The food and wine that are paramount to Italian culture date back to ancient times. The relationship between the Emilia region and the Lambrusco grape appears to have lasted for millennia -- archaeologists have found fossilized remains of the Vitis Labrusca plant that are between 12,000 and 20,000 years old. These fruits were almost certainly wild rather than cultivated.
The birth of wine production in Emilia-Romagna probably occurred in the seventh century B.C., in the Villanovan civilization in the Po Valley [source: DiWine Taste]. Evidence also suggests that the Etruscans cultivated Lambrusco in the area and may have been the ones to bequeath the practice of viticulture to central Italy [source: Muhawi]. Certainly the industry was in full stride by the height of the Roman Empire, as evidenced in the writings of the poet Virgil and the scholar Pliny the Elder that refer specifically to the Lambrusco grape and its nature.
The naturalist Marcus Terentius Varro, whose work "De Re Rustica" (On Agriculture) influenced both writers, confirmed that Albana, Trebbiano and Spergola grapes were being grown in the Po River valley in the first century B.C. [source: DiWine Taste]. And according to a legend dating from the fifth century A.D., a daughter of the Roman emperor was offered Albana wine in a small Romagnan village and exclaimed that such a beverage should be drunk in gold (in Latin, "berti in oro"). Thus, the village took the name Bertinoro.
Over the years, wines have developed and thrived in certain locations, with specific grapes and cultivation techniques suited to the conditions of the soil and climate. Local wines and foods have evolved in close association with each other. Emilia-Romagna is the source of many treasures of Italian cuisine, such as parmigiano reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma and other cured meats. The unique wines of the region are meant to complement the flavors of the local cuisine.
How do they do it? What's in that soil? Read on to learn more.