A wine that surprises you in a good way is the best kind of wine -- like Freisa di Chieri.
For some reason, I never picked up a bottle of Freisa (pronounced Fray-ee-sa), though I’m a huge fan of trying local wines. Freisa is as local as I can get – it’s produced in Chieri, just 20 minutes away from Turin in the Collina Torinese, a zone that’s in sight of the other side of La Superga, that monumental guardian of the city. I think I was guilty of wine sheep syndrome: you don’t see many bottles of Freisa even in Turin, so I just kept buying the popular stuff, the bottles of Barbera and Dolcetto and Nebbiolo that fill the shelves (Freisa is really rare; just seven producers make it. More info on the Consortium's site, where 6 of 7 of the producers are members).
So perhaps I’ve missed out on some good wines because I was afraid (or indecisive, more like); but now I know how perfect Freisa is with a grilled steak, or pasta with tomato sauce. It is excellent with fritto misto, that big platter of fried stuff these Piemontese go crazy for, and (I’ve heard) carne cruda (raw Piemontese beef). Freisa is not a “meditation wine;” that is, you won’t sip it at a party with nothing on your plate except cocktail napkins and peanuts. It’s too in-your-face with all its acidity and tannins and ripe fruits for that. But it’s for this that Freisa is perfect with food.
And really, that’s the way wine was meant to be drunk, or at least the best way: with food.
I recently visited two wineries that make Freisa di Chieri in two very different ways, where the flavors of the wines reflected their different realities and philosophies: Rubatto Guido Azienda Agricola and Rossotto Stefano Azienda Vitivinicola.
Enrico Rubatto of the Rubatto Winery right outside of Chieri is your friendly local guy. When I met him, he apologized that he’d been digging in his potatoes and had some dirt on his shirt and hands – he is, without a doubt, a real farmer. The family winery is, in fact, also a working farm, with cattle and crops. They make just three wines: Freisa di Chieri, Freisa di Chieri vivace, and Barbera. They are strongly catered to the local taste, and much of his wine is sold sfuso, or “loose,” direct from the barrel.
The Rossotto winery in Chivasso produces a larger selection of wines. Federico Rossotto, one of the producer’s two sons who works in the winery’s business, discussed how they varied the vinification, labels, wine names, and even denominations to draw in a variety of clientele. For example, the 100% Freisa wines will be picked up by the locals; those that are aged in wood will be picked up by out-of-towners (like myself). Blends, such as the Eclisse – 60% Barbera, 30% Freisa, 10% Bonarda – will draw in an international crowd, with any sharp edges in acidity or mouth-puckering tannins rounded out with the mix of grapes and the different aspects they confer to the finished wine.
Piemontese wines, said Federico Rossotto, are usually known for being tannic but not acidic, a la Barolo; or acidic but not tannic, a la Barbera. Freisa is both, and quite a lot of both. I loved the strength of its tannins and acidity paired with classic raspberry and violet aromas.
Both Enrico Rubatto and Federico Rossotto said that a high percentage of their vino vivace, the slightly bubbly, red Freisa wine, is sold to locals. The vivace Freisa is traditional in this area (vivace is different from frizzante, which is more carbonated). The non-vivace reds are sold beyond the contained borders of Chieri.
I forgot to ask if they pour their wine in their soup. In Emilia Romana, they dump their bubbly Lambrusco wine into their tortelli. In Ovada, in goes the Dolcetto, straight from the flask on the dinner table. It seems to me that Freisa is the right sort of wine to do this with. It’s really delicious.
I tasted several wines from both wineries, but here are the comparisons of the two sides of non-vivace Freisa: one that is highly traditional and rustic, and another with a wider, more international appeal (but still very Piemontese!).
Freisa di Chieri 2013
No aging in wood at all, just steel
On the nose, notes of dried cherries and dark, ripe fruits, plus a hint of (not kidding) teaberry. In the mouth, it has a sharp acidity and clean tannins, plus the bitterness of grapefruit stood out. This goes really well with food.
Aged in wood for 1 year and bottle for 1 year. “Sun Sì” is Piemontese dialect for “Sono qui,” or “I am here” in Italian – named this because it is so quintessentially Piemontese!
Dark cherry and red berries on the nose, cloves (common for Freisa) and tobacco. And again, teaberry, which I couldn’t explain because apparently this North American native does not exist in Piemonte. It had this sort of faint, hazy minty scent, nothing like peppermint but it reminded me exactly of the little red berries I’d find on the forest floor and eat in Pennsylvania. Still strong tannins and acidity, but smoother and more complex because aged in wood.
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.