Most people, myself included, think of Piedmont in Northwestern Italy when they think about wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. The Langhe area in Southern Piedmont produces great, complex Barolos and Barbarescos, as well as simpler wines known as Langhe Nebbiolos. Barolos and Barbarescos are some of the most sought after and prestigious wines in all of Italy, commanding quite high prices. But there are also wonderful, more affordable Nebbiolo wines to be found in other areas of Northernwestern Italy, like those in Lombardy, the neighboring region just to the east of Piedmont. This region of Italy is home to some of the most beautiful lakes of Northern Italy, such as Lake Como and Lake Garda. There is an alpine valley in the far north of Lombardy called Valtellina which has been producing wine for over 2,000 years. This mountainous area with very steep slopes produces red wine made mostly from Nebbiolo grapes, but they can also contain a small percentage of other locally grown grapes. These red wines, know locally as Chiavennasca, are lighter and less tannic than their counterparts in Piedmont due to cooler temperatures and higher elevations. While young, these wines are bright crimson in color with aromatics of bright cherry, tar and rose water. As they age, they slowly transform into a crimson color with a brick orange rim and present more gamey, leather-like notes on the palate, but are still very floral and delicate.
I recently had a Valtellina red wine at Republique, a fun, lively restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. The food there is modern French and the wine list has an interesting collection of off-the-beaten-path, mostly French and Italian wines. The 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore from the village of Valgella was a perfect choice to accompany the wide variety of spices and flavors. To my delight, this wine went perfectly with every dish, from the hamachi crudo with a thai curry sauce to the hearty rotisserie chicken with mustard and chilis. It never overpowered any of the more delicate flavors of the food, yet it stood up to some of the bolder ingredients. Fifteen years in the bottle had mellowed the fruit somewhat, but what remained was still fresh and vibrant with enough lingering structure to compliment and support the fruit. Over the course of our meal the flavors kept blossoming. It felt like we were drinking flowers...delicious, delicate flowers!!
The next time you're dining out I would suggest asking the sommelier if there are any Rosso di Valtellinas on the wine list. For the best experience, try one from one of the following DOCG areas: Grumello, Inferno, Maroggia, Sassella or Valgella. You can also go to www.wine-searcher.com to see if any of these wines can be found at a local wine shop. You won't be disappointed!
A FEW RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS OF ROSSO DI VALTELLINA:
Aldo Rainoldi, Nino Negri, Balgera
Two dishes which went well with the Valtellina wine: