IIn this part of Lombardy, Oltrepo Pavese, in the hills overlooking the plain of the river Po to the north, they produce two wines that have the most intriguing names. Here, you will find Buttafuoco, which roughly translates as ‘spitfire’, and Sangue di Giuda, or the Blood of Judas. To try these local delicacies you can visit the cantina of Andrea Picchioni (www.picchioniandrea.it) who is a hugely welcoming man.
On 10 hectares of land, Andrea has been producing a selection of wines since 1988. His vineyards are hidden away in the small valley, Solinga, on a south-facing hillside that gathers the sun during the long hot summer months. Here he cultivates in accordance with the strictest of sustainable practices. During the growing season the vineyards appear like hay meadows, full of wildflowers. This is the result of two deliberate decisions, the first to eschew the use of herbicides and the second to avoid ploughing the land between the vines to help prevent soil erosion. Andrea keeps a portion of his land forested to compensate for any CO2 produced by his business and all the byproducts from making the wine, the skins and the stalks, are returned to the soil. This is a man with enormous respect both for the land and its traditions.
Buttafuoco is a DOC wine made from Barbera, Croatina and Vespolina grapes. Andrea makes two versions, using fruit harvested by hand from vines up to 40 years old. The first is called Solinghino (the little Solinga), named after the valley that gave birth to it. This is matured for 12 months in cement vats before being bottled. The wine is a bright ruby red colour and on the nose there is wild rose, cherry and other red fruits. Andrea suggests pairing it with salami, lasagne, or white meats. I would certainly enjoy a glass with a bowl of penne arrabbiata at lunchtime.
The second is called Bricco Riva Bianca and it weighs in at a hefty 14.5% by volume – I tasted a 2016. This wine has spent two years maturing in the huge oak barrels that the Italians call botti, made from Slovenian oak. These barrels impart a more subtle flavour than the French barrique and tonneau. The result is a full-bodied delight with a dark ruby colour rich with flavours of cherry and plum and a long finish. The tannins have mellowed to produce a wine of complex structure balanced with good acidity. This wine has won the coveted Tre Bicchiere from the much respected Gambero Rosso guide so it is well worth seeking out. Pair it with red meat or game in stews or roasts. It also goes well with salami and medium mature cheeses.
Apart from Buttafuoco, the other local DOC wine is Sangue di Giuda or Blood of Judas. Andrea could not tell us the origin of the name; he says it is lost in the mists of time. The wine is made from the same blend as Buttafuoco. Andrea calls his wine Fior del Vento or Flower of the Wind and after seeing the wildflowers waving in the soft breezes of his vineyard I can well understand why. The fermentation is halted before all the sugars have been converted to alcohol and the result is a slightly sparkling red wine with a deep ruby colour. On the nose it is rich with the perfumes of strawberries and redcurrants with hints of the wild herbs prevalent in the vineyard. Obviously lighter – only 7% – than its fully fermented brethren but with a refreshing taste, try it with fruit tarts and pastries.
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