San Marino might have a small population — just 34,000 citizens — but it also has an intriguing and long history, stretching nearly two millennia. Now this nation, land-locked by Italy, is sending its wine to China.
In this Q&8, I asked three guys from exhibition company Wine to Asia — Lorenzo Riccardi (president and also San Marino’s rep in China), Bill Liu (project manager) and Simone Incontro (overall brand manager) — about the recent inaugural San Marino wine event in Shenzhen, the size and scope of the country’s wine sector, what makes the wines special, the national dish Piadina, and more. Thanks to Angela Zhou for the event photos.
1 San Marino has made wine for a thousand years and now it is flowing to China. How did that happen!?
Riccardi It happened thanks to Wine to Asia and to San Marino’s aspirations to make wine the symbol of its small and ancient republic.
We are also now marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between China and San Marino, and the aim is to increase cultural and economic exchanges between the two countries, to build closer connections with the diverse consumer market in China and also all over Asia.
2 You guys recently organized the first in-depth San Marino tasting in China. What was the experience for attendees of that Shenzhen event?
Liu It was really unique. Contrary to traditional masterclasses, which are almost always held in conference rooms, we held an al fresco tasting on the terrace of wine bar weeknd, one of the earliest and finest natural and biodynamic-focused wine bars in southern China. It was again an honor to work with them on a beautiful and sunny afternoon.
I was fortunate to speak for San Marino. We tasted six wines: a Chardonnay-based Brut sparkling wine, a Ribolla-based dry white wine, three Sangiovese-based dry red wines and a Moscato to finish things off.
It was the first time any of the attendees had tasted San Marino wines and they absolutely loved them!
A sommelier from Wine Universe Shenzhen noted the “vibrancy and smoothness of the wines” while an Italian importer praised their high quality and said they were “interesting and niche alternatives for the more known Italian wines such as those from Tuscany.”
3 What are the main grape varieties in San Marino? How big is the industry?
Liu The wine industry is really small with annual production of around 1 million bottles. An overwhelming majority of the wines were produced under the local consortium, the Consorzio Vini Tipici di San Marino / Cantina di San Marino, which takes in grapes from more than 100 growers.
As its location in central Italy suggests, San Marino cultivates high quality Sangiovese, which is also the country’s most important grape variety. Just as anywhere else in Italy, Sangiovese here can be expressed in different styles, ranging from refreshing to structured and complex. In terms of white grapes, Ribolla and Biancale are the most influential. Moscato Bianco is also used to produce sweet and fizzy whites not unlike Asti.
4 San Marino borders significant Italian wine regions. Does its own climate and geography make its wines special?
Liu Yes, in fact, San Marino is sandwiched between the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Marche, while Tuscany is also close by to the west. One can have an approximate idea of San Marino’s climate based on this.
The San Marino terroirs are influenced by Monte Titano, a limestone cliff that rises about 700 meters above the level of the sea, from which the area also receives a positive effect. The climate is a mix of Mediterranean and Continental influences, which ensures the ripening of the grapes while retaining a good amount of acidity.
In short, the terroirs and climate of San Marino create wines that are ripe, vibrant, fresh and charming.
5 Based on the San Marino wines you have tasted, what Chinese foods would work best?
Liu The Ribolla dry white is one my favorites of the tasting. Apart from alluring ripe fruits and white flowers on the nose, the wine maintains a remarkable balance between its generous mouthfeel and vibrant acidity.
I would pair it with Cantonese-style steamed fish with plum sauce. The acidity of the wine would for sure bring out the umami of the fish, while the bright fruit profiles of the wine would echo in the plum sauce.
One of the Sangiovese-based wines, Tessano, is a suitable pairing for the northern China style of pig knuckles. This is a highly structured wine with fine-grained high tannins and mouthwatering acidity. The Tessano will cut through the fatness of the pig knuckles and I can imagine the rich gravy and gelatin would go wonderfully with this full-bodied and expressive wine.
6 I read that the top Sammarinese comfort food is Piadina. What is it?
Riccardi Piadina is the traditional flatbread of San Marino. Its has a centuries-old culinary history that can be appreciated by anyone around the world. Simple and popular ingredients, such as wheat flour and lard or olive oil, are used to make a flatbread that is traditionally cooked on an earthenware dish and stuffed with ingredients, including ham.
Thanks to its versatility and tastiness, piadina can be enjoyed with both sweet and salty condiments, and at any time of the day.
7 What are three things that people should know about San Marino beyond wine?
Riccardi San Marino is the smallest republic in the world. It became a member of the Council of Europe in 1988 and the United Nations in 1992. Both San Marino’s historic center and its Mount Titano were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.
Second, with a population of about 34,000, San Marino is the smallest country to have won an Olympic medal, with a silver and two bronzes at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Third, San Marino is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, with two captain regents who serve as heads of state. San Marino is believed to have the oldest written constitution that is still in use.
8 What other events are ahead for San Marino wines in China?
Incontro San Marino was one of the first countries to join the Wine to Asia fair schedule this year and the San Marino tasting held on February 26 in Shenzhen was among the most anticipated masterclasses. We were very careful to organize the event safely in light of the COVID situation, including safe distancing.
The beautiful pairing to this unique masterclass was that I saw San Marino served as a “wine by the glass” at Wine Universe Shenzhen that same night. When I arrived at Wine Universe at midnight and I saw that, I was very glad and it made my day.
Looking ahead, Wine to Asia in May in Shenzhen will have a San Marino pavilion and we plan to take the wines on a four-city tour in China in the second half of this year. We also plan to do a tasting with Grape Wall of China in Beijing before May.
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