In search of an emerging wine region? Love good food, and exciting regions shaping the quality of fine wine, food and travel? Look no further than Oltrepo Pavese, Italy.
Oltrepo Pavese is a region 45 minutes outside of Milan, sandwiched between Piedmont and Emilia Romagna. Both of those regions are known for specific wines throughout the world and for a while, Oltrepo had been overlooked, cast as a bulk wine region. However, much to my surprise, the new wines they are producing are outstanding, of the highest quality and are beginning to get the recognition and acclaim they deserve.
In Oltrepo, the winemakers talk about the major changes taking place in the past 10-15 years on the quality, climate and in winemaking itself. In the region, there is evidence of winemaking for 4000 years, but in the past 100 years, the majority of wine was made for bulk wine, in large quantities and volumes for people to drink through the day. It was fashion in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s to have a glass or two of wine at work for lunch and then a bottle each for dinner. However with changes in regulations and new understandings of health, rules and regulations were put in to slow the consumption of wine. At the same time, many small farmers who were farming other crops, grew their own grapes in the fertile soil throughout northern Italy, making small batch wine for family and close friends.
About 10-15 years ago, the region needed a change. The larger producers weren’t doing well, the younger generation were moving out to Milan and throughout the world, not finding opportunity and interest at home in the Oltrepo Pavese region. Many of those children, now adults, grew up with a love of the land and, after moving away, began to see wine in a different way. This next generation has started moving home, buying up their family’s land and making quality, small batch wine, organically, healing the land, and making much more hand-selected, hand-crafted deliberate fine wine. Here we find why this region is emerging and will soon be well known. This is happening all over Lombardy, but none more so than Oltrepo-Pavese.
What makes Oltrepo stand out from the other emerging regions of Lombardy is not just the beautiful hills, small towns with castles and newly built wineries side by side with the antiquities and ancient cellars that have stood in this region for thousands of years, but the selection of exceptional wine is now giving consumers more options with greater quality at a lower price point.
In the US Champagne has become very expensive. Oltrepo Pavese is making high quality, hand crafted exceptional sparkling wines using the methode champenoise (Metodo Classico) and the mousse (Perlage) and flavors are crisp, red berries, brioche, toast; outstanding. The Pinot Noir (Burgundy clone) is refined and you can find styles ranging from Oregonian to Burgundian. Riesling is also a top quality in the region (there you will find both Italian Riesling clone which is a “drink now, do not age wine” and Rhine Riesling which is able to age for 20+ years) as well as their Bonarda and Buttafuoco, however the samples of the Metodo Classico and the Pinot Noir were knock your socks off fantastic. (When I write “rising in quality”, honestly all of the many we tasted are already there in terms of quality).
The region is fascinating in that they are still a huge producer of wine in Italy, however many of the bigger wineries have reduced their production, removing existing vineyards, essentially downsizing to increase the quality of yields, and only planting very selectively in specific areas after a great deal of research into the soil, aspect and in depth plans for vine locations. They are converting the rest of the land to forests or other natural areas to bring back the integrity of the land.
The smaller farmers turned winemakers are upping their game as well, selectively choosing their smaller plots and augmenting their vineyards with sustainable vineyards, carefully chosen elements like growing hazelnuts, inviting in bee keepers and making exceptional honey, adding residences where guests can vacation in elegance, among the vines, harvest their own truffles, eggs, cheese, fruits and veggies and have a real agrotourism experience.
The fine restaurants are beginning to emerge, supplying tourists with a new version of hospitality. There are small towns, markets, kind people hoping you will enjoy their beautiful area of Italy. This is an explored but often overlooked tourist area. Even the hotel we stayed at was a small, historic inn located in the heart of Pavia. The courtyard was delightful with plants and flowers throughout. The hostess was wonderful, taking care of all of our needs and so very kind. The room was clean, spacious and had all we needed. The breakfast was perfect to begin a day of wine tasting. I only wish I had more time to stroll the small town and visit the shops. There will be a next time!
I recently ran a small wine tasting back in the US with Oltrepo Pavese wines. The attendees thought they were at a general tasting of fine wines. Some of these clients were naysayers concerning Italian wine, sharing that they found Italian wines to be too acidic and earthy (the reds of course) and the whites were not complex or exciting to them (Pinot Grigio). After trying the wines I served, these consumers were completely swayed, some shocked to find out where the wines were from and to learn of the price points.
I highly recommend consumers begin to look for Oltrepo Pavese wines as a wine lover of any of these varietals. Burgundy and Champagne move over. Your price points have been very high for US consumers, but I would certainly purchase from these Oltrepo Pavese wineries we were fortunate to experience.
Below is the list of the wines from Oltrepo Pavese which I served in the tasting along with feedback from the consumers. There are many more I didn’t have the fortune to experience or the ability to bring back to taste with my clients that were standouts as well.
Castello di Luzzano (well known winemaker and artist, she pioneered woman winemaking in the region, invited to make DaVinci’s wine; beautiful views and historical church), La Versa Terre d’Oltrepò (cooperative making top quality sparkling wine and also bulk wine using many growers to source their grapes), Dino Torti (exceptional Sparkling Wine and Pinot Noir, making terrific wines for small exclusive labels), Agriturismo La Colombina – I Doria https://www.vinidoria.it/(amazing lunch, tour and wine, great history, beautiful restaurant), Castello di Stefanago (biodynamic, natural wines, Castello and tower with incredible history), Tenuta Frecciarossa (sustainable farm, organic, sparkling and reds incredible quality and value, residences to stay), Cà di Frara (beautiful vineyards on the Road to Riesling, quartz boulder in fields, exceptional Riesling and Pinot Noir), Conte Vistarino (bulk wines to high quality, daughter purchased and has been reducing yields, great Pinot Noir, state of the art winemaking, beautiful facilities), Azienda Agricola e Ristorante il Feudo Nicohttps://www.ilfeudonico.it/i-vini/.
2016 Testa Rossi La Versa
- Produces bulk wine but also chooses the best quality grapes from 200 producers for their top wines, sparking wine from Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio
- Cooperative Winery large producer with 100 years of production
- First 22 shareholders, on 21 May 1905 – decided make top-quality wines able to embody the best grapes in home region
- Sparkling wines started in 1930 the Gran Spumante Brut – in 1935 that was the first traditional method Italian sparkling wine
Torti Gran Carisma Castelrotto Brut Nature DOCG
- Pinot Nero, grapes selected and harvested entirely by hand, produced on Borgogna hill, in Montecalvo Versiggia on the 45th parallel: the synonym of great oenological prestige.
- Fresh, elegant, with a fine perlage (mousse)
- Really fun winery, Tony Moore wrote “No Torti, No Party” for them after they agreed to produce his wines, Route 66, just being released in the US – https://music.apple.com/us/album/no-torti-no-party-single/1520284480
Amico Frizz – Castello di Stefanago
This wine was an absolute standout in the tasting. The guests were delighted by the effervescence, the adorable label and the delight on their tongue. The aroma is highly aromatic, stone fruit, citrus, but the bright effervescence from the Pet/Nat style makes it dry, delightful and makes you want more. It is a playful beverage meant to share with friends.
- Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Müller-Thurgau blend
- Certified organic farming (for 20 years), unfined, unfiltered and undisgorged
- Only 380 cases made
- Winery sits on 135 hectares of land, but only the best 20 are planted to vines, and done so in tiny plots scattered around the property
- Castello – continuously occupied since it was built in the 11th century
- Beautiful 11th century lookout tower
Ca di Frara Mornico Pinot Nero, Ca di Frara Oliva Pinot Nero 18, Ca Di Frara Losana Pinot Nero 17
- I served these three head to head to really taste the differences. This 100% pinot noir is all from the same winery, close vintages, vinified the same way, from different plots with different soils and different exposures to the sun. All beautiful ruby red.
- Losana: more acidic, lighter flavors and colors, very savory, strawberry graham crackers, slightly burnt on the finish. Exceptional with soft cheeses.
- Oliva: (crowd favorite) delightful, round palate. Red berry, cherry flavors, complex with a long finish
- Mornico: in between the other two. Medium acidity, berry, cherry, savory with a great salinity
- Winery located on “The Road to Riesling”, 20 wineries are located on this exceptional road
- The Sparkling and dry Rieslings were outstanding
Frecciarosso Aramari Rosso Riserva 2018
This was one of my favorite visits. I plan to come back and stay at the home they rent out. The food, wine and especially the honey were out of this world. Peaceful, beautiful agro-tourism.
Though their sparkling wine was my favorite, this deep red wine is made from a field blend of traditional grapes: Croatina, Barbera, Uva Rara, Vespolina
- Vines are 45 years, organic and sustainable
- Bright ruby, Rose, red and black fruits, black pepper, balsamic
- Age for 20 years
And just for fun, I served this last wine. It is not from Oltrepo Pavese, but from the same overall region of Lombardy. It received high acclaim from my clients so I am sharing here:
Camunnorum 2017: exceptional deep red wine, exceptionally balanced. Merlot, Marzemino and Cabernet, representing the best vineyards of the Camonica Valley, partly dried and then vinified with the traditional system, aged 15 months in small oak barrels
- an intense ruby red color
- fruity, cherry and wild berries, spices and vanilla from oak
- with game-based dishes and aged cheeses