Like in every craft you have craftsmen who prefer working the classical way according to traditions and others prefer searching/ trying new things. In wine making this is exactly the same. That is why during my last trip to Valtellina I was very keen on visiting one of each. Rivetti & Lauro to see what result blending the Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca) with non autochthon grapes would give and Balgera to see how Valtellina wines are made according to tradition. Which one I prefer? It all depends on the occasion when drinking a particular wine. Sometimes I prefer drinking myself a ‘classically made Sfurzat’, other times I feel like going for a Nebbiolo blend wine… There’s no wrong or right, rather a choice for every occasion and somebody’s taste 🙂
Valtellina DOC is a magnificent series of terraced vineyards on the southern hillside of the Rhaetian Alps!! A beautiful and unique landscape (I can’t say it enough as my love for this region is enormous) at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level. Viticultur in Valtellina is often called ‘heroic viticulture’ as no machines can be used during harvest due to the location of the terraces that are sometimes on very steep hillsides.
Azienda Agricola Balgera is one of the oldest winemakers in Valtellina and was founded in 1885 by Pietro Balgera. Balgera, that now is run by the 5th generation, calls itself ‘protector of traditions’ as they find it important to continue making the product(s) that has put Valtellina on the map. I say tradition, they basically combine the ancient ‘know how’ with the modern winemaking techniques. What Paolo Balgera offers is wines of an exceptional elegance, great structure and exquisite aromatics of fragrance!!
Something both winemakers I’ve met have in common is the pride and passion for what they do!! Passionate men/women are always the best ones to learn from and producers of the best end product. A remarkable detail is that Balgera keeps the wines in large barrels for up to ten years before bottling, yet they are fresh and delicious (you would think they wouldn’t be after all that time). When I asked Paolo why he sometimes waits up to ten years to bottle wine he replied “I bottle my wines when they are ready, if this takes one or more years extra this is how it shall be”. What I understand from this is that for Paolo a wine can only leave towards the consumers when they are “perfect” and not a moment sooner. No matter if it is a ‘regular’ Sassella or a top bottle of Sfurzat that a consumer opens, the experience must equally be exceptional. I believe this is the key to be a good winemaker.
When you taste the wines you clearly taste the craftsmanship. Their Sassella for example ( a Nebbiolo, Rossola Nera and Pignola blend) is a beautiful expressive, long, fresh wine combining acidity with depth of flavor. What makes this wine as nice is probably because of the process it goes through. After the harvest the grapes get destemmed and lightly crushed, where after the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts. The Sassella is macerated for a total of around 15 days, then spends a year in tank and up to 10 more years in large (3,000L) barrels. To think this is not even their “top” wine and yet they do take their time making it.
A wine whose name always intrigued me or rather it’s name was the Inferno which basically means ‘hell’ 🙂 not that I’m a Satan worshiper, but when I was as small boy I had a lot of imagination… anyway the reason why it is called inferno is because of the particular heat found here; the soil is also different from the other zones of the Valtellina in that it is chalky, rather than a morenic combination. The inferno is a lovely wine with excellent acidity
But my all time favorite ( no matter what) in the region is the Sfurzat or Sforzato (100% Nebbiolo aka Chiavenasca)!! Full, warm and persistent, very structured and yet very fine with hints of violets and dried blackberry jam but a very complex… just how I like my wines. We did also taste other wines, but nothing beats my beloved Sforzato 🙂
I hope that during my next trip to Valtellina (which is probably very soon) I’ll be discovering more hidden treasures of this wonderful region!