Even when duly distracted by some of the finest wines on earth one must make time for local treasures. Take Piedmont for example, I spent 2 weeks there tasting through some of the finest wines on earth, exceptional Barolo and Barbaresco, but man does not live on grand wines alone, particularly when they are big, powerful, structured, and not inexpensive. Sometimes an alternative is called for!
In this case allow me to propose little known Freisa. Closely related to Nebbiolo, and in fact sharing some 85% of DNA with that noble varietal, Freisa is very likely one of Nebbiolo's parents, and produces a wine that in some ways is similar to that produced with Nebbiolo. Both wines share formidable structural elements, with Freisa's tannins being more assertive and bitter than even Nebbiolo's. Historically Freisa was produced in a slightly off-dry style, to help buffer those tannins, and was even slightly sparking: no doubt an accidental result of leaving a little sugar in wine back before we knew what that might lead to!
Today winemakers are decidedly more aware of what is going on at every stage of the game, which has allowed them to produce Freisa with softer, more supple tannins but the classic style, called Nebbiolata, since the Freisa spends time on the Nebbiolo lees to extract that little bit of sweetness, continues to live on. Freisa is a classic example of old meeting young. It's an indigenous variety with long historical ties to the region, and a style of winemaking but that hasn't frozen it in time. Producers have experimented with the variety and learned from each other yielding a truly fascinating range of wines today.
While I'm sure there is some Freisa out there somewhere, like Nebbiolo it just is too well adapted to its home. It's tough enough to deal with in Piedmont, I can only imagine what it might be like when produced elsewhere, and truth be told I don't imagine that to often. Freisa is a wine that represents a region so clearly and precisely I am not really interested in learning about how it performs elsewhere. I'm happy to return to the source of fine Freisa every year to keep tabs on the state of the grape. Today you can find it dry and chewy, fresh and fruity, or Nebbiolata, what more could you ask for?