Mountain Nebbiolo, Valtellina Part 2, Producers
In Part 1 of Mountain Nebbiolo covered the extraordinary wine region of Valtellina. First, there’s spectacular scenery. Also, it makes a compelling expression of Nebbiolo. These wines stand easily with their more famous and expensive brothers from Barolo and Barbaresco. Meanwhile, the Sforzato is a unique style of Nebbiolo. Valtellina wines are always worth tracking down.
Hence Part 2, in celebration of Nebbiolo Day, has thumbnail sketches of six out of the 41 Valtellina producers. These all have UK distribution and are in Valtellina’s top echelon. I’ve included my top picks; curiously they are all 100% Nebbiolo. Look out for the fantastic video below too.
Mamete Prevostini, San Vittore
Mamete Prevostini winery is over 75 years old. Its headquarters are the west of the Adda valley, near Chiavenna. However, there’s a new winery at Postalesio, near Sondrio. As well as the Rosso, Superiore, Riserva and Sforzato, Prevostini also makes Rosato, Bianco and some lovely sweet wines.
Valtellina Superiore Sassella DOCG 2014. 13%
Nebbiolo is given 12 months in botti and a further six months in bottle before release. Cherry red core, an orange rim. Savoury smells, red berry fruit, orange peel, low-level wood treatment and forest-floor. Sour cherry fruit, good balance and length. Tannico, £21.35
ARPEPE stands for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego. Established in 1860, they were once large Valtellina producers, with 50 ha of vineyards and 470 growers. However, the 4th generation had to sell it, including the name Pelizzatti. Nino Negri own the Pelizzatti label now. Arturo Pelizzatti Perego started again in 1984 under the new name of ARPEPE. The family now has 13 ha, in Sassella, Grumello and Inferno.
Today, the 5th generation, Isabella and Emmanuele Pelizzatti Perego are in charge. They are every-inch no-compromise traditionalists. There are wild yeasts, stainless steel and cement tanks, plus an assortment of large casks for long maturation. You won’t find new barriques or Sforzato air-dried grapes. However, there are late-harvest wines instead. Long bottle ageing is also a feature here. Perhaps these are the pinnacle of Valtellina wines. Are they the equivalent of Conterno in Barolo? You decide.
Rocce Rosse, Valtellina Superiore Riserva Sassella DOCG 2007. 13%
Nebbiolo from the Sassella sub-zone, at 400 metres, named after the red rock soils. Five years maturation in large Chestnut casks. Crimson core and a tell-tale orange rim. Big yet delicate aromatics. Firstly roses, then the tarry note underpinned with a savoury, gamey undertone. Round and full palate, tannins smoothed out, fresh acidity and cherry fruit. A long finish has leather, orange-zest and tobacco. This wine has won many awards and is now Gambero Rosso’s Wine of The Year for 2018. £44.35 at Tannico.
Ultimi Raggi, IGT Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT 2007. 14%
This wine is staggering. It’s Nebbiolo in a late-harvest style (hence IGT). Super-ripe Sassella grapes from November and December. That’s often in the snow and just in the best years. Big and dark, a blackish core with a crimson rim. Tar and Roses nose. Highly concentrated plum fruit, smooth, muscular and powerful, savoury and spices too. £57.00 at Noble Fine Liquor
Nino Negri, Chiuro
Negri established their business at Palazzo Quadrio in 1897, with cellars dating back to the 15th Century. The large GIV (Gruppo Italiano Vini) bought the firm in 1986. They make a wide range of wines under winemaker Casimiro Maule. Negri is by far the biggest producer; their winery produces around 25% of Valtellina wine production. They own 35 ha of vineyard including sites in Grumello, Sassella and Valgella. Also, they have 240 individual growers. The Sforzato comes in modern and traditional styles. Cuvée Carlo Negri is their sparkling Metodo Classico from Nebbiolo, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Negri has an excellent reputation, and they have ample UK availability.
Valtellina Superiore Inferno Mazér DOCG 2013. 13.5%
For me, the wine that started it all. This wine is why I first went to Valtellina. “Mazér” means the “beautiful, the good, the generous”. How apt. 20% of the Nebbiolo grapes dry in the Fruttai for 40 days. It ferments in stainless steel and matures in small French and American oak barrels for 14 months. The fresh grapes ferment in steel, with a part then given 16 months in small French oak barrels. The rest has 22 months in large old barrels. Light brick red colour, hint of orange on the rim. Classic Nebbiolo nose, sour cherry and roses. Good acidity, some muted. Fabulous flavours; violets, vanilla, raspberry, cherry. Silken texture, tar and liquorice reappear at the end. It’s seduction in a glass. Valtellina newbies should start here. £17.50 at Wine Direct.
Sfurzat Carlo Negri Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG 2013. 15.5%
Air-dried Nebbiolo with 24 months in old French oak barrels. Massive colour, real concentration. Big expressive nose, classic tar and roses, with liquorice, raisins and prunes. Some toasty oak lurks beneath. Not spirity, despite the significant alcohol. All complexity, a streak of minerals, raisins, tar and leather. Colossal length, almond and pain grillé finish. Fruit Cake spices, cinnamon and cloves appear as it opens up. Very traditionally styled, this rocks my world. I prefer this to their more modern Sforzato, Cinque Stelle. £26.95 at Eurowines.
Aldo Rainoldi, Chiuro
Aldo Rainoldi is both the name of the founder and the current generation’s oenologist. Rainoldi dates from 1925, they own vineyards but also act as négociants with 60 growers. They were an early adopter of oak barriques and producer of innovative IGT’s including a terrific Rosé Metodo Classico sparklers. Known for their Superior and Sforzato, which comes in both a modern (new oak) and traditional styles. PS, this estate uses Helicopters to fly the grapes out from the Inferno vineyard. Watch This!
Inferno Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2012. 13%
The helicopter wine! Nebbiolo ferments in stainless steel, then given 20 months in big old Slavonian oak barrels, then another nine months in bottle. Welcoming ethereal aromas escape from the glass. The palate has notes of cherry with hazelnut and orange peel. A little smoky and spice character and sandy tannins. Concentration and density. A complete wine and terrific value too. Valvona & Crolla, £21.95
Sandro Fay, San Giacomo di Teglio
Sandro Fay started in 1973. Now daughter Elena and son Marco are also part of the team. Stainless steel, botti and new barriques are all present. The family has 14 ha, mostly in Valgella. There has been considerable replanting with the latest vine clones and a move to horizontal vine rows to allow mechanisation. Organic methods, rigorous pruning and low yields are the order of the day here. The philosophy here is to “respect tradition” with single vineyard wines. The Rosso, Superiore and Sforzato wines are all excellent, and their IGT is unusual, containing a small amount of Syrah.
Costa Bassa, Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2014. 13%
A classic blend of Superiore zones, this is Nebbiolo from the lower slopes below 450 metres. Fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel then given 12 months maturation in big old oak casks. Deep cherry colour, smashing pencil-lead nose. Palate of cherry Tunes sweets, definitely something mentholated here. Sleek, balanced and satisfying. Buon Vino, £21.00
Dirupi, Ponte in Valtellina
Dirupi means “cliffs”. Firstly, that’s an apt description. Davide Fasolini and Pierpaolo di Franco represent a new generation of “natural” winemakers. Known as Faso and Birba, they’ve injected energy into the Valtellina wine scene. Consequently, restoring several vineyards to glory has been part of their activities. They have 4.5 ha, and production is tiny, perhaps 15,000 bottles per year. Organic vineyards, old vines, low yields, wild yeasts and a low sulphur regime tick all the “natural wine” boxes. The results in the winery are clean tasting, with authentic Rosso, Sforzato and Superiore wines. A winery to watch over the years to come.
Ole! Rosso di Valtellina DOC 2015. 12.5%
Dirupi’s entry-level wine, from Nebbiolo vineyards near Grumello. It ferments in stainless steel, then matures in steel tanks for eight months, with a further three months in bottle. There’s no wood, and that allows strong rose scents. But there’s another flower here, is it Wisteria? Being a Rosso, it’s medium bodied for young drinking. A juicy mouthful of raspberries and cherries, with an attractive rose hip undertow. Buon Vino, £26.00
After all that, these wines are naturally terrific with food. They’ll match all the usual red wine suspects, and of course, anything with truffles is heaven-sent. However, for me, there is nothing better than a big rib-sticking plate of the local pasta, Pizzoccheri.
By and large, the ingredients in the Pizzoccheri dish are the pasta, cheese, butter, cabbage and potatoes. You’ll find Pizzoccheri buckwheat pasta in Italian speciality shops around the UK. Meanwhile, here’s a road-tested recipe that is delicious, easy and vegetarian. Meat-eaters can commit heresy by throwing some pancetta into it. Enjoy!