Oltrepo’ Pavese, A World to Discover

Lombardy, Italy

The final sparkling wine region of Italy I want to write about this year is Oltrepò Pavese. Located in Lombardy, it is home to 62% of Lombard viticulture.


Pavia and the surrounding countryside are places where many Milanese have country houses or weekend places. As a beautiful and peaceful corner of Lombardy, it’s a haven for bike riders and for enjoying the countryside. They have also been making wine for centuries.


The clearest evidence of the presence of vines in the Oltrepò comes from the Bollettino del Comizio Agrario Vogherese of 1876, which documents the discovery of a  fossilized vine trunk, 25 cm long by 6 cm in diameter, found near Casteggio(Clastidium) but the first mention of viticulture in the Oltrepò belongs to Strabone, who lived between 60 B.C. and 20 A.D.

In fact, in 40 B.C., documenting his passage through the Oltrepò, Strabone wrote of “good wine, hospitable people and very large wooden barrels”.

Geography, Climate, and Soils:

Pavia as a province is bordered by Liguria, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. In the food and in viticulture, elements of these regions are clearly evident. In terms of climate, the Alps, the Apennines, the Ligurian sea, and the Po’ river are all mitigating factors as well. Soils are largely limestone and clay with some other soils types mixed in. The soils tend to be from the Cenozoic area, beginning about 66 million years ago.:



While only 15% of the wine is currently exported, it is gaining both in terms of recognition and interest abroad. The area is about 13,0000 hectares of vines and produces about 75 million bottles of wine a year across the denominations it encompasses. Oltrepo’ has about 160 producers and 1300 growers and a Consortium that was formed in the 1960s.

Pinot Nero in Oltrepo’:

Located on the 45th parallel just like Bordeaux and Oregon, Oltrepo’ is the well-known for its plantings of Pinot Noir. In fact, Oltrepo’ is the third largest producer of Pinot Nero(Noir) after Burgundy and Champagne in Europe. It has been planted in Oltrepo’ since the mid 1800s, first brought to the area by the Conte Vistarino family.

Oltrepo’ Pavese as a regime has everything a wine lover would want. The range goes from Sparkling to Frizzante to Sweet wines, from light to full-bodied whites to Rosé and light to full-bodied reds. All colors and styles can be found here.


Other Grape Varieties:

In the 1800s, the area had about more than 225 grape varieties planted but today, between 5-15 varieties are the most common and Pinot Nero, the most widely planted. The other most frequently planted varieties are Croatina, Barbera, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio. They also grow Uva Rara, Ughetta / Vespolina, Pinot Bianco, Cortese Bianco, Moscato, Malvasia, and Müller-Thurgau.



A large number of denominations make up the Oltrepo’ canon of wines. Premier among them is the Oltrepò Metodo Classico DOCG, a sparkling wine that calls for a minimum of 70% Pinot Nero, with a maximum of 30% Chard, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco in the mix. By law it must spend 15 months on it’s lees or 24 months if it is a Millesimato or vintage version of this wine.

There is also an Oltrepò Metodo Classico DOCG Rosé, again with a 70% minimum of Pinot Noir and a 30% maximum of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco.

Not to be outdone, this is a DOCG for Oltrepò Metodo Classico DOCG Pinot Nero – 85% Minimum Pinot Noir and 15% Chard, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco.  Many producers are moving to use 100% Pinot Noir however. I tried a couple of love examples yesterday at the Slow Wine event. One that spent 60 months on its lees and the other 84 months on the lees


There are a host of DOC wines with the varietal listed where the listed varietal is at least 85% of the blend.

A very special wine to mention is the Pinot Noir dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC. It has been a DOC since 2010 (min 95%) and it also comes in a Riserva version.

A very special wine one to mention though is Bonarda DOC. Bonardhas been a Doc since 1970. The grapes are Croatina (85% – 100%) together with Barbera, Ughetta/Vespolina and Uva Rara (15% max).

This is a very typical product of the area with a long tradition behind it.Croatina is also called Bonarda in Emilia Romagna, in the Colli Piacentini, creating some confusion. Croatina and the wine Bonarda have nothing to do with the Bonarda grown in Argentina.


Not to be outdone, there is also a sweet wine that is only found in Oltrepo’ called Sangue di Giuda. The unfortunate name aside, this is a historic and very traditional sweet wine done by stopping fermentation when the wine gets to a certain level of alcohol. The wine is a blend of grapes 25–65% Barbera; 25–65% Croatina; with a maximum 45% of Pinot Nero, Uva Rara, and/or Vespolina.

Sangue di Giuda is a very particular wine made within a small area in Oltrepo’ in the municipalities of Oltrepò Bosnasco, Montù, Beccaria, Pietra dé Giorgi and Cigognola. It can be made in the vivace, frizzante or spumante style and pairs well with cheeses and fruits, as well as dry desserts or cookies at the end of the meal. It is quite low in alcohol at 6%. I love this wine and the Bonarda with a little chill on them.

Lastly, another denomination to mention is called Buttafuoco DOC. Buttafuoco is a style not a wine or a grape variety. Buttafuoco means thrown into in the fire. Again a blend of the familiar red grapes of Barbera, Croatina  (25-65%), and Uva Rara and/or Vespolina up to 45%  It covers red wines which may be still or semi-sparkling. The grapes are grown in seven comunes: Stradella, Broni, Canneto Pavese, Montescano, Castana, Cigognola and Pietra de’ Giorgi, and all are in the densely planted vineyard zone a few miles southeast of Pavia town.


Lastly, the entire area and the Consortium are quite dedicated to sustainability. They have a list of commandments that they are following in the vineyard that are aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations that were decided in 2015. They see the goals as a summary of concepts that can be applied in viticulture and that follow the sustainable path.


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