Mutiliana, Acereta 2018 Romagna Sangiovese

Mutiliana sandstone hills in Modigliana

21 June 2022 As anticipated below, this is now available in the UK from The Wine Society at £19.50.

3 June 2022 Above, Walter's dog Fritz surveys the sandstone hills of this extraordinary corner of northern Romagna.

£19.50, $39.90

Find this wine (and note that spell it Acerreta)

A few years ago I stumbled upon the wines of my Italian wine writer colleague Giorgio Melandri at a small event in Verona that ran parallel to the monster that is Vinitaly. Unable or unwilling to afford the charges levied by the world's largest wine fair, a handful of left-field, highly original young producers had banded together and hired a large artists' atelier (and a DJ) in the backwaters of old Verona to show their wines during an event they appropriately christened Vinitaly OFF. In a room full of beards, tattoos and pet-nats a grumpy-looking Melandri sat in front of three bottles.

He did not exactly look radiantly inviting but nevertheless I felt obliged to go over to him and taste his wines, three Sangioveses coming from a place in the Romagna Apennines I had never heard of: Modigliana.

It would be brutally honest to say I had no expectations at all (wine journalist great winemaker automatically), but I was struck as by lightning when I tasted the wines. These Sangioveses were of such purity and elegance and stylistically stood so clearly apart from both Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico that I instantly realised that Melandri had triggered nothing less than a Romagna Sangiovese renaissance.

Melandri has a knowledge of the wines of Emilia-Romagna second to none: first, in the past, as a regional editor for Gambero Rosso and, today, as a consultant to producers. But it was in his capacity as taster for the famous Tre Bicchiere/Three Glasses guide that Melandri became aware of the subtle characteristics of Romagna Sangiovese from Modigliana. Modigliana is a gorgeous ancient town on the cusp of the Apennines that separate Romagna from Tuscany. Here three valleys – Ibola, Tramazzo and Acerreta – converge around the pretty town.

Sangiovese has been grown in Modigliana for hundreds of years in an unspoilt environment which miraculously even today still consists of 80% woods and forests with pockets of vineyards in between. Hewn literally out of the forests, where patches had been cleared in the past, many of these vineyards, planted on sandstone and marl, have survived. Historically they are called ronchi from roncare, to cut wood.

While tasting thousands of Romagna Sangioveses blind each year, Melandri started to notice the fine tannins and elegance of the wines from Modigliana, something he discovered at the local co-op Agrintesa. Grapes delivered to the co-op come from the three different valleys, all with their own mesoclimate and, crucially, picked at different times. They are therefore vinified separately according to the day the grapes were delivered. While tasting the various tanks, Melandri began to identify stylistic differences even in an area as small as Modigliana.

In 2014 the call of the Modigliana terroir became so urgent that it set Melandri on his third career path, that of wine producer, and he founded Mutiliana. He secured the support of agronomist and oenologist Francesco Bordini, a scion of Romagna Sangiovese nobility. Bordini's father Remigio had a similar epiphany back in the 1970s when he planted several vineyards in Modigliana with Sangiovese – but facing north rather than south – in order to make long-lived red wines at the legendary Castelluccio estate. In another sign of fate, Castelluccio, after years of neglect, now employs Bordini Jr as a consultant. I will report on Castelluccio's renaissance separately.

With Bordini Jr, Melandri started to look for vineyards in each of the three valleys to prove, mostly to himself, that significant style differences would reveal themselves in the wines. Not satisfied with that, he also founded Stella dell'Appennino Modigliana, a private association which unites 10 small, artisanal producers in Modigliana leaning on Bordini's in-depth knowledge of the region in general and Sangiovese in particular, in order to promote this special terroir further.

Melandri is by no means a vigneron manqué, something that was clear from the first moment I tasted his three interpretations of the Modigliana valleys years back. But I still wasn't entirely prepared for the just-released spectacular 2018 Acereta. The valley owes its name to the maple trees (acero, aceri plural) which historically were cultivated here. It is also where Castelluccio is situated. The vineyards, with vines of 20 to 30 years old, are at 380 m (1,250 ft) elevation and are cooled during the hot summer months by the dense forests and woods on the valley floor, which act as cool-air storage, while one side of the valley opens up to cooling breezes from the Adriatic coast in the east. The freshness of the area is reflected in the wine's freshness but nevertheless there is an abundance of fruit.

Fermented by indigenous yeast in concrete the wine is aged in the same receptacle because Melandri doesn't want anything to interfere with the transparency of the wine or, in his own words: 'to allow the the expression of terroir in the purest way possible'. This is more than confirmed by my tasting note on Mutiliana, Acereta Sangiovese 2018 Romagna, Modigliana:

Lustrous deep ruby. A beautifully pure nose of dark cherry and raspberry with a subtle layer of saline mineral notes. Succulent, dark, sour cherry on the palate. Great length and lots of concentrated, tangy, dark fruit on the finish and with finely ground tannins. Much fuller than its stated 13% alcohol suggests. This is a gorgeous wine that is stylistically akin neither to Chianti Classico nor to Brunello, but is very much Modigliana. (WS) 13%
17.5 Drink 2022–2030

The Acerreta Valley is not (yet) an officially recognised geographical entity so Melandri has slightly changed the name to Acereta in order to legally be able to put the specific origin on the label. Cunning!

Melandri makes his wines in an unhurried fashion and they are aged for a couple of years before they are released. This is serious stuff any Sangiovese aficionado should become intimately acquainted with.

In the UK the wine is listed by The Sourcing Table and in the US by Eataly in New York. It is also scheduled to be included in a special offer from The Wine Society in the UK in August. Buyer Sarah Knowles MW suggested a price of £19.50 in an email but that was back in early April and we are all being made painfully aware of inflation…

See Walter's tasting notes on the wines of Mutiliana.