A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Freisa d'Asti - Piemonte, Italy

Friends and neighbors, today I have a very unusual treat.  Have you ever had a high acid, fiercely tannic wine like Barolo and thought to yourself, "if only this had some bubbles it would be just perfect."  If you have, then I may have just found your dream wine.  Say hello to our friend Freisa!

Freisa is grown in Piemonte, home of Fringe Wine all stars Grignolino and Brachetto (among many others).  It is believed to be native to the region, originating somewhere in the hills between Asti and Turin in the 18th Century.  It is related somehow to Nebbiolo, the true star of northwestern Italy, either as one of its parents or one of its offspring.  Freisa has two major clones: Freisa Piccolo and Freisa Grossa.  Of the two, Freisa Piccolo is the most widely planted.  Freisa di Chieri is a subclone of Freisa Piccolo which has its own DOC in the area around Turin.  In general, Freisa is a heavy grower, producing heavy vegetation and lots of grapes if not pruned carefully.  As a vine, it is somewhat resistant to downy mildew, but can suffer from powdery mildew.  The grape is grown almost exclusively in Piemonte with only a few acres in Argentina making up the rest of the world plantings. 

It's when we start to talk about styles of wine produced from Freisa that the real fun starts.  The wine is produced in a dry, still version, as well as a ripasso style where the Freisa must is fermented on top of Nebbiolo skins, which must make for a seriously tough wine to sip through.  The most common presentation of Freisa is in a lightly sparkling form which can be either a little sweet (like Sangue di Giuda) or bone dry (like Lambrusco).  "Oh," you might think to yourself, "a little spritz in a red wine can be delightfully refreshing...I've enjoyed many a dry Lambrusco on a summer day and enjoyed them immensely."  You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but you should realize going in that Freisa and Lambrusco are two very different grapes and they take to the process with wildly different results.  Oz Clarke's take is that it's a "love it or hate it" kind of thing, and that seems to be pretty accurate with some of the world's foremost wine experts.  Hugh Johnson considers the wine "immensely appetizing" while Robert Parker considers it "totally repugnant."  I find myself somewhere between the two poles, mostly just scratching my head trying to figure out what on earth I just drank.

The bottle I was able to pick up was from Cascina Gilli.  It was their Luna di Maggio Freisa d'Asti bottling from the 2007 vintage and it set me back $18.  The style of this wine is called "Vivace," which I guess means that its slightly less fizzy than a frizzante style.  If they insist there's a difference, I'll believe them, but that's a shade of grey that I can't see.  The Luna di Maggio is apparently made from the best quality Freisa grapes at the estate.  They get the fizz in there by adding a small amount of sweet wine after the grapes have totally undergone their initial fermentation.  The sweet wine starts a secondary fermentation in the bottle that does ferment the sugar to dryness, but which leaves carbon dioxide and a bit of fizzyness in its wake. 

In the glass, the wine had an inky, dense purple-black color that was opaque nearly out to the rim.  The nose was a little shy with some bitter green vegetable and coffee aromas and not much fruit.  The wine is slightly fizzy in the mouth and bone dry with high acid and shockingly high tannins.  If you've never had anything like this before, there is no way for you to prepare yourself for the shock of having your mouth stripped out from the tannins in a sparkling wine.  You can psych yourself up for it all you want, but you will not be prepared.  It will surprise you and you will need a few minutes to collect yourself.  Once you've pulled yourself together, there is dark black cherry fruit with some raspberry and espresso notes with a very bitter finish, but good luck getting to and staying with those fruit flavors.  I'll be honest: this wine just isn't for me.  I'm not saying it's a bad wine, I'm just saying that it doesn't push the right buttons for me as a wine.  It has the same kind of structure as a Barolo, but it doesn't have the nice fruit that Barolo has to round out the piercing acidity and rough tannins.  The bubbles don't really help as they just seem to accentuate the angularity and awkwardness of the wine in your mouth.  Overall, my general sense was of a thin, harsh wine that was just being mean for the sake of meanness.  Barolo can beat you up sometimes, but it also gives you something sweet that makes the punishment worthwhile and makes you come back for more; Freisa just seems to want to beat you up and then kick you while you're down.

The common recommendation seems to be that you should serve fizzy Freisa with a slight chill, but it didn't make much difference to me.  There may be foods out there that this wine is just made for, but for the life of me I can't think of one.  I would love to try a still version or a fizzy version with a some residual sugar in it to see whether its the grape or the style that I can't get over. As always, I never close the book on a wine without trying different producers and different years, but it may take awhile for me to screw up the courage to give this another shot.

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

try it with salume and other cured meats...i'm sure it's much better this way, just like with really serious Lambrusco that has harsh tannins