Tourist guidebooks point out that Rome has the highest density of churches while Milan boasts the greatest number of banks per capita. Whether this is fact or anecdote, its perennial persistence underlines the philosophical divide that separates northern Italy and everything south of it.
Admittedly, the geographic configuration of this section is awkward. Piedmont is not found here; it has been pulled out into its own chapter (page 16) due to its prominence in the wine world. Mountainous Aosta Valley, beachfront Liguria, financial hub Lombardy and the elongated Emilia-Romagna are grouped here, which may seem haphazard. Yet despite distinct geographic personalities, these territories are united by accomplishment: Focused, hard working and hands-on, they were a major force in the post-World War II “Italian economic miracle”—a fitting moniker because it implies inspiration, in equal measure, by church and bank.
The wines of Aosta Valley and Liguria are relatively unknown abroad. Bordering Switzerland and France, and nestled within the Alps, Valle d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region. Its wines include Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero and Chardonnay. Blessed by sea and sun, Liguria offers medium-structured whites (from Vermentino) known as Colli di Luni.
Italy’s prestigious sparkling wine zone is Franciacorta near Brescia in Lombardy. Made in the metodo classico, these elegant sparklers consist of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero.
Common Grape Varieties
Emilia-Romagna, with its massive cooperatives, is an important player as well. Its production spans from fizzy red Lambrusco (made near Modena) to boutique expressions of Sangiovese di Romagna and the dessert wine Albana di Romagna.
Albana: Its name comes from albus, or “white” in Latin. This indigenous grape from Romagna makes delicious passito or botrytis dessert wines.
Albarola: Also called Bianchetta Genovese, it is one of three grapes in the white wines of Cinque Terre, Liguria. The other two are Bosco and Vermentino.
Chiavennasca: Another name for Nebbiolo, Chiavennasca is the base for red wines in Valle d’Aosta and Valtellina, Lombardy, where it makes the dried-grape wine Sforzato.
Croatina: Also known as Bonarda, this fruity red grape is found in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese wines.
Lambrusco: There are six types of this grape used in Emilia-Romagna (including the popular Lambrusco Grasparossa) that make frizzante dry and sweet red wines.
Sangiovese di Romagna: Genetically identical to Tuscany’s Sangiovese, this red variety has ancient roots in Romagna and produces unique, territory-specific expressions.