How To Drink "Flowers" - Nebbiolos from Valtellina

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 to see if any of these wines can be found at a local wine shop. You won't be disappointed!


Aldo Rainoldi, Nino Negri, Balgera


Two dishes which went well with the Valtellina wine:

Hamachi Crudo with a thai curry sauce

Hamachi Crudo with a thai curry sauce

Casarecce Pasta with dungeness crab, sea urchin, tomatoes, basil and lemon.  Fantastic with the wine!

Casarecce Pasta with dungeness crab, sea urchin, tomatoes, basil and lemon.  Fantastic with the wine!

Sweet and Spicy Salmon

Many people are intimidated to cook fish and have told me they usually just wait to order it in a restaurant, rather than preparing it themselves. They're afraid of ending up with an overcooked, dry and chewy fillet.  Yet there are so many simple ways to cook fish:  broil, bake, grill, saute, fry, roast.  If you follow one general rule of thumb, moist and delicious fish will be yours!  This rule is to cook the fillet 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness.  There are certain exceptions to the rule, such as for salmon and tuna which are usually served rare in the middle and therefore require less cooking time.  Below is one of my favorite recipes for cooking salmon which needs only about 6 minutes per inch of cooking time.  This preparation is so easy to make and you can either broil or grill the fish.  Bon Appetit! 

xo, The Wine Chef


Slightly rare in the center, this salmon is perfectly cooked! 

Slightly rare in the center, this salmon is perfectly cooked! 

Serves 2

1/8 cup (2T) honey

1T coarse grained mustard

1 & 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 lb. salmon fillet

1) Mix together honey, mustard, vinegar, cumin, coriander and chili powder.

2) Lay salmon fillet on a foil-lined baking pan, skin side down and brush marinade all over the top of the fish.  It should be a fairly thick coating.  Marinate 20 minutes to one hour.

3) Broil or grill salmon without turning, until opaque and slightly rare in the center, about 5-7 minutes.  Serve with rice, quinoa or couscous and sauteed vegetables, such as these simple but fabulous Sugar Snap Peas.  



A medium bodied, refreshing beer such as a lager or an IPA is one sure way to go when eating dishes with flavorful spices like cumin, coriander and chili powder.  As for wine,  typically,  spicy food pairs well with white wines that have a bit of residual sugar such as a German Riesling.   If you want to have red wine,  I would suggest a light to medium bodied, fruit forward, low tannin wine such as a Beaujolais from France or an Italian Barbera D'Alba or even a fruity Zinfandel from California.  Other great choices would be a light-bodied Pinot Noir from the Sancerre region of the Loire Valley or a Provencal rosé, preferably a fuller-bodied one from Bandol.