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Buttafuoco and Oltrepo’ Pavese

I have been tasting and drinking Italian wines for over 20 years and I thought I had seen everything, yes there are plenty of producers I never heard of, new wineries being launched almost on a daily basis, but when I saw a poster with a bottle of wine saying “Buttafuoco”, spit fire in Italian, it really took me a few seconds to understand what the poster was about. I had to look around and read some of the flyers that had been left to realise that Buttafuoco is actually a wine and, after having tasted it, a pretty good one as well.

Buttafuoco is a very unique red wine with a very interesting and unique story. Made from grapes grown in a very small wine region called “Lo sperone di Stradella” in the Oltrepo’ Pavese, Lombardy, Buttafuoco is a red wine made with Croatina, Barbera, Uva Rara and Vespolina, each grape giving the wine certain caractheristics; Croatina gives the color and the fruity nose, Barbera the acidity for a longer life, and the remaining two grapes add elegance.

The Oltrepo’ Pavese is a wine region with a big wine production very little known outside Italy and even within the country itself. Until recently mainly associated to quantity more than quality wines, in the last few years local producers have been working very hard to change and improve the region reputation and succeeded producing some outstanding wines. The Oltrepo’ Pavese is primarily known for producing “frizzanti”, wine slightly sparkling, drunk in the area and perfect with charcuterie and cheeses, classic method sparkling wines, mainly using Pinot Noir that is widely planted and for which the region represent the biggest European wine grower, and Pinot nero still wines, both, red and vinified in white.

Once the Buttafuoco is made, the wine is aged for a least 24 months in wood and then another 12 months in the bottle, a minimum ageing of 3 years before being released, with each producer following a different philosophy with regard to wood ageing, new or used, small or big barrels, so that the final wine varies between each winery and I did taste different wines.
What make this story even more interesting is that a group of producers got together, it doesn’t happen too often in Italy, and decided to create the “Buttafuoco Storico”, a wine where only the oldest vineyards, vineayards that have been growing “Buttafuoco” grapes can be part of. The story I was told from the producers is that in the “Buttafuoco” vineyards the different grapes grow over each other, one after the other on the same row, and when harvested all grapes are harvested together.

The other very unique features of the Buttafuoco Storico is that wineries are subject to more stringent quality criteria and only the wines that are rated higher of 80 points can be bottled and labelled as Buttafuoco Storico, which ensure that only good wines are bottled, and each vintage is rated from 1 to 5 flames, flames are used instead of stars, and each bottle has the vintage stamped on the neck, unsuaully thought, the vintage rating doesn’t reflect the quality of the grapes at harvesting which is what every other appellations do, but the quality of the wines produced in that vintage .

I was told from the same producers that a panel of experts taste the wines and based on their ratings, determine the quality of the harvesting, in reality the vintage rating is more the average wine score. From a consumer point of view it means that in a 5 star/flames vintage, the Buttafuoco storico, independently of the producer, is a great wine, so consumers can choose it more confidently.

I tasted different Buttafuoco Storico of different vintages, each producer had a different vintage out so it is difficult to compare the wines, from 2011 to 2015 vintage, however, I was very impressed with all of them, some more some less, but the wine is fantastic and can rival all other big Italian wines. The Buttafuoco is big on fruit but elegant on the nose, and depending on the vintage, smooth or still too young, it is a wine that needs bottle ageing, with an amazing personality, a wine worth discovering and tasting, and we are working to get some very soon, until then, if you ever go to the Oltrepo Pavese don’t forget to look for it.
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