Mosaico di Vita | Consorzio Vini di Romagna
October 2021 | Wine

The birth of Albana Dèi: an interview with Carlo Catani

Behind the most heartfelt wine event in Romagna are two friends, one evening at a restaurant in June 2013 and a common passion for Romagna Albana DOCG. This is how Albana Dèi was born.

An interview with Carlo Catani, former professor of Slow Food’s Master of Food and administrative director of the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo from 2007 to 2011. In 2013 he launched the Tempi di Recupero project, which is now a cultural association that deals with sustainability and food loss and waste, and, together with Andrea Spada, he created Albana Dèi.

Carlo, you have an impressive résumé: professor, administrative director, event curator. What do you do now?

After living in Piedmont for a long time, working for Slow Food and at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I returned home to Faenza. I work on numerous activities: communications, promotion of the territory and local food and wine, events, consultancy and sometimes, when friends from Slow Food ask me to, I teach. But now, I dedicate most of my time to Tempi di Recupero.

What is Tempi di Recupero?

It is a Cultural Association that deals with issues such as environmental, food and social sustainability. The project started in 2013, and since then we have organized numerous events focusing on issues that we have at heart, with the participation of esteemed personalities like Carlo Petrini. This year, at Pianetto di Galeata, there will be “Festival del Recupero”, a major event that, aside from issues related to the consumption and recovery of food and water resources, will also tackle work and wine, particularly the recovery of ancient winemaking practices.

Let’s talk about wine. Albana Dèi, one of the most important wine events in Romagna, is a project you made with Andrea Spada. But before talking about how you came up with an event focusing on Romagna Albana DOCG, can I ask how you came closer to the world of wine?

Everything started from wine. In the early 90s, my friends and I learned the ropes at the Slow Food restaurant “Osteria La Baita”, in Faenza. We were young and this restaurant, which is still one of the best in terms of wine, had an endless wine list, containing more than a thousand labels. This encouraged us to directly experience food service at the “Circolo Cittadino” of Faenza during “Sesto Continente”.

The world of wine intrigued me, but I didn't know much about it. When I was young, drinking meant having fun, but after tasting truly exceptional wines, I realized what lied behind that world: agricultural practices, winemaking, communication, traditions. And in order to understand it better, I studied and traveled. Wine became something to discover and a source of interest: and everything has changed.

This may be a tricky question to answer, it’s a bit like asking which parent you prefer the most: but which is your favorite Romagna denomination wine?

The Romagna wine closest to my heart is undoubtedly Romagna Albana DOCG, because it is the most characteristic of them all. This wine cannot be found anywhere else in the world because it only grows here. And if I have to choose a red, leaving out my favorite Sangiovese, I’d say Centesimino. But the most characteristic is definitely Albana.

Certainly, the reason behind Albana Dèi is perfectly clear… But was it love at first sight? Or rather, at first sip?

No, the first glass of Albana did not ignite the spark. Consider that I had my first taste of Albana at the time of my grandfather, who used to grow it. We are talking about a wine made with little or no technology, an unsophisticated version that often completed alcoholic fermentation in the bottle. I remember that more than one bottle exploded in the cellar. Those bottles of Albana di Romagna are etched in my memory, but it was other Romagna Albana DOCG wines that made me fall in love.

Some time ago, several Albana wines were produced without considering their territory of origin, stripping them of their identity. The vignerons followed an “international” model, making these wines similar to Burgundian Chardonnays. Adopting the French model is not a problem, but we have other things to convey, other potential. The Romagna Albana DOCG wines that made me fall in love with this grape were those that genuinely expressed its originality with every glass. These were fruits of experiments and various attempts: today, these are part of the common language of enthusiasts, but it was not like that in the past. Long macerations with a very thick phenolic skin, a white wine dressed in red. I have finally fallen in love with it after having a glimpse of its potential.

Let's get to the main topic: how did the idea of Albana Dèi come about?

The idea of creating an event dedicated to Albana came to be at a restaurant, in June 2013. I was in Brisighella with Andrea Spada, who was the other half of this project. We were talking about the potential of Albana and how an event could indeed help out many producers. Given our line of work, we both had a lot of acquaintances among curators and judges of various guides, such as Gianni Fabrizio and Vittorio Manganelli.

After this conversation, we had two goals: first, we had to make producers aware of the extraordinary potential of Albana and show industry experts that Romagna had excellent products that they should try. To do this, we asked the producers of Romagna Albana DOCG to send us samples to be forwarded to our friends, who were curators of wine guides. In the first year, we received no more than 30 to 40 samples. At present, those numbers have almost doubled.

Although this might sound crazy, our second goal aimed at creating a sense of awareness among the people of Romagna regarding the territory. Nobody drank Albana and Sangiovese, and wine lists at restaurants did not have them available. Perhaps there were some Romagna Sangiovese DOC labels, but Albana was nowhere to be found.

The first goal is clear, but how did you manage to involve the locals if, as you say, hardly anyone knew that Romagna Albana DOCG existed?

In order to attract people, we would say “Come and taste and give your opinion on the 9 best Romagna Albana DOCG secco wines in the world”. And this was true since, as I mentioned, Albana does not grow anywhere else. It was a communication technique, but it was true, and it worked.

And how did it go? It seems to me that it all went well given that this year marks the ninth edition of Albana Dèi. I would like to know how one of the most important wine events in Romagna came to be.

At our first edition, or perhaps zero edition, we had our friends from Romagna and some curators of national wine guides, such as Masnaghetti, Manganelli, Fabrizio. We created a group of friends who did a technical tasting in Brisighella, then we brought the 9 finalists for a public tasting in Brisighella and Dozza. We contemplated two stages during which the people had to express a non-technical judgment. They only had to rank the top three: it was a way to create awareness, engage them and make them feel proud of a native grape endowed with so much potential.

On the second year, given that the people enjoyed the previous edition, we contacted the Consorzio Vini di Romagna: they immediately liked the idea and, since then, we work together to make Albana Dèi as it is today. Since the first edition, we wanted it to be a traveling event to be held in May, at the same time as Maggio Faentino. During the first years, we were only present in Brisighella and Dozza, whose squares have seen our beginnings. Over time, we ended up covering 4 to 5 locations, including Oriolo and Bertinoro.

Some people may not know it, but what do you “win” by participating as a producer at Albana Dèi?

Albana Dèi gives 2 different awards: the first is “Albana Dèi”, awarded to the best Romagna Albana DOCG wines; the second recognition, “Indigeno del Cuore – Premio Valter dal Pane”, is awarded largely by popular vote and it goes to the best wines made with Albana grapes, making it possible even for IGP or table wines to be included among the 7 finalists. I would like to stress one thing: we are in Romagna and popular vote is worth thrice compared to a judge’s vote. This is a way to make room for innovative expressions and experimentations that can enhance Albana or surprise the judges and the popular jury, a chance to see the vine’s possible enological evolution.

You talked about packed squares and traveling events, things that we haven’t seen in the last year. How has the Albana Dèi changed after Covid-19?

The pandemic has definitely brought in some changes. Last year, we moved Albana Dèi in October in order to ensure a safe event for visitors, judges and sommeliers. Unfortunately, we only had one public tasting in the square, and it was held in Bertinoro. But the pandemic has also introduced something new: collaboration with restaurateurs. A few restaurants were still open in October, so we took the opportunity to organize tasting and voting events for patrons, who could taste Romagna Albana DOCG paired with certain dishes.

And what can we expect from this ninth edition?

We will be back to public tastings at the squares, with people enjoying the wines in person. This year, we want to be back in full force, covering 6 instead of the usual 4 locations. Mercato Saraceno and Castrocaro Terme, which have never hosted public tastings, will be new locations, but we will still be in the historic squares of Brisighella, Dozza, Oriolo and Bertinoro. It is a return to what the Albana Dèi has been until last year.

Considering all the editions held, are you satisfied with what the Albana Dèi was and has become? Has anything changed since that evening in June 2013 when it all started?

After nine years, I think that something good must have certainly happened when, in 2015, Wine Enthusiast ranked a Romagna Albana DOCG among the 25 best wines in the world. This result has been possible not only because of our work, but of the entire movement behind Albana Dèi. Before Albana Dèi, no Romagna Albana DOCG had ever received any kind of recognition: but now, some have even been awarded with Tre Bicchieri, an evident sign that awareness has grown. Then, the fact that many producers will not be able to participate this year because they do not have bottles left is an incredible feat. What I mean is that even if they pass the technical stage, they will not have enough wine for the public tastings. This is a sign of how times have positively changed. Albana, the vine that was once uprooted to make room for Sauvignon and Chardonnay, is now being re-planted.

One last question: how do you expect to or hope for Albana Dèi to evolve in the future? Will it change or remain wonderfully the same, remaining faithful to the most profound spirit of Romagna?

Albana Dèi has already evolved a lot over time: instead of talking about what will it become, I would like to tell you what I hope for it. I would like for restaurants to become more active participants; for popular votes to come from the public tastings at the squares, but also from events with dedicated menus at restaurants, just like we did last time. In short, what I want and what we all want is to create new bridges and expand further, even abroad, where Albana will surely be enjoyed and appreciated.