Hidden treasures, wines from Valtellina: Balgera

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 🙂

balgera

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.

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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!!

Balgera since 1885

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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.

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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.

Sassella

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 🙂

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!

Hidden treasures: Wines from Valtellina

I like wines from all over the world, I’m not a wine snob nor am I too chauvinistic but most of my preferred wines come from Italy 🙂 . That I’m a big fan of Valpolicella wines you already found out when I spoke to you about my wine trip through the Valpolicella wine region. The wine region that is on top of my list (and I have to admit also lays closest to my heart) is Valtellina! It is not only my preferred region because my family roots are here (most of my family lives in Valtellina), but also because this region produces the most wonderful wines!!

Valtellina

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For many people it is still an unknown region and lots of times a forgotten region, unfairly if you ask me. I’m also not sure why this region isn’t more well known? Valtellina is a small region in the moutains in the North of Lombardy somewhere inbetween the Como lake and the Swiss border. Valtellina is mostly known amongst ski lovers as Valtellina has some of the most renowned ski areas in the world with towns like Bormio and Livigno (also known as it is taxfree) as the most famous.  Every time I visit this region I fall in love with it over and over again.

Bormio bagni caldi

Bormio 2000

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The wines in the Valtellina region are mostly made with the Chiavennasca grape that is better known as Nebbiolo… YES indeed the grapes used to make that other Italian beauty called Barolo 🙂 . In this region however the wines go with names like Sassella, Inferno, Valgella and Sforzato which are bascially the names of area’s between  Villapunta and Tirano with exception for Sforzato. The Sforzato wine is the Valtellina version of Valpolicella’s Amarone. Sforzato gets made in the same way by using partially ‘dried’ grapes aka the appassimento method (The drying process concentrates sugars and results in higher alcohol wines).

apassimento by consorziovini valtellina

vineyards by valtellina

The wine estate that has put the Valtellina wines on the map on an International level (and I think everybody agrees on this) is Nino Negri. I’ve known Nino Negri my whole life as my dad also used to sell their wines in his restaurant… mainly because back then you didn’t find any other producers from the region in Belgium, but also that to my opinion they were and still are one of the best producers in the area. I wouldn’t be able to name a favorite from their gamma as I like all, but if you are a wine lover do try their Le Tense, Mazer, Sfurzat and if the budget allows it the 5 stelle which is an indescribable beautiful wine. It does warm up my heart that more and more wines from other wine producers from Valtellina found their way to Belgium  or even to other countries all over the world. All or most Valtellina winemakers have joined forces and created a consortium that represents the whole wine region. I see this as a positive thing as together they are stronger then separately.

Nino Negri

5 stelle

When I am in the region I do always try to taste as many “new” producers (or maybe just ones that I didn’t know about). A few weeks ago (as you might have see on my FB or Instagram) I was in Valtellina for a family visit with my dad. Normally my babygirl was coming along, but unfortunately she became ill the night before leaving… so she stayed at home with my wife. I was sad she couldn’t come, but at the other hand this way we had the liberty of visiting some wine estates 🙂 🙂 If it were up to me I would have visited many more, but our main purpose for travelling to Valtellina was to visit family and the vineyard visits had to happen in between the family visits.

family time valtellina

Nonna

Initially I planned to visit 3 vineyards: Rivetti & Lauro, Balgera and Menegola. However we sadly didn’t manage to visit the last (Menegola) due to time issues, but I’m really sad about it because I was really looking forward to it… next time without any doubt!!!

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The diffrences between the Rivetti & Lauro estate and Balgera couldn’t have been bigger. Rivetti is only producing wines for 3 years, whereas Balgera was one of the first estates to make wine in the region and it now already the 5th generation of winemakers. Balgera is rather a classical style wine maker who respects the traditions, Rivetti on the other hand is a more modern estate that experiments with new methods and grapes…. I wouldn’t say that I prefer one over the other. They both have a different style of wine and depending on the circumstances I’ll prefer drinking one over the other 🙂 but I guess that’s the case with every wine

Balgera rivetti & lauro

To be continued….