Conte Vistarino-staying in a 18th cent. Italian villa while sipping on Italian pinot nero

Oct 06, 10 Conte Vistarino-staying in a 18th cent. Italian villa while sipping on Italian pinot nero

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that we were going to be staying in a 17th century Italian villa. I was wrong. We stayed in an 18th century Italian villa. I really should pay more attention to my notes.



I was looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation after all that sparkling rose at lunch. As we wound through the hillsides of Oltrepo Pavese, past rows and rows of vines, I idly wondered what this villa would look like. In my mind, Italian villas are terracotta roofed edifices set atop dusty brown hills. I think I’ve watched Under the Tuscan Sun too many times as the Villa Fornace was nothing of the sort. The family seat since  the 1700′ s it was originally designed by Achille Majnoni, personal architect to King Umberto I with additional wings added in the 1800’s. It wasn’t exactly like visiting Versailles but close enough. I was afraid to touch anything but Ottavia, the contessa, assured us that the villa was used by guests on a regular basis. Some of those guests from the past have included the British Royal Family, who liked to use the villa as a base for their hunting trips in the surrounding countryside.

We were greeted by two members of the Giorgi di Vistarino family, Conte Carlo the patriach and Ottavia, his daughter. Ottavia now runs the Tenuta di Rocca de Giorgi estate and gave us a brief run down of the history of and philosophy behind the wines of the estate. Pinot Nero was introduced to Oltrepo Pavese  by their ancestor, Carlo Giorgi di Vistarino in the late 19th century and the family’s objective has always been consistent. To produce wines that are elegant and authentic while also reflecting the terroir of the region. Ottavia said they don’t want to be Burgundy clones but rather want to make wines that are uniquely Oltrepo Pavese and at the same time showing truly quality pinot nero.


Nico Conta (l) and the Conte (r)

Ottavia has visited the great estates of Burgundy and put what she learned there into practice with her own wines. Ottavia wants to produce wines that taste of pinot nero. She wants her wines to exhibit complexity but at the same time have a certain elegance that only pinot nero has. The wines should be subtly fruity while still retaining the brambly, spicy, forest feel to them and the acidity that all good food wine should possess. Wines with character and personality. As Nico Conta, the sales manager who was also tasting with us commented, ” Wine should be multifaceted, not like coca-cola. Coca-cola is fine when you are young, it has nice balance and acidity but you only get one flavour, as you get older, you want more…” Well, in theory, you should although sadly, many people never graduate to anything more complex. Mores the pity on them. As for me, pass the pinot.

Ottavia’s mother as a young woman

family portraits

a bit more modern

The vineyards of Vistarino are surrounded by forests and that characteristic comes through in the wines. Eucalyptus, pine, mushrooms, a soft minerality, even olives, were all observable in their wines. Some more then others of course. We tasted through a vertical of their wines starting with 1997 and ending with the ’07 of their winery, the Tenuta di Rocca de Giorgi. The wines all showed great complexity, even the older vintages showing well, although the ’97 had taken on many of those tertiary notes associated with aged wine and didn’t have much fruit left but many people prefer that style and with a haunch of venison, probably would have been very good, indeed.

The standout for me and also Ottavia’s favourite was the Pernice  ’04. A wine very much made to Ottavia’s style , complex yet elegant with plenty of fruit backbone – ripe raspberry, licorice, smoky and autumnal notes with a a brambly herbaceousness at the end of the palate. a true pleasure to drink. The younger wines were showing lots of red fruits, cherry, raspberry, strawbeery with excellent stucture, you could tell they were still young but would develop nicely.


white gloved service

To me, the wines were like taking a red Burgundy and a New Zealand pinot noir and blending them together. Not dark enough to be from NZ from too dark to be from Burgundy, they seem to exhibit the subtly and elegance of Burgundy while still showing plenty of fruit and smokiness that comes from some of the best NZ pinot.




tip-don’t wear flipflops in the vineyard

The estate also grows the local variety croatina and the next day we went out to have a look at the harvest, the pinot having already been picked.

hunter’s ashtray

umbrella stand

As we waved goodbye to Carlo and Ottavia, I was wishing I could stay longer and learn more about this beautiful place but we were off to the plains of Lombardia…

To find out more about the estate, visit their website


  1. enchanting; seems you enjoyed the visit and the wines a touch…

    • I did! Wait for tomorrow’s installment, could be the roses of Lake Garda or maybe the nebbiola of Veltellina…I think I need someone to set me up in a villa in Italy….

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