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On 22 February 2007, the application for the recognition of the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) of Oltrepò was publicly submitted in Casteggio: Oltrepò Pavese Spumante Metodo Classico DOCG. This new DOCG will not only be the first for the Oltrepò, but the second DOCG in Lombardy for the "Bollicine" (synonym for sparkling wine from classic bottle fermentation). Lombardy will then have 4 DOCG and 15 DOC zones and will occupy the first place in Italy for the production of DOCG sparkling wines Metodo Classico: about 12,000,000 bottles per year.

The name is somewhat awkward and not as memorable as that of the nearby Franciacorta. However, there is much to suggest that it will be complemented by a brand name. The term "Classese", a combination of Metodo Classicoand Oltrepò Pavese, is considered to have a good chance. This is already the name of an association of sparkling wine producers who make their sparkling wine (with a second fermentation in the bottle) entirely from Pinot Nero.

Three examples of today's labels of sparkling wine in classic bottle fermentation from the Oltrepò

The new DOCG allows for several variations:

1. Oltrepò Pavese Spumante Metodo Classico
2. Oltrepò Pavese Spumante Metodo Classico rosè
3. Oltrepò Pavese Spumante Metodo Classico Pinot Nero
4. Oltrepò Pavese Spumante Metodo Classico Pinot Nero rosè

The Oltrepò Pavese is still shaken by hand. On average, 5,000 - 25,000 bottles of sparkling wine are produced per winery using the classic bottle fermentation method. The larger wineries sometimes produce up to 800,000 bottles

While Classico and Classico rosè consist of at least 70% Pinot Nero with a maximum of 30% Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and/or Pinot Grigio, the Pinot Nero content in Classico Pinot Nero and Classico Pinot Nero rosè, as in all wines with a grape variety in the name, is at least 85%. The retention time on the yeasts must be at least 15 months, for a vintage sparkling wine 24 months.

The quality offensive

The DOC Oltrepò Pavese was also on the agenda on 22 February 2007. The discussions lasted more than five hours, as a set of rules from the 70s had to be redefined. Not much has changed, however, because the 41 wine typologies under the DOC Oltrepò Pavese remain - with minor changes. For example, there is no longer a distinction between Rheinriesling and Welschriesling. There is now only Riesling and you have to read the back label carefully to know what you are getting. A new Oltrepò Pavese DOC Bianco will be introduced with probably half Riesling. Another new development is that the red sweet Sangue di Giuda, which was previously only permitted as a frizzante wine, can now also be produced as a sparkling wine (using the Charmat method).

Furthermore, the number of vines will be increased by up to 60 % with a constant or only slightly increased harvest per hectare. This is a clear signal for quality wine production. This rule applies to new plants for the time being, but quality producers have always paid attention to a balanced harvest quantity in order to bring more structure, density and depth into the wines.

The Damigiana has had its day as a container for DOC wines

What is also new is that Oltrepò Pavese DOC Bonarda, Buttafuoco, Rosso, Bianco and Pinot Nero as red wines may only be bottled in normal bottles. The Damigiana, the large demijohn with a capacity of 25 to 34 litres, is now reserved only for table and IGT wines.

Full room and full attention on 22. 03. 2007

16 pages of DOC rules and 6 pages of DOCG rules have to be worked through. Left outside: Dr. Carlo Alberto Panont - Director of the Consortium

The new DOC and DOCG rules are to apply from the 2007 harvest. That the prices of the wines will also rise with the DOCG consecration is considered as good as certain. Connoisseurs and those who want to become connoisseurs are therefore advised to enter into negotiations with the wineries before the end of this year. The very good to excellent tasting results of the samples sent to Wein-Plus so far show that the classic bottle fermentation on a Pinot Nero basis from the Oltrepò can easily keep up with Champagnes and the wines from Franciacorta, whose main component is Chardonnay.

Frizzante as a lifestyle

A special feature of the wines from the Oltrepò is certainly that almost all varieties may be vinified "vivace" and "frizzante" in addition to the still version - a homage to culture and tradition. A wine that did not sparkle was not a good wine. From time immemorial, relatives and neighbours had a bad reputation if a bottle of Croatina was served on Sunday, but the wine did not give off a nice froth when poured. This is because the slight secondary fermentation in the bottle, which causes the foam, was and is a sign of the best, fully ripened grapes with a high sugar content, of which a residue always remained in the wine. Thanks to the retention of these natural production methods, these wines, especially in the vivace and frizzante versions, are wonderfully fruity, redolent of wild berries, sour cherries, sometimes plums and violets, juicy and drinkable, with a good structure, and a bright ruby red colour with purple hues. They are easy to combine and bring pure drinking pleasure once you get into it. The wines go well - even slightly chilled in summer - with light meals, with fish even, with cheese and salami bread, pizza, pasta, in fact with food for every day.

The still versions are no less interesting. They can be aged in wood or simply left to rest in concrete vats for a few years. One of them even made it to a "sun" in the 2005 Veronelli Guide: the Gaggiarone 2000 from Rovescala. The area around Rovescala is considered by some sources to be the cradle of Bonarda. Here, Bonarda di Rovescala or "il vino rosso amaro", i.e. the bitter red, has always been synonymous with Croatina.

Croatina grapes: just harvested by hand into small containers% they already go into destemming and pressing

The red variety

Croatina (Bonarda) is also an essential component of the wines Oltrepò Pavese Rosso, Rosso Riserva, Sangue di Guida, Buttafuoco and Buttafuoco Storico. Buttafuoco Storico is not included in the DOC regulations. This is a club of currently 16 winegrowers who obtain their Buttafuoco from 16 special vineyards and do not allow it to see the light of day before 36 months (of which at least 12 months are spent in wood and 6 months in the bottle).

Croatina, the autochthonous variety, is thus the most important in the Oltrepò Pavese** with about 4,000* hectares, followed by Barbera with about 3,000* hectares, the noble Pinot Nero with about 2,000* hectares and Riesling with about 1,500* hectares of vines.

* Approx. figures 2005/2006, which refer to the entire province of Pavia and include both the DOC and the IGT area Provincia di Pavia (IGT = Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

** The Oltrepò Pavese is the third largest contiguous production area in Italy after Asti and Chianti.

The Croatina grape is called "Cruata", or "Cravatta", in the local dialect. The best bottles of Croatina wine were traditionally opened on holidays, i.e. when the head of the family put on a tie. Today, Croatina (or its synonym Bonarda) is the typical wine from Oltrepò Pavese and is drunk on many occasions, even in everyday life, with or without a tie.

Some examples of the Bonarda production (Bonarda Style) and the mainly red variety of Oltrepò Pavese will be available for tasting at the upcoming ProWein, which will take place in Düsseldorf from 18 to 20 March 2007 - both at the Wein+Markt stand (hall 4, stand B33) and at Vinum (hall 4, stand B61).

Photos: Katrin Walter

The sparkling wines from the Oltrepò

The red wines from the Oltrepò made from and with Pinot Nero

The typical wines from the Oltrepò Pavese made from and with the autochthonous grape variety Croatina

The Crus Buttafuoco Storico from Oltrepò Pavese

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