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 and Pignoletto wine. If you would have told me at the time that I would be touring small wineries in the Emilia Romagna region Italy learning about a grape called Albana di Romagna DOCG, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Exploring Italian Wine Grapes
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 winemakers, 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 winemaker. And, this is what we did when learning about Albana di Romagna wine. Since our first visit to the Romagna wine region many years ago, we’ve discovered this a lot more to Italian wine than we once thought we knew.
Looking for more Italian secret wines? How about Exploring Negretto in Emilia Romagna
Exploring Albana di Romagna DOCG
The first thing I learned about the Albana grape is that it’s an “autochthonous” grape from Romagna (vino Albana di Romagna). First off, we were exploring the Romagna side of Emilia Romagna in Italy. 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. It’s also where the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna is located, which specializes in educating people about the Emilia Romagna wine region.
Second, an autochthonous grape is one that grows exclusively, or almost exclusively, in one region. For example, Cabernet is grown everywhere. Romagna is most known for Sangiovese, the grape that makes Chianti further south in Tuscany. Because both Cabernet and Sangiovese are grown all over, they are not considered autochthonous.
The Albana grape is only grown in Romagna Italy and has been since around 1300. That alone is kind of cool. This is what makes Albana wine one of my secret wines of Italy. And, as much as it might not be the best Italian white wine or the most well-known Italian wine, the Albana DOCG is an Italian wine that should be tracked down either when visiting Emilia Romagna or at a wine shop at home.
Learning About Albana Vino Bianco 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. They have the reputation of being one of the best of Emilia Romagna when it comes to Albana. First, we walked the vineyards, as Marco explained to us all about Albana di Romagna DOCG. The Branchini Albana 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. It is this specific Emilia Romagna climate that gives the Albana grape it’s character.
Once we stepped back inside, the Albana Romagna tasting began. And, as many of our tastings go while 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 deck. 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). This Albana secco, or dry wine, 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 flatbread well known in the Romagna region. I will say, I had worked up an appetite during our walk through the vineyards. I was enjoying the Albana 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 winemaking. 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 Albana di Romagna secco, a dry white wine, an Albana di Romagna dolce, which was sweeter but not quite a dessert wine, and an Albana di Romagna passito, which is a dessert wine.
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 Italian wine classification, which is the highest classification of wines in Italy. No, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is not a DOCG wine.
Albana di Romagna Passito
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. This increases the sweetness of the grape and starts the fermentation process on the vine. 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. The passito Albana di Romagna was a perfect introduction to this variety of wine.
Branchini also produces one of my other favorite secret Italian wines, Pignoletto, which is both a still white wine and a sparkling wine. 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 Italian white 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 the Albana grape, which 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. The wine chapter focuses on all my favorites, including Lambrusco, Pignoletto, and Malvasia, along with the Romagna Albana DOCG. This includes where to taste these great Italian wines as well as their history.
Pin It!! Learning About Albana Wine in Romagna
For more information on wine tourism in Italy, see our guide to Wine Tourism and Travel.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.