A Nebbiolo By Any Other Name
Would Taste Just As Delicious!
Nebbiolo grows in areas all around Piemonte, sometimes going by its local name, spanna. It is also cultivated in Piemonte’s neighboring region to the east, Lombardia. Valtellina is a growing zone in Lombardia, in the province of Sondrio, at the base of the Alps near the Italian/Swiss border. In Valtellina, nebbiolo is called chiavennasca.
I have had the pleasure of meeting a few people from Valtellina. They have all spoken with a transmittable calm, at low octaves, soothing, and clear. Do people who spend their time in a place of such supreme quiet speak more softly than others? All the ways a place can shape a person…
Valtellina is positioned in a lateral way, its macroclimate protected by surrounding Alps which enable it to soak in loads of nourishing sunshine. Perhaps you’ve skied its slopes? Its terrain is steep and rocky. Vineyard maintenance and harvest is completely done by real people with real hands. Vines are planted in rows on terraces built long, long ago. How cool to think about the people who, centuries before us, understood these altitudes and dreamed up a terraced viticultural system? No big deal. When you taste these handsome wines it is clear how long-lived and noble their efforts were.
Valtellina primarily makes red wine. Chiavennasca is the star of the show. Local varieties such as Pugnola, Rossola, and Brugnola supplement. Valtellina DOC must be made of 80% Chiavennasca and requires one year of aging. Valtellina Superiore DOCG calls for 90% Chiavennasca and two years of aging, one being in wood. Riservas have been aged for at least three years.
Grapes used for bottles labeled Valtellina Superiore DOCG must come from vineyards planted around of one of the zone’s four main villages: Inferno, Valgella, Grumello, and Sassella. Each growing site displays its own distinct personality, my favorite being Sassella, a vineyard with such shallow stony soil that its vines are left to thrive amidst rock. The name Sassella comes from sasso, which translates to stone.
Who says you can’t
get grow blood vine from a stone? Never (ever, ever) say never.
I have only tasted among the lines of a handful or so of Valtellina producers and I don’t have the most discerning palate when it comes to wines or regions that I’m admittedly gaga for. This won’t stop me from saying that I have been impressed by every single thing from every producer. You can’t go too wrong with this stuff.
The wines of Sandro Fay are clean yet bold. Nino Negri, maybe the most well-known producer in the Valtellina, a Wine Spectator darling, sets a high standard. ARPEPE, who produces the bottles pictured above, makes a very pretty Valtellina Rosso- poignant and lithe.
And then there is Conti Sertoli Salis, my gateway Valtellina producer. The Salis family was among the very first producers to bottle their wine in the kingdom of Italy. Back in the day wine was locally made to be locally consumed. Simple as that. It was an act of quality and ambition to bottle and share wine outside of one’s own region. I came to experience the entire Sertoli Salis line when I was working for Domenico Valentino (its importer), and believe that their wines, and the history of their land and facilites have so much to offer. In addition to their venerable reds, a sort of fun thing that they produce is Chiavennasca vinified as a white- a wine in which a healthy dose of the grape’s structure and minerality shine though…crystal clear.
Valtellina makes a second DOCG wine, Sforzato di Valtellina, a passito style (following harvest, grapes are dried out on racks, or mantavola, for 4-5 months) that is a heavenly combination of body, flavor complexity, and heartbreaking acidity. A sforzato’s alcohol must be at least 14.5%.
It was explained to me once that sforzato is a vino da meditazione. Meditazione does not exactly translate to our traditional idea of meditation, but with a wine of such soul it can encompass, in whatever environment it is consumed, a contemplative state of mind- the ceasing of hurry, meandering thoughts, concentration on breath, immediate sights, sensations, company with your nearest and dearest. Sip it when you feel quiet, when you want to gift yourself with a cup of peace. I tell you, the depth of a wine like Sforzato might inspire a dose of insight, or perhaps some necessary nothingness….
Also…by the way—> I think this wall decorating idea is so great.