Not only is Freisa — the tannic, long-lived grape from Asti — one of Italy’s most commonly mispronounced, it’s also one of its most misunderstood. In the period that followed the second world war, the fame of Freisa (like that of Barbera del Monferrato) was eclipsed by Nebbiolo from Barbaresco and Barolo. But there was a time — not so long ago — that Freisa was one of Piedmont’s (Lombardy’s and the Veneto’s) most important varieties.
Freisa “is one of Piedmont’s most important and oldest grape varieties and it was widely planted in other parts of Northern Italy (Lombardy and the Veneto) for a long time,” write the editors of Vitigini d’Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy, Bologna, Calderini, 2006, the “bible” of Italian grapes). Although there are mentions in official documents as early as the 16th century, high praise of Freisa was delivered by 18th-century ampelographer [Conte Giuseppe] Nuvolone[-Pergamo of Turin] who called it a “top quality red grape.”
I had the opportunity to taste a lot of fantastic Freisa when I attended Barbera Meeting 2010 in Asti and when Chiara Martinotti of Cascina Gilli (whom I know solely through social media) offered to contribute a video for this project, I was thrilled.
When vinified in a traditional style, Freisa can render a tannic, rich wine, with a wide range of earthy tones balanced by black fruit. When you visit some of the old-school producers in Barolo (like Vajra, for example), you’ll find that they also bottle some Freisa — a homage to another era before the supreme reign of Nebbiolo.
Thanks, again, to everyone for speaking Italian grapes! I’m so glad that so many folks are enjoying and making use of the Italian Grape Name and Pronunciation Project. Tomorrow I leave for Apulia where I’ll be attending the Radici Wines festival: I’ll use the opportunity to focus on the grapes of southern Italy.