Offbeat grapes and wines - Freisa
Up in Northwestern Italy's hilly Piemonte region, where the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco rank among the world's finest and most ageworthy wines, the lighter wines made from Barbera and Dolcetto are said to be the reds that the locals drink while they're waiting for the big boys to come around. Or if they can't <i>afford</i> the big boys.
Indeed, Barbera and Dolcetto are both fine options in my book, food-friendly and earthy and generally still relatively affordable in an age of wine-price inflation.
Worth noting also, particularly for those of us who enjoy blazing new trails and who always will hold out our glasses for a taste of something rare and offbeat, is a <i>third</i> modest Piemontese red made for early drinking.
Freisa ("Fray-zah") is a long-established but relatively rarely grown Northwestern Italian variety whose name comes from a dialect word for "strawberry" that's actually closer to the French "fraise" than the standard Italian "fragola."
However you pronounce it, though, it's an interesting variety, usually showing a distinct wild-raspberry scent, if not as redolent of ripe strawberries as some Beaujolais, but adding interest with earthy notes and an astringent, tart flavor profile that reminds me of Dolcetto. In Italy, some of it is made in an alternative style that's lighter, softly sweet and slightly fizzy, a very refreshing wine that should be popular for summer sipping ... if they made enough of it to export.
Frankly, even the dry, tart Freisa is rare enough to be hard to find outside Italy, so I was pleased to run across today's tasty example, the 2004 <b>La Casaccia Vigna Monfiorenza</b> from Monferrato, at Chambers Street Wines in New York City.
If you keep a "life list" of unusual varieties and regions, Freisa is well worth seeking out.
<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/casa0520.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>La Casaccia 2004 Vigna Monfiorenza Monferrato Freisa ($11.49)
This clear, dark garnet wine's aromas offer an intriguing blend of fruit, fresh herbs and earth. Delicate wild strawberries add a faint licorice note of fresh tarragon, with distinct red-clay minerality in the background. It's crisp and bright on the palate, subtle red-berry fruit and a distinct waft of white pepper against a light backdrop of earthy tannins, with crisp acidity lingering in the finish. U.S. importer: Selected Estates of Europe Ltd., Mamaroneck, N.Y. (May 20, 2007)
<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Red meat, grilled poultry or even game would be ideal, but I paired it, with surprising success, with a cool salad of fresh asparagus brought up to meet a red wine with Asian accents, a soy-ginger-garlic dressing with a basil aioli and a dab of Chinese fermented black beans.
<B>VALUE:</B> Assuming you like wines in the earthy, tannic style, with minerality at least at parity with fruit, this price is more than fair, particularly if you enjoy adding offbeat varieties to your "life list" of varieties and regions tasted.
<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Despite the substantial tannins, which normally suggest aging potential, this wine - like the similarly tannic Dolcetto - is best drunk up young; cellar time will likely diminish the fruit without softening the tannins.
<B>Cassacia</b> = "<i>Cah-sah-cha</i>"
<B>Freisa</B> = "<i>Fray-zah</i>"
La Cassacia's Website has photos and basic information about the winery and its wines in Italian and English. This link will take you to the bilingual start page, where you can click "Inglese" at the lower left for the English pages.
Here's a link to the U.S. importer's Website:
<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Wine-Searcher.com lists only limited vendors for La Casaccia wines.
For more retail sources, click "Where to Buy" on the importer's Website
. I got it from my No. 1 source for unusual wines, Chambers Street Wines in NYC:
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