Shortly after the town of Colico, the Valtellina, crossed by the Adda river and surrounded on one side by Rhaetian Alps, reaching the municipalities of Morbegno, Sondrio, Tirano, Up to Livigno. And just by looking at the Rhaetian side, a wonderful spectacle opens up: an area of 850 hectares of vines spread over terraces bordered by kilometers of dry stone walls. A viticulture with ancient origins, in a unique terroir, characterized by a strong diversity from a geological, environmental and climatic point of view. Here the vineyards can be reached by man only on foot with considerable difficulty and the bunches of grapes are brought to the cellar in baskets carried on the shoulders. And in some places the considerable slopes make the grape harvest so difficult that the panniers are transported by small helicopters.
And when we talk about Valtellina we cannot fail to mention the main grape variety that dominates this valley, the Nebbiolo. Locally called Chiavennasca, it is here that this grape, having crossed the borders of Piedmont, has found a new home to express characteristics such as finesse, character and longevity that make the wines produced among the most popular on the Italian scene.
One of the souls in which Nebbiolo is embodied in this area is the Valtellina Superiore DOCG, a denomination that refers to the vineyards included within the area between the municipalities of Tirano and Berbenna and which can be divided into five production sub-areas, which geographically run through the valley from west to east. (Maroggia, Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, Valgella).
Following this geographical direction, the first sub-area we find, in the municipality of Berbenno, is Maroggia, recognized more recently than the others. Produced in limited quantities (only 25 hectares of vineyards), here the wine, with ruby red tones with garnet hues, is full-bodied and with not excessive, but silky tannins.
One tip is the Maroggia Reserve area of Sesterzio winery, a wine that is produced only in special years using the best bunches from the vineyards of this sub-area, of which a part is subjected to a short natural drying. After about 24 months of maturation in oak barrels and a subsequent refinement in the bottle, the glass is an expression of finesse, freshness and velvet tannins and gives the nose aromas of violets, dried roses and cherries.
Continuing, we arrive in the sub-area of Sassella, certainly the best known of the Valtellina, which extends from Castione Andevenno to Sondrio. The name probably derives from the small Mariano della Sassella church, which is located just outside the capital in the direction of Castione.
Sassella can be as austere, intense and persistent as it is Rhaetian Star of the cellar Ar.Pe.Pe., which reminds the nose of the forest and its berries. The long aging in 50 hl barrels gives this wine complexity without, however, losing freshness. The drink, in fact, is taut, but at the same time soft with a mineral momentum and a persistent finish.
On the north-eastern side of the city of Sondrio we find the sub-area of Grumello, which takes its name from the castle of the same name and extends for about 74 terraced hectares. And right in the historic center of the capital, between narrow alleys and stone houses, we can visit the family-run winery of Alberto Marsetti to try theirs Grumello, which is characterized by its aromas of spices, licorice and ripe berries, such as blueberries, black currants and strawberries. In the mouth its structure is perfectly balanced by a lively tannin.
Proceeding towards the localities of Tresivio and Poggiridenti we reach the sub-area Inferno, whose name most likely refers to the high temperatures reached during the summer and to the particular conformation of the small terraces on which the vines are grown. It is from these vineyards that the most austere Valtellinesi wines are born and more prone to long maturation / aging. And while we're out and about, it's worth stopping by the winery Cliffs in Ponte, founded in 2004 by Pierpaolo Di Franco and Davide Fasolini, who personally take care of the work in the vineyard and the operations in the cellar to produce and process high quality grapes. Theirs Failure perfectly expresses this philosophy with its olfactory profile that refers to wild herbs and oriental spices, which make room between floral and wild fruit notes. A very pleasant freshness and a delicate sapidity prelude to a long and intense finish in the mouth.
The last stage that awaits us is the sub-area Valgella, which is the largest of all and is located in the municipalities of Chiuro and Teglio. The name comes from the dialect word "Valgel" used to indicate the small streams that run from the Alps to the valley floor. The flagship is the cellar Sandro Fay, which for years has been one of the most interesting and important realities in Valtellina. Theirs Ca 'Morei knows how to fascinate with its aromas of crunchy red fruits and for a structure and freshness that are perfectly balanced, offering an elegant, clean and soft sip.
And after having crossed the Valtellina along its sub-zones, all that remains is to stop in one of the typical crotti of the place and discover how these wines are deliciously combined with the local cuisine. Try with i pizzoccheri or the taragna polenta, or a platter of aged Valtellina cheeses such as Bitto, or with a sumptuous range of game meat… We await your opinions!
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