If you’re fortunate enough to be in Oltrepo Pavese, Lombardy, and you feel so inclined, make a detour to Montecalvo Versiggia and the corkscrew museum. Do check the opening times; at the moment the museum is only open Sundays and holidays from 3pm to 6pm. Montecalvo literally translates as the bald mountain and it lives up to its name with uninterrupted vistas of the stunning Pavese scenery
Not far away is the Enoteca del Buttafuoco Storico in Canneto Pavese. Be sure and follow the directions given on Google maps otherwise you may find yourself driving through some very obscure places. The scenery is beautiful but it can be frustrating if you’re late for your appointment!
Enoteca is the Italian word for wine merchant and this particular one is the home of a consortium of local winemakers dedicated to producing this historic wine. The source of the name ‘Buttafuco,’ according to Armando, the manager of the Enoteca, was an 18th century poet from Milan, Carlo Porta, who, upon tasting the wine, declared that it was a real buttafuoco or spitfire referring to the heat of the alcohol content.
The consortium has 15 members and they all put their ‘storico’ wine in identical bottles. The bottles are easily identified as they have the emblem of a sailing ship moulded into the neck of the bottle. In the second half of the 1800s, the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy launched a ship named ‘Buttafuoco’. Legend has it that the name commemorates a battle lost by a company of imperial sailors. The local wine, rather than the heat of battle, was apparently more successful in attracting the bold sailors who, in a large cellar, and quite bravely, massacred barrels and bottles.
The wine is matured for three years before it is available to the public and the whole consortium produces only 80,000 bottles per annum. This a wine that will reward those who can leave it untouched for some years. It is initially high in tannins but these will break down over the years, adding complexity. For those who cannot wait, seek Armando’s advice and choose one aged in French oak – which adds vanilla notes – against one matured in traditional Slovenian oak botti. This is ‘no holds barred’ wine at 14.5% to 15% by volume.
Also available is a wine called Chinato described as medicinal by Armando. This is a Buttafuoco which has been blended with herbs and spices to produce a wonderful and unusual flavour. Ingredients for this normally include china calissaya (from which quinine is derived) hence the medicinal reference. It also contains gentian root, again, an ingredient with medicinal properties, rhubarb, cardamom and cloves. This list is not exclusive and each producer will have his own secret recipe. At 16% alcohol it is something that can be enjoyed in moderation, particularly with chocolate.