Thursday, March 31, 2005

31 March 2005 - Lombardia, Oltrepo Pavese, Bonarda...

This was going to be a blog about Bonarda and all the confusions surrounding that one name. That blog disappeared into webspace somewhere, and the wine that sparked the subject turned out to be made mostly from Pinot Noir...forget it. I'll start over, and hopefully this entry won't vanish!

Lombardia, whose political and financial capital is Milan, is Italy’s largest, wealthiest region. However, as a wine producer it ranks only 11th in Italy, and up until about twenty years ago, its vinous reputation was pretty lousy. It is only recently that Lombardia’s wealth has been unleashed on local wine production. One of the results is Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne. And even more recently, the investments are paying off in the Oltrepo Pavese.

Oltrepo Pavese (“the other side of the Po River from Pavia”) is a little triangle of land tucked between Piemonte and Veneto. It produces more DOC wine than Soave, and that’s saying something. Almost all of it is sweet, fizzy light red wine sold mostly in supermarkets in Milan. But a few visionaries have taken beautiful hillside vineyards and transformed them into top flight wine estates.

The indigenous grapes of Oltrepo Pavese include Barbera, Uva Rara (“the rare grape”), Vespolina and a grape they call Bonarda, but which is actually Croatina. Before phylloxera wiped out Italy’s vineyards in the late 19th century, Bonarda Piemontese accounted for 30% of Piemonte’s vineyards, but only tiny parcels still exist. A grape called Bonarda is also one of Argentina’s two most widely planted grape varieties (the other is Malbec), but it is also not likely to be the Bonarda Piemontese. Argentina’s Bonarda might also be Croatina, but a lot of ampelographers think it might be Charbono. As in California Charbono, which is likely also know as Corbeau, or Charbonneau, an extinct French grape which is identical to a Savoie grape called Douce Noire, which Galet insisted was the Italian Dolcetto. Based on Argentine “Bonarda” that I’ve tasted to date, and comparing that to Oltrepo Pavese “Bonarda” (Croatina) I’ve tasted doesn’t do much to clear up the confusion for me. I would be more upset if the wines weren’t usually so much fun to drink. Whatever the grape actually is, the wines are worth getting to know.

The wine that sparked this confusion is Riccardo Albani’s “Costa del Morone” ’01, Oltrepo Pavese. When I first tasted it, I was told the wine was a blend of Bonarda (Croatina) and Pinot Noir. However, a little web research in preparation for making this a “wine of the week” uncovered more confusion. Albani’s ’99 Costa del Morone was primarily Barbera, with some Croatina and Uva Rara. Reading through Albani’s website, I discovered that Costa del Morone was a blend that changed depending on what the vintage brought to the raw materials. The ’01, best as I can find out so far, is 75 % Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), the remainder Vespolina, Croatina and Uva Rara. Again, whatever it’s made from, it sure is delicious. After trying to make sense of this blog, I’m ready for a bottle. Now.

2 April 2005 - Hold the presses! Oh yeah, this stuff already went to press. Well, it's Saturday, and I received a call from Albani's importer this morning, who was falling all over himself with apologies -- the wine I mention above, Albani's Costa del Morone '01, is in fact mosty Barbera, with a little Croatina and Uva Rara. Zero Pinot Nero. I could make excuses, like Barbera and Pinot Noir are easy to confuse, but what the hell, the wine's still delicious, and confusion is a perpetual state. Drink on.


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