Getting to Know the Oltrepo Pavese Wine Region

Oltrepo Pavese (All-tray-po PA-vay-say) is a wine region located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. about 25 miles south of Milan. Bordered by Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, it is perhaps better known for its natural beauty and is a favorite among cyclists and hiders. Nevertheless, Oltrepo Pavese is the largest wine producing region in Lombardy by area, with the town of Pavia at the center.

Located on the 45 parallel, it is positioned with Burgundy and Oregon and you will find Pinot Nero thriving here, but, despite the Chardonnay featured in this article, you really don’t find much Chardonnay growing here. Today, there only about grape varieties growing here, the most common are Pinot Nero, Croatina, Barbera and Riesling.

Croatina is indigenous to the region and the most planted vine in the Oltrepo Pavese. Here’s a curveball though – the wine made with Croatina is called Bonarda. Not to be confused with wines made with the Bonarda grape. Much like Montelpuciano, we have a wine tied to a specific region, and we have a grape, and they are not the same thing. I was thrilled to be able to try a Bonarda wine, which I detail below.

The region butts up against the Apennine mountains and is very hilly, with microclimates providing areas where both red and white grape varieties thrive. The majority of quality grapes grow at some altitude, 1000 feet above sea level or higher.

Photo courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepo Pavese

Two other wines are unique to Oltrepo Pavese: Sangue di Guido and a sparkling rose wine called Cruase. The Sangue di Guido (tears of Judas) is a sweet, low alcohol wine the I will cover in a future post. The sparkling in the rose expression is known as Cruase only in this region.

I received as samples*, a Chardonnay and a Bonarda. I hope you’ll be as surprised and delighted as I was to explore what’s inside the bottles.

Tenuta Mazzolino|Carmara|IGT Pavia Province|12.5% ABV

I was so happy to try this 100% Chardonnay since it is not that common from this region. Mazzolino calls this wine “the bottle that finishes in 10 minutes,” which not only made me giggle, but proved to be fairly accurate. Although I paired it with grilled chicken and roasted green beans, it would also be perfect for sipping with cheese, charcuterie, or all by itself.

Tenuta Mazzolino has been under the direction of the founder’s granddaughter, Francesa Seralvo, since 2015. Her grandfather bought the land 40 years ago and she grew up on the property, playing in the vineyards and witnessing each vintage of grape growing and wine production. She is committed to honoring all that she learned from her grandfather, while also bringing innovation and creativity to the future of the winery. The farming has been moving towards organic with a deep respect and love of the land. To Francesca growing grapes and making wine is not a job but a way of life.

I don’t know how much Chardonnay is growing in the region as whole, but I believe that four of the 20 hectacres at Mazzolino were were planted with Chardonnay in 1999. The grapes are hand harvested, and put into stainless steel tanks to ferment, followed by 5 months of aging prior to bottling.

This Chardonnay would be a ringer in a blind tasting in the best possible way. It did remind me of another Italian Chardonnay – from Puglia – that I ordered at a restaurant and was so skeptical about it being Chardonnay, I made the bartender show me the bottle! Do not interpret this as a negative, the wine is delicious and the unique expression is a wonderful surprise. I suspect the reason this wine might has an IGT quality designation is merely because of the Chardonnay, but that is just a guess.

I got aromas of citrus, grapefruit and minerality. On the palate this wine has great acidity, citrus notes, and something herbal – maybe fennel. It was medium bodied but the acidity made another sip almost compulsory. Almost like liquid sunshine, this wine was a genuine treat on a cloudy December day.

Tenuta Mazzolino|Bonarda|DOC|14% ABV

So, just to reiterate, not the Bonarda grape in this bottle, but the Croatina grape, indigenous to this region, the wines were given DOC status in 1970. Bonarda wines must have at least 85% Croatina, but this one is 100% Croatina.

Very fruit forward, with great acidity and medium tannins this is a fantastic food wine. Mazzolino calls this a wine that is “as traditional as the bread and salami snacks” so common in this region. I really can’t come up with a better description than this. It was freaking amazing with bread and salami. I did have a glass by itself and also enjoyed that. I found burnt sugar, vanilla, faint eucalyptus and blackberry aromas. On the palate I got juicy blackberry, and garrigue with a slight pepper finish. The acidity was perfect – so juicy, yet the tannins are present enough that your mouth immediately feels thirsty for another sip.

These grapes are also hand harvested, destemmed and whole berry soaked prior to fermentation. The color is deep and dark and the overall impression to me was luscious. Bread, salami and this wine, makes you realize life is in indeed beautiful.

Nothing makes me happier than discovering little known wines and grapes from off the beaten path regions. I found both of these wines to be beautiful expressions of a place that I now hope to visit one day.

*Samples were provided from Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepo Pavese in conjunction with Vigneto Communications.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robin Renken says:

    Such delicious wines! I tasted their Pinot Nero! I was surprised by this regions wines. I must admit, when I hear about Pinot and Chard in Italy, I’m always skeptical, I mean they have so many indigenous grapes to choose from here, why go with an International grape? But the wines I have tasted from this region are really good. From the Bonarda to the Buttfuoco to Pinot Nero or Riesling. It’s a region to keep an eye on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree Robin – so intrigued! It’s definitely now on my list of places I’d like to visit. So far, I’ve only opened these two, but I have a Pinot Nero that I am definitely looking forward to opening.


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