Freisa is an indigenous Italian red wine grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, primarily in the Monferrato and Langhe areas, but also further north in the provinces of Turin and Biella. Freisa is a vigorous and productive grape vine with round, blue-black berries and with bunches growing in an elongated shape. Although there are mentions in official documents as early as the 16th century it was in the 1880's when it became one of the major Piedmontese grapes, as its cultivation was inspired by the vine’s resistance to the downy mildew fungus.
Ampelographers believe that the Freisa grape likely originated in the hills between Asti and Turin. Recent DNA profiling unveiled Freisa as being a parent to the majestic Nebbiolo grape - the undisputed tannic King of Piedmont.
There are two major clones of Freisa - a small berried clone known as Freisa Piccolo which is more widely planted and a larger berry Freisa Grossa or Freisa di Nizza that tends to be planted on flat, fertile terrain and produces less distinguished wine. Freisa di Chieri is potentially its own sub-variety of Freisa Piccolo grown in the Chieri region and distinguished by its own DOC. Freisa grows best in well exposed, sunny hillside sites and creates a very perfumed, deeply coloured tannic wine.
Similar to Nebbiolo, Freisa produces wines with considerable tannins and acidity - while it can be used in blends, it is most often experienced as a varietal. Freisa brings colour and structure to blends to boost wines made of varieties such as Grignolino or Barbera. Traditionally Freisa was produced as a slightly sparkling wine with some subtle sweetness. Still and fully sparkling versions are also produced, as with dry and more decidedly sweeter styles. To balance the bitterness from the grape and aging on its lees, the wines would be made with a small amount of residual sugar and allowed to go through a secondary fermentation to create a small amount of carbonation. A rosé wine can also be made primarily from Freisa according to DOC regulations.
Modern winemaking has introduced techniques to minimize some of the bitter tannins and ferment the wine fully dry. These include temperature control fermentation tanks and aging in oak barrels. Freisa Nebbiolata is a specialty wine of the Piedmont region made in a ‘ripasso’ style. In this style, the Freisa must is fermented with left over Nebbiolo skins from the production of Barolo. This creates a highly tannic wine with the potential for complex flavours
Key DOC wines made with Freisa - 100% Freisa: in the province of Asti: Freisa d'Asti - Freisa d'Asti Superior - Langhe Freisa - Langhe Freisa Vigna - Freisa di Chieri Amabile - Freisa di Chieri Frizzante - Freisa di Chieri Secco - Freisa di Chieri Spumante - Freisa di Chieri Superior.
85% - 100% Freisa: in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria: Monferrato Freisa - Monferrato Freisa Novella - Monferrato Rosso & Pineronese Freisa.
While Nebbiolo gets all the attention in Piedmont - Freisa often suffers neglect. The harshness of the wine is not necessarily a fault of the grape, but rather resulting from a lack of understanding the varietal. A great deal of attention in the vineyard is requited and to pick the grapes at the right phenolic ripeness, otherwise the tannins will be green and the wine becomes hard to enjoy.
Although the high amount of tannins and the high acidity level suggest suppressed qualities for aging, in its home region Freisa is usually drunk at a young age and slightly sparkling - and sometimes even a little sweet. But as more winemakers realize the potential of Freisa - wines are now being bottled as still wines capable to mature and further develop Freisa's magnificent and intense flavours of raspberry, black cherry and violet aromas.