This article orginally appeared on Altacucina Society’s website.
On my recent trip to Italy, I focused on tasting a maximum number of dessert wines, I found the passito version of Albana di Romagna to be interesting and unknown, at least to me. What I discovered with pleasure is that Albana is renowned for its honey, apricot, spice and magnolia flavors. It ages very gracefully and can keep for anywhere between six to 10 years.
Albana hails from Emilia Romagna, a region in Northern Italy, that is home to a significant number of indigenous grape varieties, many of which are largely unknown to the American public. Albana di Romagna was the first Italian white wine to achieve DOCG status. Many disagreed with this choice, stating that it was not up to the task but nonetheless, it was given the denomination in 1987.
I lived in Bologna, an amazing and beatiful city when I went to graduate school at SAIS but I have no recollection of drinking Albana di Romagna passito. Bland white wine, ostensibly made from Albana, yes but not a delicious passito. Bologna is a fabulous place to live and has much to recommend it including the food, the stores, the museums, the streets, the “portici”, the cafes, the market, the opera and the University. Insomma, it is a gem of a city. You can also find Albana more easily in that neck of the woods.
Albana di Romagna has a very long history and is often said to have been the favorite wine of Galla Placidia, Theodosius II’s daughter who is supposed to have tasted it in 435 A.D. Her mausoleum in Ravenna is one of the gems of Roman architecture. While there is no way to verify that she actually tried Albana di Romagna, it was mentioned in an Agricultural treatise in 1300 A.D by Pier de Crescenzi of Bologna.
The grape is grown all over the region from Bologna to Rimini but plantings are concentrated near the cities of Forli-Cesena, Ravenna, Bertinoro and Bologna. There are a number of different clones of Albana.
Generally it is grown on hills where it is subject to winds from the Adriatic Sea, rain from the Appenines and humidity from nearby rivers. It grows well on limestone soils with marine organic materials.
Albana is made into a variety of styles including secco, amabile, dolce, and passito. Albana can also be a made into a sparkling wine but it can use only the DOC denomination for the sparkling version. Albana is a relatively light bodied grape variety with good acidity. It also can contain considerable residual sugar and therefore is well suited to the sweeter styles of wine made from it. While the dry, off-dry versions of this wine are not considered to be that worthy of note, the passito is another story.
Producers have a lot of leeway in the way that they produce Albana di Romagna passito which is not usually the case. Generally production rules, especially for DOCG wines are very strict and meticulous. Instead for Albana di Romagna, producers can choose their method to dry the grapes. It can be done either on the vine, in small boxes, on wooden grates, or indoors using air. The wine can be vinified in wooden barriques or in stainless steel. The length of time for vinification is also not specified. The one rigid piece of the legislation governing the production of Albana di Romagna wine is the date that it is sold on the market. It must be on the market by September 1 of the year following the harvest for the entry level passito and on December 1 of the year following the harvest for the Riserva passito.
Some of the most famous producers of these wines include Umberto Cesari (Colle del Re), Fattoria Monticino Rosso, Leone Conti, Zerbina, and Baciami. The wines are imported by Opici Wine Co., Martin Scott Wines, JK Imports, Michael Skurnick Wines, and John Given Wines, respectively. Many of the most famous Italian brands are not currently available in the U.S.