Discovering the diverse wine styles of Italy’s Oltrepò Pavese region

The Oltrepò Pavese region in Italy (“oltre po” means “on the other side of the Po River”) has been cultivating wine grapes for centuries. It’s located at the base of the Apennines and Ligurian Alps within Pavia (Pavese) province in the north-central winemaking territory of Lombardy, where the traditional method-style Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta is produced. The geographic position of Oltrepò Pavese near both the Po River and the Ligurian Sea contributes to a temperate Mediterranean climate characterized by warm summers, limited precipitation, and cool winters. The neighboring Apennines buffers the region from potentially damaging winds. These factors, along with the iron-rich calcareous, limestone, clay, and sand-dominant soils of its hilly and mountainous landscape all come together to create optimal conditions for winegrowing in Oltrepò Pavese.

Nevertheless, Oltrepò Pavese wine grape growers didn’t really get into the business of producing their own wine until relatively recently, partly because they were busy sourcing their grapes to winemaking neighbors in Piedmont (where the fine red wines Barolo and Barbaresco are made) to the west, and Emilia-Romagna, (site of bubbly rose’ and red Lambrusco production) to the east. Fashion capital Milan is about 50 miles north. Although Oltrepò Pavese still sources grapes to its neighbors, the region has also been producing more and more of its own wine in a plethora of styles.

The Consorzio Tutela Vini di Oltrepò Pavese was established in the summer of 1960 by a group of local producers with the aim of protecting and promoting
Oltrepò Pavese wines. It’s guided by the principle “Here, wine is wine,” an approach that outlines the Consorzio’s commitment to producing quality, terroir-driven wines.
In 1977, the association evolved to become the Consorzio Volontario Vini DOC Oltrepò Pavese under the leadership of Antonio Giuseppe Denari. The Consorzio works in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture to protect and maintain integrity of quality and origin in all its products. The Consorzio hosted a seminar and masterclass featuring sparkling, frizzante, white, rose’, red, and sweet wines from a number of Oltrepò Pavese-area producers at The Leopard at des Artistes on the Upper West Side in New York City.

A guide to the roster of Oltrepò Pavese DOC and DOCG wines poured at the seminar.

Oltrepò Pavese wine territory is comprised of around 4,666 acres of vineyards on which the white varietals
Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Moscato, Cortese, Malvasia, and Riesling, and the red grapes Pinot Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, Croatina, and Barbera are cultivated to produce roughly 1,200,000 cases of wine annually.

Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) is one of the area’s most important varietals. It’s used to make spumante (sparkling), and still
single-varietal and blended wines. Records confirming the cultivation of this red-skinned grape date back to the 1500s.
Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino is credited with having introduced the French Burgundy variety of Pinot Noir (the one we commonly see today) to the region during the 1800s, after the Phylloxera fungus destroyed much of the area’s vines. It was also during this time that Domenico Mazza di Codevilla started producing Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico, the first traditional method-style Pinot Nero-based sparkling wine in Oltrepò Pavese.
Traditional-method style sparkling wines undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. Champagne is produced using the same grape (along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), and method. Pinot Nero Rosato (Rosé) Spumante is also produced in Oltrepò Pavese.

Some Oltrepò Pavese DOC and DOCG wines featured at the masterclass.

Wine production in Oltrepò Pavese is governed by DOC and DOCG regulations that serve to guarantee their provenance and quality.
Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico was granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC status (the second highest quality wine rank in Italy) in 1970. A Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG (a designation reserved only for the highest quality Italian wines) was awarded in 2007.

Oltrepò Pavese producers need to follow specific guidelines if they wish to have their wines labelled DOC and DOCG. These guidelines help to guarantee the origin and quality of every wine produced in Oltrepò Pavese. These guidelines can include limiting the types and percentages of grapes used to make each type of wine, the length of time, as well as the material in which the wine must be aged, and so forth.

Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG wines must contain at least 70% Pinot Nero, and at most 30% permitted varietals including Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), and Pinot Grigio. The wine must be aged a minimum 15 months on the lees, and undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. Below are three Oltrepò Pavese DOCG Metodo Classico that exemplify the style of the region.

La Versa, Oltrepò Pavese DOCG, Metodo Classico Pinot Nero, Testarossa, 2016

Mazzolino, Oltrepò Pavese DOCG, Metodo Classico Pinot Nero Rose’ Cruase’, 2015 (Cruase’ is a term used for an
Oltrepo Pavese, Pinot Noir-based, sparkling rosé wine).

Castello di Cigognola, Oltrepò Pavese DOCG, Metodo Classico Pinot Nero Rose’, Moratti, 2015

DOC status for the area’s other wines including Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero (still wine), Bonarda, Buttafuoco, and Sangue di Giuda dell’’Oltrepò Pavese were awarded in 2010.

Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC must contain at least 85% Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio from the Oltrepò Pavese tend to be medium-bodied, have a balanced acidity, and exhibit lemon, grapefruit, green apple, and honeysuckle notes. If you’re interested in trying some Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC, here’s a pair that’s worth your attention.

Cantina di Casteggio, Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC, 2021

Ca’ di Frara Oltrepo Pavese Pinot Grigio DOC, 2021

A collection of
Oltrepò Pavese DOC and DOCG wines featured at The Leopard at des Artistes.

Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC must contain at least 95% Pinot Nero. Additionally, Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC Riserva must be aged a least two years (with six months in barrel). These wines tend to be medium-bodied, have good structure, and exhibit bright blue and black fruit, and zesty pepper notes. These two Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC are great expressions of the region’s terroir.

Mazzolino, Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Noir, 2018

Cordero, Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Tiamat, 2020

Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC must contain at least 85% Croatina, and at most 15% permitted varietals including Barbera, Uva Rara, and Vespolina. Bonarda is a red wine that is made predominantly from Croatina (“Croatina” means “Croatian girl”), a late-ripening and high-yielding grape hailing from Croatia. These wines tend to be medium-bodied, with vigorous tannins, good acidity, and mixed berry, plum, dried fig, and warm spice notes.
Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC is produced as both a frizzante (lightly sparkling) and still wine. This duo is definitely worth a try.

Castello di Luzzano, Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Sommossa, 2021

Losito & Guarini, C’Era Una Volta la Bonarda Frizzante, Oltrepo Pavese

Buttafuoco dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC (the name means “throw fire”), must contain at least 25% to 65% Barbera, 25% to 65% Croatina, and up to 45% Vespolina and/or Uva Rara. The wine must be aged a minimum six months.
Buttafuoco dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC can be still or frizzante (lightly sparkling), and is rich and round-bodied, with fresh raspberry, red currant, and plum, as well as licorice notes.

Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC (Blood of Judas) is an effervescent sweet wine with low-alcohol content. It’s made from a blend of Croatina, and the Italian red varietal Barbera.

Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC spumante Dolce (sparkling sweet), and Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC Rosso (still sweet) styles must contain at least 25% to 65% Barbera, 25% to 65% Croatina, and at most 45% of permitted varietals including Pinot Nero, Vespolina and/or Uva Rara.
Sangue di Giuda tends to be full-bodied and smooth, and exhibit violet, and ripe mixed berry, as well as preserved dark fruit notes. Give this Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC a try for a sense of what this sweet wine has to offer.

Azienda Vitivinicola Vanzini, Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, 2021

Oltrepò Pavese DOC Barbera is made entirely from the Italian red varietal Barbera. Oltrepò Pavese DOC Barbera is a smooth and medium-bodied red wine with a high acidity, subtle tannins, and juicy raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, as well as earth, and sweet and herbaceous spice notes. These wines can age for a decade or more. Give the following Oltrepò Pavese DOC Barbera a try for an introduction to what this area’s producers can do with this grape.

Dino Torti, Oltrepò Pavese DOC Barbera, Route 66, 2019

A well-executed buffet lunch was served to pair with the
Oltrepò Pavese wines that were discussed at The Leopard at des Artistes.

Oltrepò Pavese DOC Riesling is another white wine produced in the area. Two types of Riesling are cultivated in Oltrepò Pavese, including Welschriesling or Riesling Italico, (cultivated throughout Central Europe), and Riesling or Riesling Renano, (grown in Germany, Austria, and neighboring areas, in addition to other parts of the world). Both white grapes are called Riesling; nevertheless they represent two distinct varietals. Oltrepò Pavese DOC Riesling made with Riesling Renano tend to be crisp, with a refreshing acidity and minerality, and ripe grapefruit, pear, and apricot, as well as peach, mango, and papaya notes. The following wine is a great example of what you can expect from Riesling Renano that are produced in Oltrepò Pavese.

Conte Vistarino, Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Riesling, Ries, 2021

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