Wines and grape varieties of Oltrepò

The classic Pinot Nero, the traditional Bonarda

Lombardy is not just plains, rice fields and wheat. Just look up and the soft, harmonious hills have always promised much more, they are promises of evocative viticultural areas, and in this “regional field” the Oltrepò Pavese grape cluster asserts its leadership. A wide range of high-quality wines of safe origin are produced here.

A complete range that satisfies every food and wine pairing from appetizer to dessert. On the hills of the Oltrepò the most representative grape varieties are: Pinot Nero, Croatina, Barbera and Riesling. But we could add: Uva Rara, Ughetta (Vespolina), Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Cortese Bianco, Moscato, Malvasia, and even Müller-Thurgau. Very often the grape variety is identified-even in the name-wines from 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 qualitative value of Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG bubbles, which also have great potential in a rosé version: namely the
, a collective brand reserved for members that identifies rosés from Pinot Nero grapes.

The Bonarda!

Having said Pinot Nero, a vine that accounts for 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 of history combined with typicality, the Oltrepò wine of tradition is certainly Bonarda, a Doc since 1970, from Croatina grapes (85% – 100%) jointly with Barbera, Ughetta (Vespolina) and Uva Rara (15% max).

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His Majesty the Riesling

His Majesty Riesling. To shine a light on the typical white wine, the most distinctive is Riesling Renano or Italico: 1,300 hectares, but that figure is growing steadily; many hectares of Italico are now being converted to Renano for a project that is giving great satisfaction and that rewards the terroir and gives aging whites that are in many ways surprising.


Captivating by its name and history, unique by its color in the goblet, the sweet red wine of Oltrepò is SANGUE DI GIUDA. Typical. And it’s 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

L’Oltrepò Pavese is an ancient home of the vine. An important piece of evidence comes from the find of a vine shoot, dating back to prehistoric times, found near Casteggio, once Clastidium, which went down in the news for being the scene of one of the many battles between Hannibal the Carthaginian and the Roman army. Strabone, in the time of the Paleoligurian Gauls, even attributed the invention of the barrel to dell’Oltrepò Pavese. In her texts she was described as being larger than houses. In the following centuries, one then encounters other testimonies. Andrea Bacci, for example, in the 16th century, described the wines of that area with the term eccellentissimi.


Projects of the future vines 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 records, Oltrepò Pavese boasted as many as 225 native grape varieties in 1884. Today there are a little more than 10 of the most popular ones, with a tendency on the part of some historic producers to recover the most obvious vestiges of the past, such as Uva della Cascina or Moradella.

The potential of Pinot Nero, a story of Oltrepò

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

History and genius of a lifelong sparkling wine territory

At that time, it was not only the Piedmontese who talked about sparkling wine, but also some producers in the area. Prominent among them are the name of Count Carlo Giorgi of Vistarino and that of engineer Domenico Mazza of Codevilla, who even went so far as to design and produce a special bottle for sparkling wine that could withstand high pressures.

Once upon a time there was Champagne...

Even today, it still excites to see rare examples 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 of dell’Oltrepò

In 1884 Oltrepò Pavese boasted as many as 225 native grape varieties. Today there are a little more than 10 of the most popular ones, with a tendency on the part of some historic producers to recover the most obvious vestiges of the past, such as Uva della Cascina or Moradella.

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


A publication on civil economic conditions in the province of Pavia, which was edited in 1884 by the local Chamber of Commerce, states that in the areas of Stradella, Montù Beccaria, Broni (…), there were then as many as 59 qualities of grapes, among which, stood out the Moradella, the Pissadella, the Ughetta di Canneto, the Rossara, the Barbisino, the Pignolo, the Besgano, the Uva d’Oro, the Sgorbera, the Nebbiolo, the Moscatello and the Trebbiano. Croatina (or Bonarda) and Malvasia were little cultivated in those days: Barbera, Vernaccia, Altrugo and Cortese were very little.

Slowly the situation has been completely reversed. Wines from dell’Oltrepò Pavese are usually named after the grape varieties from which they are made (exceptions to this 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 cultivated 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 unique processing techniques make the wines of dell’Oltrepò Pavese unmistakable: the Barbera of the Pavese hills is quite dissimilar to that of Piedmont, Alba or Asti, the Malvasia is markedly different from those obtained in other regions; and so the Moscatos, Rieslings and Pinot Noirs.

Lorenzo Nosvelli, writing wisely about the fruit of the gods in the volume History and Wines of Oltrepò, curiously reproduces the organoleptic descriptions that accompanied the list of grapes of the province’s grape varieties grown in Oltrepò in the mid-to-late 19th century commenting on the list of native grape varieties that appeared in the Bulletin of the Vogherese Agrarian Committee. published by Acerbi in 1864. Thus we read that:

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

The Bonarda
gives wine of color, bitter rather than not, of much fineness, alcoholic and spicy aroma, generous and digestive.

gives wine that tends toward sweetish, tasty, tingly, light, is not loaded with color and shines in the glass.

gives as well generally sweetish and graceful, full-bodied wine with pleasant bouquet and much finesse.

gives full-bodied, austere wine, generally somewhat sour and very rich in color.

Cortese and Trebbiano
give excellent meal wine, dry, racy, racy, passing and very clear in color.

Vernaccia and Altrugo
provide exquisite wines, rather bottle than meal wines, clear, limpid, fragrant and of great strength.

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Acknowledgements and sources

Photo: Ersaf / Regione Lombardia Archives, CONSORZIO TUTELA vini OLTREPÒ Archives, Alessandro Anglisani, Mario Didier, Luciana Rota.

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

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