High Altitude Wines of Distinction
|Valtellina Valley, Italy|
|Photo Credit: Babbonyc.com|
Valtellina may be one of Italy’s lesser known regions, but it is truly a hidden gem. I was able to spend some time in Tirano, one of Valtellina's main towns, on my way to the Swiss Alps. Located in the northernmost part of Lombardy, it borders Switzerland in the North and also shares borders with Piedmont, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Emilia Romagna. This places Valtellina in a strategic position as it is a crossroads for trade, travel and optimal cultural diversity. From breathtaking landscapes consisting of lakes, mountains, hills, waterfalls, valleys and vineyards to parks, nature preserves, thermal spas and skiing resorts, Valtellina has a lot to offer. Not only are the three Italian Lakes (Lake Garda, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore) nearby, the Valtellina Valley is recognized as a prime location for winter sports and skiing, as it is the home to Bormio and several other ski resorts. Furthermore, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this alpine valley is ideal for it's wine production as well.
Wines of Valtellina
Wine production in Valtellina dates back some 2000 years. As a result of the hills and mountains in the area, the region is characterized by its terrace-style farming and vineyards. Most of the vineyards have an elevation of 230-765 meters. Clearly, the harvest presents a challenge, as everything needs to be done by hand or in the absence of machines. Vines grown in high altitudes thrive due to their ideal position, adequate sunlight, airy climate, breva, or wind coming from the lakes and mineral rich soils. Wines of Valtellina were even praised by Leonardo da Vinci for their remarkable quality.
Valtellina produces two DOCG wines: Sforzato (Sfursat) di Valtellina and Valtellina Superiore (which can be a Riserva), which is divided into five subzones: Grumello, Inferno, Maroggia, Sassella and Valgella. Additionally, the region produces a DOC and an IGT wine. Chiavennasca, also known as Nebbiolo in Piedmont, is the primary grape used for wine production in this region. Although there is a relation, the two regions produce wines with very different characteristics. Chiavennesca tends to be lighter, less tannic and more elegant than the Nebbiolo wines from Barolo or Barbaresco.
|Valtellina Wine map|
The Sforzato (Sfursat) di Valtellina and Valtellina Superiore DOCG wines, established in 2003 and 1998 respectively, require at least 90% Chiavennasca grapes. The remaining 10% can be a blend of local grapes, such as Brugnola, Rossola and Pignola. Sforzato di Valtellina is aged for a minimum of 18 months and the Valtellina Superiore is aged for at least 2 years. If the wine is a Riserva, the minimum aging is 3 years. Valtellina Rosso or Rosso di Valtellina DOC, which was established in 1968, also requires at least 90% Chiavennasca but does not have minimum ageing requirements.
The Wining Hour with Vini Valtellina:
For this Wining Hour, I enjoyed two (DOCG) wines from Nino Negri in Chiuro. Nino Negri was established in 1897 and is the largest wine producer in Valtellina.
Nino Negri Sforsato di Valtellina 2006
This Sfursat is a dry red or passito rosso secco, made with 100% dried Chiavennasca grapes, similar to the "passito" process used for Amarone style wine. The grapes are hand-selected from the highest altitude vineyards and then laid out on aerated mats to dry for three months. Afterwards, the grapes are crushed, vinified, macerated and then aged in stainless steel and French oak. Although made using a similar appassimento process, Sfursato di Valtellina is drier than Valpolicella wines.
|Drying the grapes in Valtellina|
Photo Credit: La Strada del Vino Valtellina
Nino Negri's Sforsato di Valtellina has a deep garnet color. The nose is quite aromatic and complex with spicy notes of cinnamon, clove and vanilla. The palate is big, full of dark fruits like plum, black currant, and spicy black cherry. This wine is elegant, with balanced acidity, smooth tannins and a persistent finish. I sipped a little with some pecorino and the carpaccio, but plan to dive back in later with a steak. Afterall, there is a whopping 15.5% ABV!
Nino Negri Mazer Inferno Valtellina Superiore 2005We all know inferno to mean fire or heat. Inferno from Valtellina is so called because it comes from the smallest, hottest and steepest sub-zone of the Valtellina Superiore DOCG, Inferno. Following manual harvest and slow fermentation, the wine is aged in Slovenian and French oak barrels.
Inferno has a garnet color with a slightly orange tinge, typical of Nebbiolo. This wine greets with bitter aromas of sour cherry and flowers. The palate is smooth and full of personality. Inferno has 13.5% ABV, is well-structured, medium-bodied and elegant. "Mazer," in Valtellinese, means "good, beautiful, generous." That describes this wine perfectly.
Speck Carpaccio was my pairing choice, as I was unable to get the typical bresaola. Bresaola is a cured beef that originated in Valtellina and enjoyed throughout Lombardia. Nevertheless, Speck is also from the northern Italy (Alto Adige) and found in Valtellina as well. I used thin slices which I let marinate in garlic and olive oil. Then, it was garnished with arugula. A nice and simple treat!
Keep going! There's way more to discover in Valtellina. Check out these other articles from my #ItalianFWT group:
Jennifer Martin will share The Valtellina: Home of Chiavennasca on Vino Travels.
Camilla M. Mann will be dishing on “Sassella and Short Ribs” on Culinary Adventure with Cam
Katarina Andersson will share “Valtellina – Winemaking in a Mountain Landscape” on Grapevine Adventures
Martin Redmond writes “A Taste of Valtellina: 2014 ArPePe Rosso Superiore Paired With Wild Mushroom Ragout over Creamy Polenta” on Enoflyz Wine Blog
Jeff Burrows shares “Double Secret Winery: Giorgio Gianatti in Valtellina” on Foodwineclick
Wendy Klik brings “Celebrating Love: Pork Filet Mignon with Valtallina Wine” to life on A Day In the Life on the Farm
Li Valentine shares “A Taste of Valtellina with Nino Negri and Carpaccio” on The Wining Hour
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