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An Intriguing Freisa

I love discovering varietals I’ve never tasted before, which happens frequently with Italian wine. That’s because the country has literally hundreds of native grapes, most found only in a single region or even just a small area. The fresh, yet smoothly rich 2008 Cascina Gilli Vigna del Forno Freisa d’Asti, with its bright ruby red color, delicate aromas of wild berries and intense matching flavors, is my latest find. I sampled it alongside thin slices of delicious hard sausages and chunks of salty parmesan at importer Domenico Selections’ fall portfolio tasting.

Chiara Martinotti from Cascina Gilli, in northern Piemonte, was pouring and talking. I learned that the freisa grape is native to the region, where it became known in the 20th century. Now there’s a rising interest in this grape. Recent scientific research on its genetic heritage links it with the nebbiolo variety, used to make Piemonte’s great barolos and barbarescos. Like them, Martinotti says, freisa has enough structure to age. Still, the Vigna del Forno is soft textured, with no hard tannic edges, lovely to drink now.

Gianni Vergnano and his family restored the 16th century villa, the cellars and the surrounding vineyards in the hilly Castelnuovo Don Bosco commune. The hilltops are noted for prized terra bianca soils of blue-grey marl that produces wines with intense aromas. Vergnano, a great believer in the potential of freisa, set about rescuing the abandoned variety in the vineyards, a difficult task. He bottled the first one in 1985, and it gained immediate attention. Now the estate makes four, including one that’s lightly effervescent.

The “Vigna del Forno” bottling isn’t aged in wood, so the fruit flavors are bright, intense, and immensely appetizing. Now a firm Freisa fan, I urge you to give it a try.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”