Used mostly in sparkling wines – where the region is also a big producer and unknown to American consumers – it also makes a fair amount of still Pinot Noir. Or, Pinot Nero, as the varietal is called and labeled there and nearly everywhere in Italy where it is bottled. It’s been planted in Italy since the mid-1800s at least and the Italianized name is quite longstanding unlike the more recently planted Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The labeling of Pinot Noir as Pinot Nero is a problem, I believe. If American can find a Pino Nero from the Oltrepò Pavese or anywhere else in Italy, they might not immediately think that the wine is Pinot Noir. Or if they know Pinot Nero is Pinot Noir that might think that it is something outside the bounds of typical Pinot Noir, maybe even adulterated. I mentioned this to the owner of Prime Alture, one of the wineries that we visited. I should have looked at his Pinot Noir first. He seemed to have the same concerns as me, and his is labeled as Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, though he said that he is in most of the top restaurants in Milan, he doesn’t yet have an American distributor, even if he might be more ready for the market than most.
I had several versions of Pinot Noir recent trip and enjoyed them all, including a white wine made with the grape, which was new to me. It very nicely complemented the sturgeon dish at a famed long-running trattoria in Pavia. A few years ago, at a dinner at a sommelier’s house, I had a Pinot Nero from the Alto Adige that was fantastic, even outshining an excellent white Hermitage from the cult producer Jean-Louis Chave that had nearly twenty years of age. To generalize, the Pinot Noirs produced in Italy provide a different take on the grape, neither Burgundian or Californian in any of its guises, dry with subtle red fruits like blackcurrant and raspberry, not bold, and balanced with nice acidity. Each has tasted Italian to me, maybe with a hint of underlying bitterness that is present in a great many of the reds of the country or something. If you enjoy Pinot Noir, especially with food, it’s worth your while to give Pinot Nero a try, from Oltrepò Pavese or elsewhere, provided you can find it.
A white Pinot Nero (or Pinot Noir) at Antica Osteria del Previ in Pavia just over a week ago.