italy learning about a grape called Albana, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I’m not a trained sommelier, although I considered it as an option when I was first thought about leaving the law. My palette is not all that sophisticated. I sort of know what I like and what I don’t. I’m the farthest thing from being a wine snob. I am just as likely to be drinking a free glass of wine in a hotel executive lounge as I am drinking a fancy bottle of something special. I can usually tell when a wine is cheap, and can tell when a wine is not. But, it’s not always the most expensive wine that wins my heart.
When we talk about being wine bloggers, we are really talking about wine travel, or wine tourism. For us, we love the opportunity to tour wineries, meet wine makers, and often indulge in great food and wine in a fabulous setting. I don’t often write about a particular grape and how it tastes. And I don’t offer tasting notes or compare vintages. I do enjoy talking about the story behind a wine, the winery and the wine maker. And, this is what we did when learning about Albana di Romagna.
Exploring Albana in Romagna
The first thing I learned about Albana is that it’s an “autochthonous” grape from Romagna (vino Albana). First off, we were exploring the Romagna side of the Emilia Romagna region. From our earlier visits, it wasn’t made clear to me that there were two parts to Emilia Romagna. We were in Dozza, which is where the region is split between the two parts.
Second, an autochthonous grape is one that grows exclusively, or almost exclusively, in one region. For example, Cabernet is grown everywhere. Albana is only grown in Romagna and has been since around 1300. That alone is kind of cool. This is what makes Albana one of my secret wines of Italy.
Learning About Albana at Branchini
We met with Marco, one of the brothers that currently runs Branchini, a winery that has been producing wines in Romagna since 1858. First we walked the vineyards, as Marco explained to us all about Albana di Romagna DOCG. The Branchini grapes take on a unique characteristic because their land is at the confluence of three rivers. This includes the one that separates Romagna from Emilia.
Once we stepped back inside, the tasting began. And as many of our tastings go in Emilia Romagna, it started with some Italian sparkling wine.
This was my first experience tasting Albana, and it was kind of like Marco was cheating, or stacking the decks. It was a fabulous sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method, with a second fermentation in the bottle (that’s about as far as I go on wine geek speak). It was crisp and light and partnered perfectly with the plate of cured meat his mom delivered to us, along with a plate of warm piadina.
Piadina is an Italian flat bread well known in the region. I will say, I had worked up an appetite during our walk through the vineyards. I was enjoying the wine, perhaps a bit too much, as Marco consistently insisted on refilling my glass. The piadina was needed to soak it all up. At least I wasn’t driving.
Marco continued to open bottles of Albana. It was interesting to see how different the wines were from each other, even though they all came from Albana. Part of this is due to the style of the wine making. Part is also due to where on Branchini’s property the grape is grown, and in particular along which of the three rivers.
We tried their Dutia Albana, which after the sparkling wine, was my favorite. Slightly darker in color than I usually prefer in a white, it tasted a lot more crisp and clean than I anticipated. This was also the first white wine in Italy to receive a DOCG classification, which is the highest classification of wines in Italy. No, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is not DOCG.
Finally, we tasted Branchini’s Albana Passito, which is a sweeter wine, almost like a dessert wine. The name of the wine D’or Luce translates to “golden light”, which can easily be seen in the rich color. The wine gets its sweetness because Albana di Romagna Passito is a late harvest wine, one where the grapes are left on the vine longer. Then, the grapes are left to dry for three months, which adds to the sweetness and the consistency. I’m not usually a fan of the sweeter wines, but this one was pretty tasty, without being too sweet.
Branchini also produces one of my other favorite secret Italian wines, Pignoletto. It was actually a little hard for me to focus on the Albana tasting, while surrounded by bottles of Pignoletto. I survived. For me, I think I prefer Pignoletto because I tend to like simpler, less complex whites.
What I learned from this morning of tasting Albana wines with Marco is how much I love sitting around chatting with someone who is passionate about wine and food. Yeah, it was fun to learn about a grape that I had never heard of before. And as always, it’s fun to sit around and drink wine. But for me, it’s about making the connection with someone, even when we don’t speak the language. And this is what I love about wine tourism.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
More About Our Trip
Yummy Italy arranged our visit to taste Albana at Branchini, but as always my opinions are my own.
For more information on wine tourism in Italy, see our guide to Wine Tourism and Travel.