If you are in Milan, then take a break from sightseeing and explore the hills of Oltrepò Pavese with a special wine tasting tour.
Disclosure: this wine tasting tour was gifted by Vacanze Pavesi, however all thoughts and opinions are my own.
A couple of weeks ago, during the Milano Wine Week festival, the guys of Vacanze Pavesi kindly invited me to join one of their special wine tasting tours in Oltrepò Pavese. Now, I can see your questioning face while you try to locate Oltrepò on the map and trust me, it’s totally fine not to have a clue since this little corner of Lombardy is still quite under the radar.
Oltrepò Pavese is a beautiful stretch of countryside located less than an hour from Milan, where hills are covered in vineyards and winding roads lead to enchanting villages frozen in time. What’s more, Oltrepò Pavese is one of Italy’s top wine districts, covering roughly 75% of the entire national production of the Pinot Nero grape variety.
The tour with Vacanze Pavesi starts at Palazzo Bovara, the headquarters of the Milano Wine Week, where myself and the other participants meet the team that will accompany us in this adventure. Soon we are aboard their van and ready to hit the road towards the hills of the Scuropasso valley, a stunning corner of Oltrepò Pavese where Pinot Nero grapes are grown. I take a window seat and enjoy watching the landscape slowly change, from the hectic streets of Milan to the verdant hills of Oltrepò, punctuated by castles, tractors, and rows of vineyards. During the trip, Luca, our guide for the day, entertains the group with interesting stories of the area we are about to explore and it totally feels like traveling with a group of friends.
Just one small point: I love wine but I don’t really master its vocabulary, so you won’t find any technicalities here, sorry!
First stop: Conte Vistarino
Our first stop on this wine tasting tour in Oltrepò Pavese is the magnificent estate of Conte Vistarino, the family responsible for introducing the Pinot Nero grapes in Oltrepò in the XIX century. The property is huge, spreading over more than 800 hectares of land in the hamlet of Rocca de’ Giorgi, 180 of which are covered in vineyards.
We visit Villa Fornace, the splendid XVIII-century family home that welcomed illustrious visitors over the centuries, including members of the Savoy dynasty and the British Royal family. Countess Anna herself greets us at the door and gives us a brief rundown of the history of her family, before leaving us to explore the place with our guide. The rooms we visit are filled with precious treasures, old books, and family portraits, and retain that homey atmosphere that makes you almost tiptoe not to disturb the counts.
The villa is surrounded by a beautiful English garden designed by Achille Majnoni, who was the personal architect of Umberto I, duke of Savoy and king of Italy, and worked also on the stunning Villa Reale in Monza. Just across the road are the cellars, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and a small museum retracing the history of the wine estate, with old registers and accounting tools.
Our visit ends in the elegant tasting room where we sample three delicious reds.
Lunch with a winemaker at Villa Naj in Stradella
When the clock strikes lunchtime, we head to Stradella, an ancient village overlooked by the X-century Montalino fortress and boasting a long tradition in the production of accordions (just like Castelfidardo in the region of Le Marche). Here, hidden behind a rather plain facade, lies Villa Naj gourmet restaurant, the kind of hidden gem that only locals seem to know about and treasure for themselves. As soon as we enter the door, we are greeted by Paolo of Bruno Verdi Wines, a local winemaker who joins us for lunch to talk about the wines and traditions of this beautiful land.
Nothing keeps the conversation flowing like good food and great company, so much so that we almost lose track of time while feasting on culinary delights (creamy risotto with pumpkin and mushroom, the most delicious bread still warm from the oven and a dessert evocatively called “Autumn” just to name a few), paired with the excellent whites produced by Paolo.
His family has been cultivating grapes since the XVIII century but it was his father Bruno the first to bottle and label wine after World War II, and today Paolo continues the family business combining passion, skills and great respect for the land. Let me just say that I love sparkling wines and his bubbles are really good! I know, this is surely the worst description you’ll ever read of his wines but hey, it goes straight to the point right?
Our final stop: Cantina Scuropasso by Fabio Marazzi
With full bellies and a little tipsy (at least myself – and in case you’re wondering, no, the driver didn’t touch a drop of wine all day, the poor guy) we reach our final stop, Cantina Scuropasso run by the Marazzi family.
Fabio and his wife Manuela welcome us in their home and once again it feels like visiting a friend. We sit in the family kitchen where we sample more wine (and food) while listening to the interesting story of this winery, which dates back to 1962 when brothers Federico and Primo Marazzi started to produce sparkling bases of Pinot Nero for big wine brands in Franciacorta and Piedmont. Then Federico’s son Fabio joined them in the 1980s and decided to give it a try and produce Metodo Classico (aka bubbles), with the first bottles making their debut on Italy’s wine scene in 1991.
Fabio and Manuela are really passionate about their job and their love for wines and vineyards is infectious (yes, we lose track of time again). We descend into the cellars, where hundreds of bottles of Metodo Classico are meticulously piled in the old tanks that were once used to store the sparkling bases sold to other brands. Guys, it’s truly fascinating, look:
It’s late when we return to Milan, we’ve probably overrun by two hours or so, we are tired and I’m personally completely tipsy, but what a day! This is definitely not a standard wine tasting tour, you really get to know the people behind those bottles of wine and learn so much from them. And then there’s Oltrepò Pavese, whose stunning landscape and hidden gems never fails to surprise me every time I go there.
The guys of Vacanze Pavesi are doing a fantastic job in promoting this territory, combining passion, knowledge and some great storytelling. If you are interested in a wine tasting tour off the beaten track, then do check out the Vacanze Pavesi website to find out more about their initiatives in this special wine district.
Ciao for now