Like many American wine professionals, I had only ever tasted the classic method wines of Oltrepò Pavese pioneer Frecciarossa. But that all changed during the lockdowns thanks to a mid-sized importer of Italian wines in Texas.
I had called Doug Skopp, the owner of Dionysus Imports, to ask him if he had any wineries that would like to take part in the virtual wine dinner series I was moderating each week at Roma restaurant in Houston. He was eager to suggest “it kid” Italian flying winemaker Cristiano Garella and the wines of the legendary Oltrepò estate. But when I told him that we didn’t normally use sparkling wines for our weekly events, he was quick to point out that he imports only the winery’s still wines.
Not only was Cristiano one of the most compelling speakers in our series. But the wines, and in particular the Pinot Noir vinified off its skins (as a white wine), really impressed me with their depth, nuance, and originality.
After my first week of teaching at Slow Food U. in Bra, Piedmont (my first time back in Italy after more than a year and a half), I hopped in my rented Fiat 500L and made a beeline to the other side of the Po River in Lombardy (Oltrepò means literally on the other side of the Po [river]; Pavese is a toponym that denotes Pavia province).
Those are the some of the cows (above) that Valeria Radici Odero uses for compost on her organic farm (certified as of the 2020 vintage). She is the granddaughter of Giorgio Odero, the man who first begin making fine wines there. She is also one of the most brilliant winery owners I’ve ever met, a true wine professional with fantastic communications chops and a razor-sharp palate.
Her 2016 Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese Giorgio Odero floored me with its rich flavor profile and lithe character. What a stunning wine, with great freshness on the nose and incredible lift in the mouth. It made me reflect on Italy’s wildly diverse mosaic of terroir: while I’ve tasted great still Pinot Noir from Trentino, Alto Adige, and Friuli, few wines have moved me the way this one did.
Frecciarossa’s wines remind me of why I keep doing what I do for a living: the endless viticultural adventures and discoveries that Italy shares with us as we explore the country’s myriad natural and human-made treasures.
Valeria, who speaks impeccable English, has promised me that Houston is going to be one of her first stops as soon as Italians are allowed to return to the U.S. I can’t wait to introduce her and share her wines with our guests back in Houston.