Last month I had the opportunity to gather virtually with a bunch of my favorite wine people. Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications presented a seminar on Oltrepò Pavese entitled “Beyond the Po in the region of Pavia,” as well as 3 media samples of wines of the region.
Our 3 weeks in Northern Italy had been busy, and while there was a group that traveled to Oltrepò Pavese, I was away in Valtellina at that time. I had been near the region without actually getting to visit. Many of my colleagues enjoyed a visit to the region, and I saw it through their eyes and writing. I’ll link to at least one of those at the end so that you can see some first-hand vineyard shots.
The wines in this article were recieved as media samples. No other compensation was recieved. All opinions remain my own.
A bit about Oltrepò Pavese DOC
Sitting 40 kilometers from Milan, this area was part of Piemonte before the unification. Run by a king, this noble region ran under “Medzadria,” a feudal system with sharecroppers. While this was outlawed in the 1960s and 70s, it had been prevalent in central Italy for many years.
Oltrepò Pavese sits in the region of Pavia within Lombardia, making up the southwest corner of the area.
The name “Oltrepò Pavese” means the other side of the Pò from Pavia
The Consorzio was founded in the 1960s, and they received their DOC in 1977.
This DOC covers more land than any other Lombardia region. Beginning south of the Po River, it runs North toward the Ligurian Apennines. There are microclimates from the mountains and the sea.
The area is hilly, with vineyards sitting 300-400 meters above sea level. Straddling the 45 parallel, the region has 4 valleys that run north to south (beginning on the west side of the region)
- Valle Stafora
- Valle Coppa
- Valle Scuropasso
- Valle Versa
With these 4 valleys, you find a diversity of soils and microclimates. In this grape bunch-shaped DOC (do another take on the shape!), you will find 13,500 hectares of vines that account for 60% of Lombardia’s viticulture.
Within this large DOC, you will find 6 nested DOCs and 1 DOCG
Grapes of Oltrepò Pavese
The Primary varieties grown here are led by 4 main grapes, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) with 3000 hectares, followed by Croatina, Barbera, and Riesling.
You will also find Uva Rara, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Cortese Bianco, Ughetta (or Vespolina), Malvasia, Moscato, and Müller-Thurgau. At one time in the late 1800s, this region boasted 59 varieties of grapes (some records show up to 225). Today, there are about 10 that are widely grown. But they are working on recovering native vines, and up to about 15 native varieties have been recovered, including Mordella, Mornasca, Croà, and Verdea.
Pinot Nero in Oltrepò Pavese
We mentioned Pinot Nero is widely grown here, so it should be no surprise that Sparkling wines are made in this region. It was 1870 when there was the first mention of “champagne” in the region. In the 1900s, sparkling wines took off—all the more bubbles for those roaring 20s.
Pinot Nero is made in still and sparkling styles here. While I was a bit sad at not receiving bubbles samples, I received a beautiful Pinot Nero from Tenuta Mazzolino.
Owned by the Braggiotti family since 1980. Enrico Baggiotti came upon the hill that the local people already called “the Pinot Nero hill.” When Enrico read an article on him, Winemaker Kyriakos Kynigopoulos had been making a name for himself in Bourgogne. Enrico invited him to join the team to bring the Bourgogne influence. Today Enrico’s granddaughter Francesca Seralvo is at the helm.
They have 30 hectares with 20 under vine. These are broken into 39 small plots. Each is managed separately. They keep the yields low and work sustainably, with cover crops and no chemical fertilizers, and look to express the place through these wines.
Tenuta Mazzolino Terrazze Pinot Nero 2020
This wine is 100% Pinot Nero from 4 hectares of vines. The Pinot Nero includes grapes from Rocca, Fontana, Auror, and Corvino blocks. This is their “village” wine, which they say is “the whole hill in a bottle.”
Planted in 2000, these vines sit 180-220 meters above sea level with western exposure. Slopes in this area run from 15-40%.
The soils are clay loam with sandstone and chalky substrate. The wine does a destemmed whole berry fermentation and spends 6 months in tank.
Medium ruby in the glass, the nose was filled with forest floor, garrigue, tobacco, cola red cherry, and spice.
13% abv SRP $18.99
It might surprise you to hear of Riesling being grown here. I certainly was. I had read that the region grew Riesling Italico (Welsch Riesling), and when I saw one of my samples listed as “Riesling,” that is what I anticipated I was getting. The Oxford Companion (page 520) notes that Welsch Riesling was one of the region’s most significant white grape plantings and noted it as “bland.”
It turns out that the wine I received is “Riesling Renano,” which is Riesling proper. You will find more and more acres of vines being converted from Riesling Italico to Riesling Renano in the area around Oliva.
This family-run winery makes sparkling wines, red wines, whites, and rosés. The name, Ca’ di Frara, is the location, the local way of saying “Casa Ferrari,” which is near the village of Mornico Losana. The winery was founded in 1905 by Giovanni Bellani, the great-grandfather of Luca, who owns the winery today. Luca leads the winery and is the oenologist, His mother, Daniela, and his brother Matteo, help to run the business. Susannah says they are a bit of a “cult” figure in the area.
Ca’ di Frara Riesling 2019
The Riesling we enjoyed came from the Oliva Gessi region, where the soils are calcareous and chalky. The vines sit 120-180 meters above sea level on North and Northwest slopes.
This wine does cold maceration for 48 hours and spends 2 years in the bottle.
The color of the wine in my glass was deeper than I expected. This wine had pronounced notes of white peach, lime zest, lemon, and mineral, with a bit of petrol. It was unripe peach, lemon, and wet stone in my mouth. While it was round in my mouth, it also had this sense of spritz, not in bubbles, but it left my palate feeling cleansed in the same way. It had great acidity that was not too intense.
I found a tartness on the sides of my tongue and a bit of pleasant funkiness, like cider.
It’s a wine I would look for again!
13.5% abv SRP around $13.00 US
Buttafuoco dell’ Oltrepò Pavese DOC
Buttafuoco is a style of wine. The word itself means “thrown into the fire” or “spit-fire,” depending on where you look.
These wines are primarily Barbera and Croatina, with the remaining Uva Rara or Vespolina. These are red wines that are still or semi-sparkling.
You find these wines in 7 communes just a few miles southeast of the town of Pavia.
Family roots go deep with the Verdi. Antonio Verdi came to Oltrepò Pavese from Parma in the 18th century. He started a farm growing wheat, corn, as well as mulberry leaves to feed silkworms. While grapes were planted, they were not the primary part of the agriculture. It was 2 more generations before Luigi Verdi began making wine.
After World War II, Bruno Verdi was the first to bottle the wine, and he put his name on the label. His son Paolo now runs the estate.
Bruno Verdi Biognaioli Buttafuoco DOC 2021
This wine is a blend of 50% Croatia, 24% Barbera, 15% Uva Rara, and 10% Ughetta di Canneto.
The vineyards for this wine are located in Canneto Pavese and Castana at 150-200 meters above sea level. The grapes are destemmed and gently pressed with a 2-day cold soak. The wine is fermented with a pied de cuve of indigenous yeast in stainless steel and then goes into concrete tanks for 6 months.
With a pronounced nose of mint, black cherry, blackberry, black, plum, licorice, and spice, this wine was tart, rich and bright. I think I noted “zingy” as I was tasting it.
13.5% abv $19.99 SRP
Other wines of the Oltrepò Pavese
There are several other Wines to be aware of in the region, although we did not sample them.
Don’t confuse this with Bonarda from the Piemonte. Bonarda Piemontese is a red grape variety used to soften the tannins in Nebbiolo.
The Bonarda DOC was established in 1970. This wine is a minimum of 85% Croatina, with the remainder a potential blend of Barbera, Ughetta (also called Vespolina), and Uva Rara.
Bonarda is made in both still and frizzante styles.
Sangue di Giuda DOC
This DOC has a story. The name means “Blood of Judas,” and several versions of this story exist. One is that Judas was resurrected and allowed to redeem himself by doing penance. He appeared in Oltrepò, in the small village of Broni. The village vines were under a plague that required a blood sacrifice to cure. Judas offered himself but was saved as a mysterious force held back the knife. Another version of the story claims that the townspeople recognized Judas and wanted to kill him. He was saved when he prayed to cure the vines.
Regardless, the miracle of the saved vines called for celebration, and this sweet red wine was created.
These sweet wines are a blend of Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara, Ughetta, and Pino Nero.
Additional information and resources
Oltrepò Pavese is a region that is not well known outside of Italy. It’s actually not very well known in Italy. While we did not visit the area in person, I have been lucky to see the region through the eyes of many of my fellow wine writers and friends who visited in October.
For more on-the-ground information on the region, you can visit:
Check out our book series, “Tempting Spoonfuls” available through Amazon!
Inspired by the flavors and aromas in wines, these books create “tempting spoonfuls” of flavors to pair with wines.
Robin has always had a love for spoons, with a drawer full of them in all different shapes and sizes. There is comfort in eating something from a spoon and something very sensual also.
Creating a spoon filled with flavors and aromas that will be eaten in a single bite, allowing the flavors to meld and pop in your mouth, is a joyful endeavor, and you are encouraged to make these your own.
The spoons range from savory to sweet, with something for everyone, and while they are paired with wines, they are delicious on their own.
These recipes are wonderful for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres or simple to create something delicious to spoil yourself, much like a pint of ice cream.
Each of these spoons is paired with a specific wine, and you get a bit of background on the wine, its flavors, aromas, and a bit of its story. She also includes other suggestions for wines to pair with the spoon.
The book is a feast for your eyes, with photos of each layered spoonful.
There are also photos of the wines with the elements of their flavor profile surrounding them. Those elements often inspire the pairing.
The goal is to make your mouth water and encourage you to create your own “Tempting Spoonfuls.”
“Tempting Spoonfuls – Pairing single bites with glorious wines” – Our first book paired wines from boutique wineries on the west coast, in California, Oregon, and Washington, with delicious spoonfuls.
This book is 60 pages, 18 recipes, lots of beautiful photos, and insights into some fantastic small wineries!
“Tempting Spoonfuls – small bites paired with wines from around the Globe” – This book takes us around the globe to explore 12 wine regions, a wine from the region, and then gives you a recipe for a pairing!
A slightly larger book at 104 pages, this time you learn about pairing with a type of wine from a region. Rather than a specific bottle, you can look for a style of wine from a region and feel confident that it will go well with the recipe pairing we provide. We give you 12 recipes, each to pair with a wine.
Either of these books gives you wonderful recipes to create appetizer spoons to pair with wines for a party!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.