Freisa is an Italian red wine grape that has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo. It is known by growers as being hardy and disease resistant. The variety was at one time a very popular component in Piedmont wine blends, but has since diminished in popularity as other varieties were favored. Freisa wines are described as complex aromatically, with impactful acidity and tannins.
Origins and History
Freisa is a red wine variety that hails from the Piedmont region in Northwest Italy. Genetic studies have shown that Freisa has a parent-offspring relationship to the famed Nebbiolo variety.
The earliest mentions of Freisa date back to 1517, and it was described in 1799 as a quality grape. Freisa was once a very popular component in Piedmont wine blends and accounted for a considerable proportion of the vineyards in the Asti and the Allesandria provinces in the 1800’s.
Many producers favored Freisa because of its productivity, ease of growth, and disease resistance, but this popularity led to Freisa being cultivated in poor locations. This then led to an influx of low quality fruit, which resulted in wines of low quality. This opened the variety up for criticism and it has since declined in popularity.
Freisa’s leaves are flat, pentagonal, wider than they are long, and glabrous on the surface and underside. The leaf size is small to medium, and usually has three lobes.
The petiolar sinus is wide, the upper lateral sinuses are narrow to closed with overlapping leaf margins, the lower lateral sinuses are nonexistent or very narrow. Leaf margins have sharp but shallow dentation.
Freisa’s clusters are long, cylindrical, and generally winged. The peduncles are green but the pedicels become red when the vine has completed veraison. Freisa berries are very pruinose, are medium in size and slightly oval with a deep blue-black color when ripe. The juice is colorless.
Freisa exhibits an erect growth habit and potential for moderate to high vigor. Rainy springs can cause bud drop and millerandage. The variety shows good tolerance to downy mildew.
Parlier trials showed Freisa exhibited moderate vigor, however Paul Verdegaal reported that in Lodi the variety was vigorous. Another consideration is yield, which was low to moderate to in Parlier, due to low fruitfulness and small clusters. However, a similar trial in Lodi reported that Freisa was productive, and could have as many as 3 clusters per shoot (Verdegaal).
Once bottled, Freisa is a garnet-colored wine with fruity aromas and rich tannins. The aromas have been described as complex exhibiting strawberry, cherry, herb, and earthen notes. Due to its healthy amount of tannins, Freisa ages well, but the tannins can impart a bitter flavor. To overcome this, some producers leave residual sugar to counterbalance, while others make a frizzante style of wine.
The acid is bright and has the potential to be sour. In that case it may be desirable to let the grapes hang longer than expected to allow a further reduction of malic acid.
Freisa performed relatively well in several trials in the San Joaquin Valley. James Wolpert found that Freisa stood out with a relatively low pH at harvest (table 1). This variety could provide an opportunity to wineries that wish to source low pH juice from a red wine variety.
FPS. Foundation Plant Services, Grape Variety: Freisa. Foundation Plant Services Grapes (2021). Available at: https://fps.ucdavis.edu/fgrdetails.cfm?varietyid=1961. (Accessed: 20th February 2023)
Hazan, V. Italian Wine (1982).
D’Agata, I. 2014. Native wine grapes of Italy. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Verdegaal, P. 2009. Variety Observation Trial. https://ucanr.edu/sites/CE_San_Joaquin/files/35897.pdf
Vitis Rauscedo, General Catalog (2007).