A Venturini Baldini Epicurean Guide to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Region
Now that international travel has (cautiously?) opened back up, a new phenomenon has emerged which has been somewhat misleadingly labeled “revenge travel.” All it really means is, since COVID had the better of us for some seventeen months, we’re now going to show the virus who is really in charge by, say, taking twice as many trips as we might have in the coming months – Delta Variant be damned.
When it comes to specifically Europe, this means that the Piazza di Spagna, the Boulevard Saint Germain, the Alexanderplatz, et al will be doubly or triply thronged. So if it is indeed true that the best revenge is living well, that probably means instead finding that particularly special place that few others already have. And one such place is most definitely Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, just above the Northern reaches of Tuscany. It has relatively undiscovered (by Americans) cities like Bologna, Parma and the seaside Rimini – but is also rich with vineyards and all manner of other epicurean treasures.
A particular treasure is Lambrusco, the refined but delightful bubbly wine that keeps threatening to catch on again in a serious way in America (it was big in the ’80s). Julia and Giuseppe Prestia were certainly counting on just that when in 2015 they purchased the Venturini Baldini estate in Roncolo, Reggio Emilia, now a certified organic winery which offers tastings and tours, and boasts a gorgeous 11-room inn, Roncolo 1888, and the stylish gastronomic restaurant Taglierè in Limonaia (fitted into a historic greenhouse). It’s all surrounded by 130 hectares of sublime, rustic natural beauty.
We engaged Julia in an enlightening discussion about the estate, the region, and of course the wine – and also asked her for her list of top epicurean destinations all around Emilia-Romagna.
What ultimately inspired you to leave London and take over Venturini Baldini in 2015?
After many years abroad, and especially once we had our children, as a family we had a strong wish to return to our roots and come back to Italy. For other work-related reasons we spent a lot of time in Emilia, which as the Food Valley of Italy is home to many excellent producers. When we discovered Venturini Baldini it was love at first sight: we fell in love with the terroir, the history and the project of bringing the winery back to its old glory and beyond.
It was founded as a winery in 1976 – are there some historical highlights from before you were there?
For centuries the estate was a private residence of noble families, most recently the family of the Marchesi Manodori, Governors of Reggio Emilia. The foundations of the villa go back to the 16th century. Then, in 1976, Carlo Venturini and Beatrice Baldini founded the agricultural estate of Venturini Baldini, which is the name we operate under today.
Can you give a little “mission statement” for the winery?
Our mission is to make Venturini Baldini a point of reference in Emilia, a name synonymous with a new generation of Lambrusco: dry, organic, modern. Our organic winery is unique in Emilia, located in the foothills of the Apennines – a beautiful, peaceful oasis in nature. We opened our doors to become a place where people meet and exchange ideas, discover the magic of the Food Valley, and/or simply unwind with a glass of Lambrusco.
Tell us a bit about Lambrusco, and also specifically those that you produce?
It is really an incredibly versatile wine – fresh, easy to drink and perfect both as an aperitivo and with meals. Lambrusco is the name for a large family of grape varieties, all with their own unique characteristics. People are discovering it as a bubbly that is an unpretentious, happy and social wine. While universally known for the varietal’s red sparkling wines, over the last few decades Lambrusco grapes have also been used to produce dry, fragrant sparkling rosé wines. Consumers have been very receptive to this new generation of dry premium Lambrusco, which is a departure from the “cheap and cheerful” sweet fizzy wines served with ice cubes that consumers were introduced to in the 1980s.
Venturini Baldini has always been an innovative, forward-thinking winery, as the first producer to create a dry spumante Lambrusco in the 1980s: the Rubino del Cerro. More recently, we created our Ca del Vento, a sparkling rosé made of a blend of Sorbara and Grasparossa grapes, which has become one of the most awarded wines from our region. Our Marchese Manodori is a modern, dry interpretation of the traditional Lambruscos from our area, and the Montelocco is a fresh, young semi-sec style that pairs well with summer BBQs and as an aperitivo.
What other wines is Venturini Baldini known for?
Our strength and history is one of a sparkling wine producer, both Lambrusco and sparkling rosé wines such as the Ca del Vento, but also white sparkling wines. It is important for us to show the great diversity and depth of wines from Emilia, and together with our former enologist Carlo Ferrini, we launched a line of still wines from ancestral varieties that had previously been somewhat forgotten. We gave them a new identity and want to show the great potential of wines coming from our terroir – those wines beyond our Lambruscos.
How would you describe Emilia-Romagna in terms of its food and wine?
Emilia-Romagna is known for being a very authentic region in Italy. People work hard here and are very friendly, very down to earth. I think this is reflected in the region’s food and wine. The food is delicious, heartwarming, and unpretentious, as is the wine – honest, social, easy to drink. Lambrusco is a serious wine but not complicated.
What are some of the other highlights of the region?
The region has so much to offer, and it is really the new place to discover in Italy. From the seaside in Romagna, the Food- and Motor Valleys in Emilia, the culture and art of cities like Bologna, Ravenna and Parma to name just a few, the wonderful nature of the Apennine mountains – there is really something for everyone.
What are the things you love most about Emilia Romagna?
My husband would say Ferrari, Maserati, Ducati. I’d add the people and the easy-going atmosphere, the food, and of course Lambrusco!
Julia Prestia’s Guide to Epicurean Emilia Romagna
Antica Corte Pallavicina, Polesine Parmense
An atmospheric relais, Antica Corte Pallavicina is located in a 14th Century fortified castle. In addition to charmingly rustic rooms, there is a unique and unforgettable Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant that focuses on culatello, the famous ham from Parma, as well as regional cheeses. The first thing that greets you is an imposing iron pig, making it clear that he is king here.
Clinica Gastronomica Arnaldo, Rubiera
Opened in Rubiera in 1936 by Chef Arnaldo Degoli and his wife Lina, the history of cooking was basically written by Arnaldo himself. Clinica Gastronomica Arnaldo received its first Michelin star in 1959, and has kept it for more than sixty years, something no other restaurant in Italy can boast. Here you will find a table full of tradition – fresh pasta, cured meats, Italian pastries – and stories of an ancient past, these days under the direction of Chef Roberto Bottero and his wife Ramona.
Il Vicolo, Rimini
Piadina is the Romagna regional flatbread sandwich, which is actually a lighter version of the panini. The charmingly unassuming Il Vicolo is the best place to try one – along with local sausage, polenta and cold cuts.
Casa Minghetti, Bologna
A trendy little bar with a buzzy, see-and-be-seen patio spilling onto its beautiful namesake piazza. Though Italy hasn’t fully embraced mixology culture, at Casa Minghetti it’s practiced as an art – and there’s even a whiskey and cedar juice cocktail named, of course, Dolce Vita.
Osteria Francescana, Modena
This elegant Emilian temple of gastronomy in the center of Modena was voted the World’s Best Restaurant in both 2016 and 2018. And at Massimo Bottura’s three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana nothing is left to chance from start to finish – especially when it comes to the €290 tasting menu. But it’s not without its sense of humor, with a pasta creation called Misery and Nobility, and the daily pork dish listed simply as This Little Piggy Went to Market.
Settimo Piano, Riccione
On the seventh-floor terrace of the Hotel Lungomare, Settimo Piano is a trendy seafood restaurant and lounge boasting stunning sea views. With its cool, contemporary white-on-white decor, it is Italian movie star chic, and has one of the best aperitivo scenes in the region.
Salumeria Simoni, Bologna
No visit to Bologna is complete without a stroll along the buzzing Via delle Pescherie Vecchie, one of the best foodie streets in Italy. Salumeria Simoni is one of the top specialty food shops in the city, especially for cured meats and cheeses, where one can enjoy a delicious platter of cold cuts with a glass of Lambrusco at one of the great-for-people-watching sidewalk tables.
Tucked away in a quiet Rimini backstreet, Biberius is dedicated to the Roman emperor Tiberius, known for his love of good wine and good food. There’s a cellar with wines by the glass and plates of local cheese and salami, an enoteca / wine shop, and a cozy terrace out front.
Gente di Mare, Cattolica
Excellent cuisine with an impeccable location, Gente di Mare serves delicious seafood (fritto misto di gamberi, calamari e verdurine; tagliata di tonno con misticanza e verdure croccanti), and with its private dock can actually be reached by boat. The terrace has splendid views of the Adriatic, especially at sunset.