Wed 23 Mar 2011
Still thinking about the wines I tasted at VINO 2011 two months ago and some of the estate owners and winemakers I talked to. One of those that keeps recurring in my mind is Ca’ di Frara, a property in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region. Winemaker and manager Luca Bellani and Veronica Barri, who handles the marketing end, were so engaging — sort of eager and anxious together– and the wines they showed were also so engaging that I wish I had a glass or two sitting beside me as I write these words and sentences. (On the other hand, I’m sipping a glass of the Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, and listening to Glenn Gould play the “Goldberg Variations,” so I’m not like, you know, unhappy.)
The estate was founded in 1905 and is now owned by the third generation of the family, Luca and Matteo Bellani.
Oltrepò Pavese received D.O.C. status in 1970, though the area had long been considered an under-performer. The region lies directly south of the city of Pavese and south of the Po river — “otrepò” means “beyond the Po” — in the jutting triangle at the southwestern extreme of Lombardy, as if the province were making a tiny geographical genuflection. Oltrepò Pavese is a hilly area, extending toward the foothills of the Apennines, and around Oliva Gessi, where Ca’ di Frara is located, the chalk-like minerality of those hills benefits white grapes like riesling and pinot grigio.
For example, the Ca’ di Frara Apogeo 2009 is a raccolta tardiva, a late harvest riesling that is nonetheless bone dry, coming in at a comfortable 13 percent alcohol, and expressing a structure that I kept trying to find a different word for but kept landing on “beautiful” as a combination of stones and bones can only be when acidity, minerality and fruit are in perfect balance. (Think of Monica Vitti’s face.) Peaches and pears, a hint of lychee and quince; a crisp, vibrant presence, steely but not forbidding; and that line of limestone, taut, damp and radiant. Made all in stainless steel. Excellent. About $22 would be the price in the United States of America. Also made in stainless steel is the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Grigio 2009, again a late harvest wine fashioned in a completely dry manner, with 13.5 percent alcohol and projecting an astonishing and profound depth of chalky/limestone mineral character with a sort of inner strength and dynamism and purpose that very few pinot grigios made anywhere in Italy can evince. Another Excellent. Price would be about $20.
Of two reds, I was a bit dismayed by the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Nero 2008, which though fermented in stainless steel aged 12 months in oak barrels, lending it a deeply spicy nature but also excessive dryness and even some austerity. Perhaps this will be more tolerable after 2012. Alcohol is 13 percent. Good+. About $22. No such caveat attaches to Ca’ di Frara’s La Casetta 2009, a Provincia de Pavia I.G.T. wine that’s a blend of 95 percent croatina grapes and 5 percent “rare grapes.” There’s possible confusion here since in Lombardy croatina is usually known as bonarda, while a different croatina is called “uva rara.” Oh well, let’s just get on with things. I loved this wine for its unusual, authentic, countryside character, its spiciness, wildness and exotic nature, its intense black and blue fruit qualities that managed not to be too ripe or flamboyant. The wine ages in 50 percent French oak, a process that contributes shape and suppleness to the texture without compromising its individual integrity. Charming and delightful yet with satisfying depth. Very Good+. About $20.