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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Nebbiolos of the Valtelline - August 4, 2008


We tasted the other week (8/4/08) Nebbiolos of the Valtelline:

  1. fay Nebbiolo IGT Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio (13%) SanGiacomo d'Teglio 2003: Med.light color;strong fragrant Nebb/floral/lilacs/perfumed light tarry/earthy/pungent rose petal/spicy nose;
    tart lean/austere light tarry/floral/lilacs somewhat tannic flavor;long austere/lean/tart light floral/rose petal/lilacs/tarry finish; lovely ethereal perfume but a bit bitey/hard/austere on the palate; probably needs age. $26.00
  2. fay Ca'Morei DOCG Valtellina Superiore (13.5%) 2003: Med. color; much stronger black cherries/floral/violets/lilacs slight tarry/meaty bit earthy/minerally beautiful nose; rounder/lusher ripe/black cherries/floral/lilacs slight tarry/pungent/smokey bit tannic/hard flavor; very long lush/ripe black cherries/floral/lilacs light tarry/meaty slight earthy/minerally finish w/some tannins; needs more age; my favorite of the Nebbs because of its more Calif style. $35.00
  3. Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore DOCG: InfernoReserva (13.5%) 2003: Med.light color; rather
    tarry/minerally/earthy some toasty/oak very light floral/Nebb fruit nose; hard/tannic/acid/lean/
    austere some tarry/earthy/metallic flavor; med.long hard/tannic/astringent/metallic very slight
    tarry slight floral finish; needs age; lacks the perfume that Nebb should have; pretty brutal on the palate. $33.00
  4. Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore DOCG: Sassella (13%) 2003: Med.light color; some taosty/oak earthy/minerally very light/floral hardly any nose; slightly softer rather hard/tannic/austere light
    earthy/minerally flavor; med. tannic/austere/astringent earthy/minerally finish; lacks Nebb fruit & fragrance; slightly softer & more attractive on the palate. $20.00
  5. Balgera Valgella DOCG Valtelline Superiore Riserva (12.5%) Chiuro 1995: Med.light color w/ some bricking; lovely/fragrant/perfumed dried rose petals/floral/lilacs old Nebb/complex light tarry/
    meaty/earthy nose; tart/tannic/dried out light rose petal flavor; long tannic/astringent dried out slight floral/rose petal finish; classic old Barolo character of
    lovely/fragrant nose but painful on the palate. $28.00
  6. Balgera DOC Valtelline Superiore IlFondatore (13%) 1995: Med.light color w/ some bricking;
    beautiful/fragrant/complex RCCola/root beer/sasparilla lightly floral/dried rose petal quite complex nose; tart/acid/tannic less dried out light RCCola/floral/dried rose petal complex flavor; very long tannic/acid/dried out/astringent RCCola/floral/rose petal finish w/ some astringency; beautiful old Barolo/Nebb nose but bit too dried out/tannic, though not as much as #5; lovely nose but hurtey to drink. $35.00
  7. Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco DOC: Langhe (13.5%; www.Vietti.com) 2005: Med.color; lovely/fragrant floral/lilacs/violets light licorice/pungent/tarry very aromatic/perfumed nose; tart/acid
    very floral/lilacs/violets slight earthy/tarry/pungent/licorice slight tannic flavor; long floral/lilacs/violets light licorice/tarry/pungent flavor; a lovely Nebb w/ a purity of Nebb fruit you don't often find; very attractive Nebb for a fair price. $27.00
  8. Novy Nebbiolo StolpmanVnyd/SantaYnezVlly (14.4%; 92 cs) 2005: Med.color; somewhat toasty/pencilly/classic Siduri/oak lovely licorice/black cherry light tarry/pungent somewhat Pinotish very attractive nose; soft/rich/lush some toasty/pencilly/oak rather black cherry/licorice/plummy
    flavor w/ a slight tannic bite; very long black cherry/plummy/licorice slight perfumed/floral/lilacs fairly rich/lush some pencilly/toasty/oak finish w/ a bit of tannic/astringent bite; reminds me of a Siduri Pinot w/ a bit more structure & tannins; a really lovely rendition of Calif Nebb if you accept it doesn't taste like Barolo. $26.00
  9. fay Ronco del Picchio DOCG Sforzato di Valtellina (14.5%) 2003:Med.color; bit raisened/pruney
    strong ripe/black cherry/plummy/licorice light charred/oak nose; tart bit raisened/overripe some
    tannic/hard licorice/plummy/black cherry flavor; long tart bit tannic/astringent very ripe/
    plummy/licorice/black cherry slight raisened/Recioto finish; bit on the raisened side but good ripe fruit character; needs more age. $60.00
  10. Conti Sertoli Salis Canua DOCG Sforzato de Valtellina (14.5%) 2001: Med.light color w/ some
    bricking; strong wet dog fur/wet wool/soaked Army blanket pretty funky nose; hard/tannic/
    astringent rather funky/wet dog fur little fruit flavor; long fairly hard/tannic/astringent wet dog fur/funky finish; didn't clear much w/ 15 min of breathing; pretty funky/weird stuff. $29.00/hlf
  11. Balgera DOC Valtellina Sforzato (14.5%) 1997: Med.light rather bricked color; slight corked/
    musty fairly strong plummy/licorice/pungent nose; very acid almost metallic slight musty/corked/
    damp cardboard strong plummy/licorice some charred/burnt/oak fairly tannic flavor; med.long
    ripe/plummy/licorice slight corked/musty rather acid/tannic finish; slightly corked but some good fruit underneath. $55.00
  12. Triacca Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG "San Domenico" 2002: Med.dark color; strong licorice/plummy/ripe slight floral bit milk of magnesia/funky some spicy/cinammon/chocolaty some perfumed/volatile nose; rather tannic/hard strong plummy/licorice/ripe/chocolaty very ripe slight floral/volatile/hot flavor; very long ripe/plummy/licorice/pungent bit chocolaty/spicy rather hard/tannic bit hot/volatile finish; needs more age; my favorite of all these wines. $60.00

And the usual BloodyPulpit:

1. I served the Vietti and the Novy blind. But the btls were a dead give-away because of their shape. So I pulled a switcheroo..put the Novy in the brown/fat Vietti btl and the Vietti in the tall/classy Novy btl. I was sure they'd use the btl clue and mis-identify the wine. WrongoDongo....nearly everyone nailed the wines right-on. I preferred the Novy...because it
spoke of Nebbiolo made by a Pinot producer. The Vietti, which most people preferred, spoke of Piedmontese Nebbiolo w/ a loud & clear voice. It had a laser-sharp purity of Nebb fruit that I really liked. But the texture & mouthfeel of the Novy carried the day for me of these two wines.
2. Nebbiolo in Calif: We are, of course, told by certain wine authorities that Nebbiolo is a colossal failure in Calif. I beg to differ. I've had some very good/interesting Nebbs from Calif, this Novy being one of the best. What I really like about Nebbiolo is that etheral perfume of lilacs/violets it can have on the nose, with hints of licorice & tar. But, crimeney, on the palate it can be absolutely brutal w/ the acids and the tannins. I must admit it's a variety I struggle with. Those from Barolo/Barbaresco in particular. I liken drinking Piedmontese Nebb to stuffing one nostril w/ violet petals, the other nostril w/ lilac petals, sealing both nostrils w/ burning/hot road tar; then sticking out your tonguebetwixt the jaws of a vise and torquing that sucker down...some pleasurable things but a hell of a lot of pain.

When I complain about Barolo/Barbaresco; I'm always dismissed as a dolt because everybody
knows that you have to give these wines age in the bottle to soften. What I don't understand is why they can make long-aging Bordeaux and RedBurgs that are attractive right out of the gate, but they can't w/ Barolo/Barbaresco. And then I'm ridiculed because I didn't give them enough breathing time. "Everyone knows that Barolos need a day or two to breathe and soften up".

To me, Calif oughta be able to capture that exotic perfume of Nebb, but make a wine that is attractive and not so friggin' painful on the palate. That's what I've liked about some of the Calif versions I've tried, particularly this Novy. Barolo & Barbaresco it ain't, for which I'm glad. Wine shouldn't hurt to drink. The Stolpman's that SashiMoorman makes are also quite good; as are SteveClifton's Palmina Nebbs. Now add AdamLee to the list. Maybe EmilioCastelli some day.
3. Of this batch of Valtelline wines, the fays seemed head & shoulders above the rest. They had the most fruit and seemed more Calif in style, more modern winemaking. The Rainoldis seemed a bit pinched & tight in style; like a prim & proper but rather stiff Sunday School teacher (forgive me Mrs. Benlon). The Balgeras had lovely old Nebb noses but seemed a bit too tired & dried out on the palate.
4. I first became enamoured of Valtelline Nebbs back in the early '70's when I'd buy them up at LiquorMart in Boulder at the insistence of PhilReich and ReneRondeau. The NinoNegri's were a bit on the commercial side, but those from AuturoPelizzatti were mightly impressive. Alas, I haven't seen his wines or know if he's even still producing since those yrs long ago.
5. Sfortzato: My original understanding was that Sfursat was simply late harvest Nebbiolo. John Paine (Western marketing guy for Neil Rosenthal) corrected me that they are made like Valpolicella Amarone/Recioto and dried on straw mats in the winery. Additional research on the Net (below) indicates that to indeed be the case; but there is some wiggle-room that it can be simply a late harvest Nebbiolo. These Sfursats we had didn't have the hard/harsh character I often get in Recioto.

I wonder why the recioto/Sfursat technique is not more widely used in Calif. I know Randall Grahm makes a Recioto of Barbera that's pretty interesting. Calif could, of course, make the greatest Recioto/Sfursat in the world if they chose to. But they would probably dry the grapes on plastic trays instead of straw mats, and use forced air/blowers, rather than ambient wnry conditions, to promote dehydration and, therefore, it would not be authentic Recioto and, therefore, an inferior wine. And there'd be whining about the terroir thing.
6. Additional stuff on Sforzato:
Sforzato di Valtellina is a very special wine obtained uniquely from Nebbiolo grapes that are
left to ripen for a longer period than is required for the production of regular wines. Its
quality depends not so much on technical matters as on climatic conditions and the quality of the grapes. It therefore embodies the characteristics of this fascinating Alpine territory.

Sforzato or Sfrusat is a dry wine obtained from drying the best Nebbiolo grapes harvested in the most well exposed vineyard in the regions of Valtellina and Valtellina Superiore. The local name for Nebbiolo grape is Chiavennasca. The vines are cultivated by hand as except for a few small gently sloping spaces it is practically impossible for the use of any kind of mechanization. The grapes are collected manually. It is hard work to transport the grape collections on the shoulders of the peasants through the paths of the terraces. One feels a sense of admiration for the hard work of the peasants and their tenacious will. Getting quality wines, which have been the pride of centuries of Valtellina, rewards one. The grapes are spread out in mats or in boxes and are left to wither naturally usually from Harvest time, which is late October until mid January or even early February. This treatment leads to a high concentration of natural sugars and special aromas. The dehydration of the grape varies between 30-35% and this produces a great wine, which is a combination of body, elegance, longetivity and easy digestibility. The vinification process consists of soft pressing of the grapes and subsequent fermentation. A 2 to 3 year ageing in oak casks & a final 6 to 12
month bottle refinement give this red wine its uniqueness.

Sforzato Della Valtellina is a very special wine obtained uniquely from Nebbiolo grapes that are
left to ripen for a longer period than is required for the production of regular wines. Its quality depends not so much on technical matters as on climatic conditions and the quality of the
grapes. It is thus an embodiment of the uniqueness of this Alpine territory. Sforzato Della Valtellina owes its name (sforzato which means withering or strained) to the very ancient practise of withering Nebbiolo grapes.

The red wines made in this area are produced using Nebbiolo grapes; it is a fine late-maturing
vine that, has created over the centuries a perfect harmony with the soil, leading to unique
wines such as the Valtellina Sforzato or Sfursat, whose name comes from the traditional practice of drying the grapes, which has been done in the Valtellina since ancient times.
The wine is obtained by hand selecting the best bunches of grapes and then leaving them to dry on wooden lattices placed inside a dry and well-aired room, the "Fruttaio", for at least 110 days until the end of January. During this winter period the climate of the Valtellina does the rest of the work and thus favours the drying and shrinking of the bunches of grapes. At the end of January the grape has lost about 40% of its weight, the fruit has dried and the concentrated juice has developed unusual and very dense aromatic properties. After pressing, a slow fermentation period follows and at least 24 months ageing and refining, first in wood and then in bottles. Valtellina Sforzato is thus a unique expression of a vine, the Nebbiolo
and the area of this fascinating Alpine valley. Valtellina Superiore is always made using Nebbiolo grapes and is divided into five sub-denominations: Maroggia, Sassella, Grumello,
Inferno and Valgella that, like Sforzato, are proudly entitled to the DOCG.


Some wines from the Valtellina region are designated Sforzato; a very similar style to Recioto
Amarone, with the powerful wines having been fermented from air-dried grapes.


Valtellina Sforzato (also known as Valtellina Sfurs?t) was classified as DOCG in 2003, this is a
dry red straw wine made from partly raisined grapes in the style of an Amarone. It must be made of a minimum of 90% Chiavennasca grapes, with the optional addition of a maximum of 10% of other permitted red varieties. The grapes are picked late, and then dried on wooden racks for up to three months. The wine is made in February or March, with slow fermentation on the skins in traditional style. This leads to low levels of acidity, and formation of
special aroma compounds, the wine is ruby red and extremely soft, it must have a minimum alcohol content of 14% vol., and must be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months.

Especially strong and tangy as it ages, Bitto is a great excuse to open a bottle of the area's
most famous wine, Sforzato di Valtellina (also known as Sfursat). Loosely translated as "forced" in local dialect, Sforzato is made entirely from Nebbiolo that represent the finest grapes from a grower which are harvested a week or so earlier than the clusters that will make a Valtellina Superiore. The grapes are laid on a straw mat in a small room (usually in a specially designed, humidity controlled building called a fruttaio) for three to four months
where they will dry. During this process (known as appassimento), the berries shrivel and
their flavor intensifies. This is the same process used to make Amarone, the famous red wine from the Valpolicella area of the Veneto region, but while those wines are very forward and
slightly alcoholic, most bottlings of Sforzato are a bit more subdued, though no less flavorful.


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