The Oltrepo Pavese wine region is an absolute gem well worth discovering. Located one hour South of Milan, the region has always been renowned for its propensity to produce quality wines, at very affordable prices. Present-day producers offer a range of quality wines in a region set amidst the hills and thermal baths where their warm welcome is a strong incentive to meet them and taste their wines. Here is an overview of what to expect in terms of grape varieties and wines, and an invitation to indulge in some slow wine tourism.
- The Oltrepo Pavese wine region
- The varietal range: a combination of Pinot noir and native varieties
- A broad-ranging selection of appellation wines
- Experiencing Italian-style slow tourism
The Oltrepo Pavese wine region
Situated in Lombardy, it is the most northerly wine region in Italy. Its town of Pavia (Pavese in Italian) is just 45 km South of Milan. It is bordered by the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont. Amazingly, the area is “shaped like a bunch of grapes”, as Carlo Veronese, the director of the Consortium Tutela Vini Oltrepo Pavese which manages the locally produced appellations and GIs, likes to describe it. He adds: “It is located exactly half way between the North Pole and the Equator, namely on the 45th parallel like Bordeaux, home to the finest wines”.
Set across its 440 kilometres of rolling hills, approximately 13,000 hectares of vines are managed by 350 companies producing an average 75 million bottles. Interestingly, it has a strong tradition of co-operative wineries and is home to many co-operatives or ‘Cantina’. Their members tend to farm small areas that average at around two hectares.
The varietal range: a combination of Pinot noir and native varieties
Oltrepò is Italy’s largest producer of Pinot noir, with approximately 3,000 hectares planted to the variety. It is also the world’s third largest producer of the variety. According to the Consortium’s director, “Pinot noir is the standard-bearer of the quality of the wines grown in our region”. The other most widely grown varieties, covering 84 % of the entire Oltrepò wine region, are Croatina (4,000 hectares), Barbera (3,000 ha) and Moscato (500 ha), and of course the 1,500 hectares of Riesling, both Italian and German. There are also Uva Rara, Ughetta / Vespolina, Pinot bianco, Pinot grigio, Cortese bianco, Malvasia and even some Müller-Thurgau which is also grown in countries such as Luxembourg.
A broad-ranging selection of appellation wines
There are 7 DOCs within the area: Casteggio, Oltrepò Pavese Pinot grigio, Pinot nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese, Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepò Pavese, Oltrepò Pavese, Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese and Buttafuoco dell’Oltrepò Pavese.
The reason why Pinot noir is grown in such large quantities is because it is used to make still and sparkling wines, labelled DOCG Pinot nero Oltrepo’ Pavese Metodo Classico. Its sparkling iteration is produced using the classic method, also used to make Champagne. Pinot noir is the quality flagship, particularly for the sparkling wines, priced on average between €18 and €25. Wines produced by winegrower Luca Bellani at the Ca Di Frara estate are an amazing example of the area’s outstanding sparkling wines.
Experiencing Italian-style slow tourism
The region’s vine-clad rolling hills are located between 300 and 400 metres above sea level. Its tranquil landscapes are the ideal place to indulge in some slow tourism and to take time out to go meet the men and women who farm its vineyards. One great way to do this is by electric bike. According to the consortium, “all the wineries are equipped to host outdoor or indoor tastings by reservation. You can find more information about the wine tourism route at #enotourisme in Oltrepò Pavese. The official hashtag is #OltrepoDivino #oltrepowinelover #OltrepopaveseDOCG”.
Another real treat is the salami that matures in the cellars of each wine estate. As soon as the wine comes out for tasting, it is often paired with cured sausage (Varzi salami), not to mention the cheeses from the Staffora valley, honey, saffron, black truffles, Bagnaria cherries, Voghera peppers, Berrettina squash, mountain-grown potatoes and so much other produce that is a nod to savoury Italian cuisine. Together, they make for some perfect food and wine pairings, from starter through to pudding.