If you love Italian food and wine, one of the most fun things to do in Bologna - the culinary capital of Italy - is taking a food and wine tour. We've taken several food tours in Bologna before and wine tours in Tuscany, but like the region itself, we've found the wines here to be hugely underrated. So we set off on a Bologna wine tour this spring with our friends from Italian Days, to visit the wineries near Bologna, Italy in the Valsamoggia region. There are so many fun day trips from Bologna that you can take, like visiting Parma to see their production of prosciutto hams, join a truffle hunting tour in Emilia Romagna, or visit Modena to see the traditional way to make balsamic vinegar. But for us, today was all about the wines of Emilia Romagna.
Orsi - Vigneto San Vito, Valsamoggia
Our first stop was Orsi - Vigneto San Vito in the Colli Bolognesi, the hills south and west of Bologna. The winery is beautiful with vineyards situated on 30 hectares operated by vintner, Federico Orsi and his wife. Since around 1980 the farm has been completely biodynamic in an effort to return nutrients to the soil. They plant six different grasses between the vines to enrich the soil instead of using chemical fertilizers.
The philosophy here is to farm in concert with the cycles of nature. Vines are trimmed for quality, not quantity, and only naturally occurring yeasts are used in the wine fermentation process. They also grow vegetables, grains, and raise Mora Romagnola pigs whose meat is used to make their salamis and mortadella. The vegetables are delivered to local restaurants with some even finding their way to FICO Eataly World in Bologna.
Grapes grown here are chardonnay, barbera, malvasia, and some riesling. But we were anxious to taste the pignoletto, an Italian white wine that's one of the stars of Emilia Romagna wine. Pignoletto wine (pronounced peen-nyo-LET-to) is usually a light straw color and tends to be slightly fizzy. Orsi’s offering is labeled Pignoletto Sui Lieviti and it is wonderful. A light straw color, not heavy and just crisp enough - this is a wine that you can enjoy with friends on a warm afternoon. We were also treated to Barbera Martignone which is aged in older large wooden barrels giving it a high acidity so no tannins. One of the prettiest wine colors we’ve seen and silky smooth to boot. Just excellent!
There’s no question there’s a lot going on at Orsi with traditional and not-so-traditional winemaking. At year’s end Federico mixes all the leftovers from previous bottlings to create a blend he calls posca wine. Posca means vinegar, but this blend is nothing close to vinegar. Posca Rossa can contain any of the red grapes grown here and the blend is a rustic style table wine - every bottling is different. Some wines are being aged in enormous clay amphoras buried in the ground that contain either merlot, cabernet, or barbera. After some time underground, they’re blended and aged some more. And a great idea to supply local restaurants, is what he calls Vino Perpetua or the “tank with no end”, a blend that comes from a tank that’s continually topped-off with other blends.
Corte d’Aibo, Monteveglio
Not far from Bologna in the town of Monteveglio is another beautiful property, Corte d’Aibo, a winery of 30 hectares,16 of which are in grapes. Attached to the winery is the agriturismo, a converted farmhouse with 12 rooms and a wonderful restaurant where we enjoyed lunch.
The farm has been certified organic since 1991 by the Italian Association for Organic Agriculture. 6 years ago they transitioned to a fully biodynamic regimen to maintain soil quality and ensure sustainability.
On the day we visited, the owner, Enrico, was available to fill us in on the operation. Grapes grown here are chardonnay, pignoletto, cabernet sauvignon, malvasia, and barbera. Large wax-sealed terra cotta pots are used to age the reds except the cabernet which is aged in French oak.
There are a number of very good wines bottled here but our favorite was without question the Pignoletto Frizzante DOCG, one of the best Italian wines we’ve ever tasted. But two other contenders also made their appearance for the best this winery has to offer. Barbera Frizzante is now among our new favorites. If you like barbera wine and a little fizz, look for this one. The other is their Rugiada, a blend of pignoletto and malvasia that was fruity with just a hint of bitterness, very nice on a warm day.
We sat down outside to relax and have lunch, but we had no idea what was to come - it certainly wasn’t lunch as we know it, a sandwich or a salad! What came out of the kitchen was as beautiful as it was delicious, each amazing course paired perfectly with one of their own wines and loaded with regional Italian specialties unique to Emilia Romagna. Spaghetti with citrus and prosciutto, tortellini stuffed with eggplant with roasted cherry tomatoes all presented with edible flowers and fresh herbs.
After a short breather came pork cheeks in balsamic with onions, mushrooms, and carrots. Have you had pork cheeks? And to think of all those pigs without cheeks. They were excellent - tender and succulent and paired especially well with the Le Borre cabernet sauvignon, dry, smooth, and light for a cabernet. And because it's Italy, we finished lunch with a tray of sweet ricotta cakes and their Spumante Brut Rose, a barbera and merlot blend with just the right amount of sparkle - incredible and a great way to end an incredible visit. We had enjoyed a similar winery lunch on our first visit to Bologna, but it was nothing like this. This was creative and delicious!
Fattorie Vallona, Valsamoggia
Our last stop of the day was Fattorie Vallona located in Castello di Serravalle where we met our hostess, Stefania. Founded in 1980 by owner and winemaker Maurizio Vallona, the winery sits on 30 hectares of merlot, pignoletto, a hybrid riesling, chardonnay, barbera, and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Very impressive with scenic views of the surrounding hills.
Wineries feel a bit strange when they’re visited at a time of year when not much is going on - no harvesting or bottling. The cavernous storage rooms seem almost abandoned with the only living thing there being the wine as it ages. And so it was here. A lift took us down into the subterranean storage cellar. It was a bit cold and had the damp musty smell of an old cellar. Different sized wine-filled barrels of French oak lined the room. Stefania told us they would only be used twice then discarded.
Our tasting here included Bologna Rosso DOC, a Cab Sav blend - light tannins, earthy and as smooth as it gets. A 100% pignoletto is bottled here but we were being treated to the Permartina, a late harvest white of pignoletto and riesling. Wow, this wine knocked my socks off. Different from anything else we had had on the tour, this wine was smooth, buttery and delicious, and a great final note to end the day in the hills of Emilia Romagna.
Not only was this tour one of the best wine tours we've taken, it ranks up there with some of the best tours in Bologna. As you'd expect with a professional Sommelier who works for Italian Days, Leonora was knowledgable and loads of fun! She showed us the inner workings of each winery relating organic growth methods and techniques to the actual taste and complexity of each wine. And also like you also might expect from any tour with Italian Days, the "food coma" at lunch didn't disappoint.
But the real star of this show was the Pignoletto. It's a wine that you never really hear about unless you're in Bologna, which is a shame, because it's one of the most drinkable wines you'll have anywhere. Pignoletto is light, flirty, and refreshing. It lacks the finesse and rich depths of long-aged, bottle-fermented champagne or champagne-method wines, which is completely fine with me and apparently the Bolognese people, who love to say "in Bologna, we don't age our wines, we drink them!" -- well Cheers to that! Pignoletto is straightforward and unpretentious, and not to be taken too seriously. And it'll quickly become a favorite. But take our advice since it may be hard to find at home -- ship a case home! One more thing.....when you're in Bologna and Emilia Romagna, take this tour!
We were guests of Italian Days on this tour. As always, all opinions are our own based on our firsthand experience.
If You Go
Italian Days offers the Bologna Pignoletto Wine Tour, a full-day wine tour of Emilia Romagna guided by an English-speaking professional sommelier in a comfortable, private mini van. The tour includes 3 winery tours with 9 tastings, and a gourmet lunch with wine pairings for $150€.
For the knowledge and expertise of our guide, Eleonora, and the overall experience of seeing some of Bologna's finest wines from start to finish, we felt it was an exceptional value!