Freisa: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project

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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.

The Marchioness of Monferrato

Above: Yesterday we “tasted” the terroir in a cellar in Monferrato at one of my new favorite wineries, La Casaccia. The unique, sandy tufaceous subsoil of Monferrato is what gives the wine its outstanding minerality and savory flavors. As per Monferrato’s tradition, La Casaccia’s cellar was literally excavated out of the subsoil. Remarkably, the crumbly walls need no support.

Long before I really knew much about Italian wine, other than the fact that I loved it, I was intrigued by the wines of Monferrato.

As Boccaccio recounts in the first day of his Decameron, when the king of France called on the Marchioness of Monferrato: “Many courses were served with no lack of excellent and rare wines, whereby the King was mightily pleased, as also by the extraordinary beauty of the Marchioness, on whom his eye from time to time rested.”

The wines of Monferrato were already famous by the middle ages and long before the current renaissance of Italian wines, Grignolino and Barbera grown in Monferrato enjoyed wide fame and graced the tables of nobility and clergy.

Above: I also really loved the wines of Marco and Giuseppina Canato, children of share croppers who now grow and vinify excellent Barbera and Grignolino and run a homey bed and breakfast. Just look at them! You can’t help but adore them.

I don’t have time this morning to post any further, as I have been re-posting vigorously over at Barbera2010. The Barbera 7 are a loquacious bunch!

Above: I also loved this single-vineyard Grignolino “Tumas” by Scamuzza and the inimitable Laura Bertone, who paired her groovy, mineral-driven wine with oysters!

I’m exhausted after 3 days of interpreting and blogging and tasting. I miss Tracie P terribly, and in the spirit of honest blogging (something we’ve been talking about a great deal, here in Asti), I cannot conceal that a very good friend of mine has broken my heart… Yesterday was a tough day but the Barbera 7 rallied around me, with cheer and words of support, and sweet messages from my beautiful wife through the night assuaged the hurt…

How can you mend a broken heart?