Wines and grape varieties of Oltrepò

The classic Pinot Nero, the traditional Bonarda

Lombardy is not only plain, paddy fields and wheat. Just look up and the soft and harmonious hills have always promised much more, they are promises of evocative wine-growing areas and in this "regional field" the bunch of grapes from the Oltrepò Pavese territory affirms its leadership. Here a wide range of high quality wines of sure origin are produced.

A complete range that satisfies every wine and food pairing from appetizer to dessert. On the hills dell’Oltrepò the most representative grape varieties are: Pinot Nero, Croatina, Barbera and Riesling. But we could add: Uva Rara, Ughetta / Vespolina, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Cortese Bianco, Moscato, Malvasia and even Müller-Thurgau. Very often in the grape variety we identify - even in the name - the wines dell’Oltrepò Pavese. Which on these hills, also made different by the exposures and nature of the soils, become unique and unmistakable.

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The Classic Method of Oltrepò

It could also be called metodo Oltrepò or Oltrepodoc, paraphrasing the bubbly relatives of Trentino. All this because of the history and the qualitative value of bubbles Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG which also have great potential in the rosé version: the Cruasé, a collective brand reserved for members that identifies rosé from Pinot nero grapes.

La Bonarda!

Having said about Pinot Nero, a vine that represents 3000 hectares of hills in this part of Lombardy (13800 hectares in total), and a vine that also guarantees reds for aging of great quality, if we stay on the red and want to think about history combined with typicality, the wine dell’Oltrepò of tradition is certainly il Bonarda, a Doc since 1970, from grapes of Croatina (85% - 100%) jointly with Barbera, Ughetta/Vespolina and Uva Rara (15% max).

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His Majesty the Riesling

His Majesty riesling. To shed some light on typical white wines, the most characteristic is Riesling Renano or Italico: 1300 hectares, but this figure is constantly growing, many hectares of Italico are now converted to Renano for a project that is giving great satisfaction and that rewards the terroir and gives white wines for ageing that are in many ways surprising.

The Sangue di Giuda!

Captivating by its name and history, unique by its color in the glass, the sweet red wine of Oltrepò is Sangue di Giuda. Typical . And it is another Doc. Characterized by Barbera (25% to 65%), Croatina (25% to 65%, Uva Rara, Ughetta (Vespolina) and Pinot Nero, jointly or severally, up to a maximum of 45%.

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Wines and grape varieties: a history of territory

The Oltrepò Pavese is the ancient home of the vine. Important evidence comes from the finding of a vine shoot, dating back to prehistoric times, found near Casteggio, once Clastidium, which went down in history as the scene of one of the many battles between Hannibal the Carthaginian and the Roman army. StraboneAt the time of the Paleoligurian Gauls, he even attributed the invention of the barrel to the Oltrepò Pavese. In his texts it was described as being larger than houses. In the following centuries, there are other testimonies. Andrea Bacci, for example, in the 16th century, described the wines of this area with the term eccellentissimi.


Projects of the future grape varieties of the past

Oltrepò Pavese viticulture has its roots in a modern sense in the last century, in the global renewal of the Italian wine world at that time. According to official documentation, in 1884 Oltrepò Pavese boasted 225 native vines. Today there are just over 10 of the most widespread, with the tendency of some historical producers to recover the most evident evidence of the past, such as the Uva della Cascina or Moradella.

The potential of Pinot Nero, a history of Oltrepò

In the history of Pinot Nero in Oltrepò one cannot omit the work undertaken by the then minister Agostino Depretis, who was the first to realize the potential of this vine planted in the high hills and to start its introduction in the territory. Depretis' project was so incisive that it intrigued the Piedmontese sparkling wine producers, who saw in this land a rich and important reservoir for their companies.

History and genius of a sparkling wine territory since time immemorial

At that time, it was not only the Piedmontese who spoke of sparkling wine, but also some producers in the area. Among these, the name of Count Carlo Giorgi di Vistarino and that of the engineer Domenico Mazza di Codevilla, who even went so far as to design and produce a special bottle for sparkling wine, able to withstand the high pressures.

Once Upon a Time champagne...

Even today it still excites to see rare specimens labeled with the words. Champagne dell’Oltrepò. With this historical background, one is not surprised how on at least two recent occasions of international wine meetings, in Italy, there is increasing talk of a common front, an axis, a pact of Northern Italian bubblies: from Alta Langa, to Trentodoc, to Franciacorta, to Oltrepò.

Those rare vines of history and typicality dell’Oltrepò

In 1884 Oltrepò Pavese boasted 225 native vines. Today there are just over 10 of the most widespread, with the tendency of some historical producers to recover the most evident evidence of the past, such as the Uva della Cascina or Moradella.

Natural and especially man-made selection, as a result of the deepening of scientific knowledge and technological progress, have everywhere reduced the number of varieties of vines for winemaking, in order to select, enhancing them, only vines with consistent, robust and generous qualities. Adriano Ravegnani writes in his volume I vini dell’Oltrepò Pavese.


A publication on the civil economic conditions in the province of Pavia, which was published in 1884 by the local Chamber of Commercestates that in the areas of Stradella, Montù Beccaria, Broni (....), there were at that time as many as 59 qualities of grapesamong which stood out Moradella, Pissadella,Ughetta di Canneto, Rossara, Barbisino, Pignolo, Besgano, Uva d'Oro, Sgorbera, Nebbiolo, Moscatello and Trebbiano.. Little cultivated at that time were Croatina (or Bonarda) and Malvasia: very little Barbera, Vernaccia, Altrugo and Cortese.

Slowly the situation has been completely reversed. Wines dell’Oltrepò Pavese are usually named after the grape varieties from which they are made (exceptions are all the reds and rosés, which are made, within the winery's grape varieties, from grapes from different grape varieties, in precise proportions that characterize them).

Stories of unmistakable wines

The most widely grown grape varieties, together with the characteristics of the wines made from them, the morphological peculiarities of the soils, the exposure of the vineyards and the singular processes make the wines dell’Oltrepò Pavese unmistakable: the Barbera of the Pavia hills is quite dissimilar to those of Piedmont, Alba or Asti, the Malvasia is markedly different from those obtained in other regions; and so are Moscati, Riesling and Pinot Noirs.

Lorenzo Nosvelliwriting wisely of the fruit of the gods on the volume History and wines of OltrepòThe wine is curiously reproduces the organoleptic descriptions that accompanied the list of grapes of the province cultivated in Oltrepò in the mid-end of the nineteenth century, commenting on the list of autochthonous grape varieties that appeared on the Bulletin of the Vogherese Agricultural Committee published by Acerbi in 1864. So it says:

the Malvasia and the Moscato are fragrant par excellence that give wine of impeccable sweetness and finesse, which retain their sweetness for many years due to the large amount of sugar they contain, which, as they age, develop a very pleasant aroma, perfume, and can be classified among the luxury wines.

La Bonarda gives wine of color, bitter instead of not, of great finesse, alcoholic and spicy aroma, generous and digestive.

L’Ughetta gives a wine that tends towards the sweetish, tasty, light, is not loaded with colour and shines in the glass.

La Moradella It also gives in general a nice, full-bodied, full bodied wine with a pleasant bouquet and a lot of finesse.

The Barbera gives a full-bodied, austere wine, generally rather sour and very rich in colour.

The Cortese and Trebbiano they give excellent, dry, racy, passer-by and very clear coloured meal wine.

The Vernaccia and the Altrugo provide exquisite wines, rather bottled than mealtime, clear, clear, fragrant and very strong.

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Thanks and sources

Photos: Archive Ersaf / Regione Lombardia, Archive Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò, Alessandro Anglisani, Mario Didier, Luciana Rota.

Bibliography: I vini dell’Oltrepò Pavese, by Adriano Ravegnani, Mazzotta publisher (1974), Storie e vini dell’Oltrepò by Mario Maffi and Lorenzo Nosvelli, Edo editions (2008), Bibenda editions, Vino al vino by Mario Soldati, Mondadori publisher (2006), Signori del vino by Marcello Masi and Rocco Tolfa, by Rai Libri (2016).

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