Updated: Jan 3
I just got back from the best trip ever. Or so I say every time I touch ground after a trip to vineyards and wineries...It is such a wonderful place to be! This time the compass, with some help from Scandinavian Airlines, took me to scenic wine region Valtellina in the Italian Alps. Close to the Swiss border amongst alpine cows, glaciers and jagged mountain tops you find terraced vineyards on the dangerously steep slopes. This extreme viticulture is no doubt a bit surprising. However, knowing the grape nebbiolo well, its superb preformance in cool climate had filled me to the brim with expectation and anticipation. We were camping out in the charming sleeper town Sondrio at an even more charming and quaint hotel, Hotel Vittoria Sondrio. Recommended!
The grape of the day is nebbiolo and we timed the havest to a tee. This north Italian charmer goes under the nickname "Ciavennasca" here in Lombardy and I couldn't wait to get picking. The rough granit terroir, the high altitude and the northern latitude offers quite the challenge for the winegrower not only at harvest but in every step of the work in the vineyards. However it pays of- Valtellina delivers delicate red wines with elegance, acidity and charmingly juicy red fruit, flowers and herbs. Yum!
Certainly other grapes except the almighty nebbiolo are grown here in the vast Italian alps but in disappearing small quantities. Since nebbiolo is king of the hill we got to try both loads of mouth watering reds (a no-brainer), more surprisingly spectacular sparkling wine, and even more than decent white wine.
The producer in focus of the visit is world renowned Nino Negri. Founded in 1897 this firm is solid as the bedrock surrounding it. A succesfull blood transfusion occured a couple of years ago with the addition of winemaker Danilo Drocco, below overlooking the Valtellina slopes. This highly skilled rock star is no stranger to nebbiolo- releasing world class wines at Piedmont's darling Fontanafredda and also at Pronutto for over a decade prior.
Valtellina has five sub zones; Sassela, Grumelo, Inferno, Valgella and Fracia. From the latter comes the only single-vineyard wine from Nino Negri. Yet! This wine was coincidentally also my absolute favourite. But who wants to chose?
One of the more famous wines of Valtellina outside of Italy is sfursat. Locally this original wine is called sforzato.
This is a style of wine where the freshly hand picked nebbiolo grapes are dried for 100 days in a small hut in the vineyard called fruttaio. This only with natural elements and the wind of the valley keeping disease and rot in check. It is a very traditional wine for the region indeed. The result? Concentration, complexity, structure, body, alkohol and juicy dark fruit in the wines. Pour me another one, will ya..
Since the trend for some time in the wine world has been leaning towards cooler climate red wines and elegance over power, I predict great things in the future for this region and this extremely focused, ambitious and hard working producer.
The region is famous not only for the stunning views and remarkable wines but for bresaola, cheese, yoghurt and small game. The local rabbit stew is to die for. This region is not next door to any of the airports but it is SO worth the hike. I flew into Milan and was on a bus for 2,5 hours before arriving. But the scenic views on the bus ride alone was worth my time and effort! Just GO!