As you know, I’m all for spreading the Milanese/Lombard good word in any way, shape or form, so today I’m sharing a wine produced in Valtellina. Many people are surprised to learn that the nebbiolo grape, yes the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco fame, thrives in a staggering little nook of Northern Lombardy perched at an altitude of 2500 feet, not far from the Swiss border, where the grape goes by chiavennasca. Harvesting the vines here is a painstaking process, hence the viticulture earning the moniker eroica, or heroic.
The wines from Valtellina differ from those of Piedmont, enveloping the surroundings to capture the local rocky terroir and particular microclimate–the Alps both protect the vines from the harsh cold but also trap heat, which helps the grapes thrive.
One such producer, Casa Vinicola Nera, was founded by Guido Nera in the 1950s. Today, the third generation oversees the Nera winery’s operations, with an annual production of about 40,000 liters. Their Valtellina Superiore D.O.C.G. Sassella has been aged for 24 months, 12 months in oak, the rest in stainless steel. The garnet-hued wine has strong notes of violets and cherries, and I even think I caught a hint of green pepper on the nose. Sassella, which juts out from a cliff at a very steep point, is considered the most prestigious of the D.O.C.G.’s subzones and is named for the rocks (sassi) that characterize the terroir. The others are Grumello, Inferno (its slopes are a heat trap as implied by its name), Maroggia, and Valgella.
Other wines to taste include Sforzato di Valtellina D.O.C.G., the Nera winery’s passito made from partially dried grapes, and other Valtellina Superiore D.O.C.G. from different other subzones (Inferno, Grumello and Valgella) as well as some Riserva wines produced during the most ideal vintages.
Also, about ten years ago, the family opened an enoteca on the SS 38, the main road leading to the Stelvio Pass. You can drop in to taste their wines paired with local specialties such as DOP Bitto and Valtellina Casera, two kinds of cheese, and IGP Bresaola di Valtellina, pizzoccheri (buckwheat flour pasta) and more.