Of course you have. And, like me, you probably got to about #4 before the annoyance factor of incessant in-your-face advertisements and endless waits for the next page to load overcame your need to become any smarter.
Fortunately, very early on the list is: ‘Nero Never Fiddled While Rome Burned’.
That may be true, but even the smartypants web administrator probably didn’t know that while Nero was doing something other than fiddling, four hundred miles north of Domus Aurea, in Lombardy winemakers were fiddling around with Pinot Nero.
The grape which has been revered and bemoaned, celebrated and savaged, bragged about as brilliant or branded as brutal (depending on the ground and the grower) happens to display more personality in half-assed versions than most varietals—its Burgundian sister Chardonnay included—do in their finest. It a tough vine to cultivate, susceptible to fan leaf, leaf roll, and downy mildew—all of which sounds sort of poetic and gentle but is devastating to vineyards.
As Jancis Robinson puts it: “The Pinot Noir grower’s lot is not an easy one.”
That does not stop the Northern Italians, especially those from the Oltrepò Pavese, from digging in their heels and producing more Pinot Noir (French for ‘Pinot Nero’) than anybody else in Italy. Of course, the bulk of it ends up as a component of sparkling wine, for which the region is justly noted. Italians refer to the French méthode champenoise as método classico and in Oltrepò Pavese are composed primarily of Pinot Nero with up to a 30% blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio.
But a few plucky performers in Oltrepò Pavese use Pinot Nero as a stand-alone, and although some of the brooding bravado of Premier Cru Burgundies doesn’t put in an appearance, the Pinot Nero from this region can be fascinating and exceptional in its own right—and more rationally priced than any top shelf Burgundy.
One such example is Frecciarossa ‘Giorgio Odero’ Pinot Nero, Oltrepò Pavese, 2010, selling for around $35—essentially what you’d pay for a generic, catch-all Bourgogne Rouge Pinot Noir from a respected Domaine like Robert Groffier or Ponsot.
Americans without an OCD-level fascination with boutique wines from somewhat obscure Italian zones may have heard of neither Cuvée Giorgio Odero nor Oltrepò Pavese, but those who know a lot about both praise this release to the rafters. Gambero Rosso—a magazine, not a person—has consistently given this wine their highest rating while Decanter Wine Awards hung a silver medal around the neck of the 2009 vintage.
The wine originates on eight clay-heavy acres situated about 500 feet up in the Apennine foothills. Here, the climate is relatively mild with warm, dry summers late summer and a season that allows slow ripening—one of the contract riders that Pinot Nero destined for table wine demands.
The Odero wine story begins at the end of World War I, when Mario Odero—a native of Genoa—purchased an 86-acre estate near the Lombardan town of Casteggio. Along with his son Giorgio (1901-1983), he established the winery as one of the most important wine producers of post-war Italy, becoming the official wine of the viceroys of India and the Italian royal family.
Margherita Radici Odero—The New Generation
Personally, I like a Pinot Noir that makes no pretense to being a brooding, smoky, truffly Earth Momma—‘Giorgio Odero’ rises above the loam and sits at the picnic table. It’s a silken sip that would be lovely served at a slight chill; even at five years old it retains the exuberance of youth with bright aromas of pomegranate, cola—even sassafras—and a backbone of tart cherry to remind you of the pedigree. It is fairly light in color, pale and growing slightly orange with age, but clings to the freshness associated with a younger wine while maturing with slight hints of black tea and licorice.
Although Margherita Radici Odero only produces about a thousand cases of this wine a year, she’s clearly stumbled over a formula that’s not worth fiddling around with.
If Rome is burning with anything, it’s envy.