Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tasting Notes: New Arrivals from the Oltrepo Pavese

Last Saturday, we tasted through a few of our newest arrivals from two of our Italian producers, both located in the Oltrepo Pavese.

The heart of Lombardy's Oltrepo Pavese region lies about 30 miles south of Milan, on the hills overhanging the city of Stradella, south of the Po River. Typically known for value-priced wines sold in bulk to local markets, two producers with a long history in the area — Castello del Vercesi and Bruno Verdi — defy this old stereotype.

Vercesi del Castellazo was founded in 1808 when the great-grand father of the present owner bought the "Castellazzo". Until Napoleon's army took it, it was a monastary of Barnabite order built over the ruins of a Beccaria family castle. The Verdi family, meanwhile, can trace their viticultural origins back seven generations to the 18th century when Antonio Verdi came from Parma to settle in the Oltrepò Pavese.

“Pezzalunga” Oltrepo Pavese Rosso 2006 (Vercesi): Smokey, plummy fruit on the nose, sensations of lush texture balanced with bright berry notes. On the palate, similar elements and a hint of bright, tart cranberry on the finish… a hint of medicinal complexity peeks out. Wants food. Later on, currant and darker fruits, licorice, some tea-leaf (almost mint-like high tones) tannins enhance structure and aromatics and then a warm cherry liqueur note clinched the deal. With today’s exchange rate, a steal!

“Cla” Oltrepo Pavese Barbera 2005 (Vercesi): First notes of bright berry fruit combine with a touch of new oak which happily seems to blow off after a few moments. Hints of game combine on the palate with soft plum and cherry fruit. You still get the oak on the finish. Later on, smoke, tobacco and plum are elegantly harmonious, and the oak disappears. On the finish, there are some tannins and red fruits with a firm and tart finish… again, that hint of kirsch and a little angular at the end. This wine needs a good plate of pasta for balance.

Barbera “Campo del Marrone”, Oltrepo Pavese Rosso 2005 (Verdi): Just a hint of oak, plummy bright fruit and then smoky, nicely tart note like a traditional Piedmontese Barbera. Later on, blue, spicy dark fruit with hints of brambly currant… elegant and almost Zinfandel like with a slightly dried out finish.

“Cavariola” Oltrepo Pavese Rosso Riserva 2003 (Verdi): A much darker wine, saturated blue, purple color. On the nose, greater density and texture with elements of smoke, leather, earth and dusty plum… almost a hint of evergreen. The tannins are quite strong and at the moment the wine needs time to pull together. Later on, a deep violet bouquet, dry tannins present at first but you sense a core of dark and leathery fruit beneath. Going further, there is deep brooding fruit and tea leaf aromatics, very tannic, and then the wine opens up to reveal grainy texture with a chocolate component…. needs time to evolve.

Sangue di Giuda “Vigna Paradiso” 2007 (Verdi): Always a joy to drink! At first a frothy purple foam lifts fresh cherry and red currant fruit to the nose. Then a hint of lilac talc dust and grape hyacinth inform the bouquet and palate. Lightly sweet and delightful fruit compels you to have fun, but is never a cheap shot. Underneath and occasionally peeking out are notes of pine forest and cedar that remind you that this is not just some college era Lambrusco (with apologies to the many good Lambruscos that actually exist). Just bring on the platter of cured meats or pour it directly over a bowl of strawberries. Yes!!!