The Revival of Oltrepò Pavese Sparkling Wines
28th September 2023
When visiting the Italian wine region Oltrepò Pavese, you can really feel the winds of history blow around you. It is an area where viticulture and winemaking dates to ancient times and many even consider it one of the most suitable areas in Italy for grape growing and winemaking. It is one of the most historical and important areas for producing sparkling wine with the Champenoise method in Italy, even though it has been living in the shadow of other wine regions such as Trento Doc and Franciacorta for years. Still, Oltrepò got the DOC designation already in 1970 long before Trento DOC (1993) and the DOCG in 2007. The timeline is rather aligned with Franciacorta (DOC in 1967 and DOCG in 1995).
If we take a step back in history, Strabo, the Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian visited the Oltrepò area in 40 AD and wrote about “un vino buono, popolo ospitale e botti in legno molto grandi” (“good wine, hospitable people, and very large wood barrels”). It was thus a recognized area for winemaking already in that era. If we go further back in time, the migrating populations from Georgia, Armenia, and later from Mesopotamia are considered to have brought grapevines and winemaking practices with them to Europe. In fact, as proof of this, a fossilized vine stock was found close to Casteggio in Oltrepò Pavese in 1876.
How did Pinot Nero Arrive to Oltrepò
The arrival of Pinot Noir in Oltrepò and the first Champenoise method wines made in Italy are two very closely linked events. In the centre of this stands one of the most historical and important winemaking families in Oltrepò, namely Conte Vistarino that still today is one of the leading wine producers in the area.
It was in the mid-19th century, that Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino brought back Pinot Noir shoots directly from France to plant them at his Rocca de’ Giorgi estate in Oltrepò. In the same period, Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino’s dear friend Carlo Gancia returned from Reims in France to Piemonte and founded Fratelli Gancia together with his brother. Gancia brought back the know-how for making Champagne and, in 1865, he and Count Vistarino collaborated launching the first Italian sparkling Metodo Classico wines. Gancia used mainly Muscat grapes in Piemonte while Count Vistarino used the recently imported Pinot Noir.
Oltrepò in Contemporary Times
Despite the Oltrepò denomination having been less in the limelight compared to other denominations, it, still, stretches over 440 km of hillside territory, it is the third greatest Pinot Noir producing area in the world next after Champagne and Burgundy, and it accounts for 65% of the wine production in Lombardy.
Oltrepò Pavese is a history and a territory that is being written/rewritten right in this moment. In fact, in recent years, a group of producers in Oltrepò has come together to exchange opinions and help each other to improve. “We felt the need to present ourselves all together” with support from the consortium, stresses Francesca Seralvo, owner of Tenuta Mazzolino. The involvement of the consortium (Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò Pavese) resulted in the event Oltrepò – Terra di Pinot Nero, un territorio, un vitigno, due eccellenze (Oltrepò – Land of Pinot Noir, one territory, one grape variety, two excellences) that was launched in 2021.
In 2021, 20 wineries were involved in the event while it had increased to 34 wineries in 2022. “This event is becoming a nationally recognized one for the excellences that can be encountered, at a time when the DOCG Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico is growing strongly…,” says Carlo Veronese, Director of the Oltrepò Pavese consortium.
The Oltrepò – Terra di Pinot Nero event includes several different smaller initiatives and events during the year, and the focus is on both Champenoise sparkling and still red wines made with Pinot Noir.
Three Sparkling Champenoise Method Oltrepò Pavese Wines
Francesco Quaquarini, Classese, Oltrepó Pavese Brut DOCG, Millesimato 2014
I met Francesco Quaquarini and tasted this Classese Millesimato 2014 at an event in Rome last year, and I was instantly drawn to this aged Oltrepó Pavese Brut. It is a fresh, structured, and smooth sparkling wine with lovely notes of dark fruit as well as a spicy and herbal touch.
Quaquarini is a family winery that is organically certified and favours inter-row grassing in the vineyards.
Le Fiole, Oltrepó Pavese Metodo Classico Pinot Nero Brut DOCG
This is an Oltrepó Pavese Brut sparkling wine that is traditional in its character yet bubbly and fun. It combines structure and balance with joyful freshness, minerality, and notes of white fruit.
Le Fiole is a small winery that was founded in 2016 by two sisters Elisa and Silvia Piaggi. However, vine growing and winemaking have run in the family for a couple of generations, so they are in no way beginners.
Conte Vistarino, 1865 Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico Pinot Nero DOCG Dosaggio Zero – Millesimato, 2015
A classic wine from a classic winery. Conte Vistarino, which is today run by Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino, symbolizes history, tradition, and respect for the local territory. 1865 Oltrepò Pavese Dosaggio Zero is a wine that celebrates Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino’s and Carlo Gancia’s making of the first Italian Champenoise method sparkling wines. It rests on the lees for 60 months and has no added sugar.
Its fine floral and citrusy notes in combination with its fresh, silky, and harmonious feeling on the palate make it a delightful wine.
An ex-academic with a Ph.D. in history turned wine writer. She also has a sommelier diploma. She loves history and telling the story about the people behind a wine, a winery or a region.