Tag Archives: Chiavennasca

#OperaWine 2015: The Event and My Wine Tasting Notes for Italy’s Northwest

Check out on Flora’s Table the first post of my series about the outstanding OperaWine 2015 wine event in Verona, Italy, inclusive of my tasting notes. This post focuses on Italy’s NorthWest.

Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

On March 21 I had the opportunity to attend OperaWine 2015, an exclusive wine tasting event that serves as the preamble to the Vinitaly event in Verona, Italy. OperaWine is jointly organized by Wine Spectator and Vinitaly and it aims at showcasing 100 of the greatest Italian wine producers selected by Wine Spectator, thus recognizing excellence in Italian wine.

OperaWine 2015 - Palazzo della Gran Guardia OperaWine 2015 ‚Äď Palazzo della Gran Guardia

The event is reserved to media and trade and is much more compact than Vinitaly. OperaWine took place in the beautiful context of Verona’s Palazzo della Gran Guardia and the organization was excellent: registration was straight forward and the booths of the 100 selected producers were laid out in a logical order.

One thing the organizers deserve particular praise for is their decision to encourage selected producers to bring to the event (where appropriate depending on the wine they were…

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Meet the Maker: Valtellina’s Nebbiolo – An Interview with Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Enologist

On previous posts, we have presented the Italian wine district of Valtellina and introduced one of the finest Valtellina wine producers, Ar.Pe.Pe. along with a tasting of their wines.

On this post, which concludes our mini-series about Valtellina, you can find an interview that Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner Isabella Pellizzatti Perego was kind enough to do with me.

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner in their stunning tasting room

Here are the questions I asked Isabella, along with a summary of her answers Рlet me give you heads up about the fact that some of the discussion is fairly technical in nature, but at the same time I think it is very interesting and educational:

Q1. First of all, would you care to explain the logic behind the various labels in your lineup and their release to the market? I understand they are not all available every year, so maybe you can elaborate a little bit on that?

A1. Certainly: essentially, we are pretty black and white with our production – let me try to explain.

At the top of our range there are the following four Crus or Riservas: Grumello Buon Consiglio; Sassella Rocce Rosse; Sassella Vigna Regina; and Sassella Ultimi Raggi.

These current Crus will soon be complemented by two new Crus that we have started making since the 2009 vintage and that are currently at the beginning of their aging phase. These new wines will be released to the market in 2018: one is our first Riserva from our vineyard in the Inferno subzone and the other one is a new Riserva from our Grumello vineyards that is going to complement our Buon Consiglio Cru.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s 5.5 HL wood tonneau aging casks

Beside those, we have the Inferno Fiamme Antiche which, so far, is the only label that we make from our vineyard in the Inferno subzone. When our new Inferno Cru becomes available, the Inferno Fiamme Antiche will be its second vin.

Finally, there is our entry-level, easy and ready to drink wine known as Rosso di Valtellina.

Now, the Rosso di Valtellina is the only one of our wines that is available every year.

Instead, our concept for¬†our premium wines is that, depending on our assessment as to¬†the quality of the grapes we harvest, we decide whether they¬†are worthy of a Cru or they should be “downgraded” to second¬†vin. We do not compromise: the entire crop for each subzone¬†either becomes a Cru or a second vin.

So, for instance, if one year you see that we release the Grumello Buon Consiglio Riserva, that means that for that year the Grumello Rocca De Piro will not be released, and vice versa, which of course entails a significant sacrifice in terms of revenues. But we are happy this way: we want to stand behind the quality and reputation of our wines and we do not take any shortcut to do so.

Mountain Nebbiolo grapes in Ar.Pe.Pe.'s destemmer

Q2. The mountain Nebbiolo of Valtellina has been recognized as a biotype that is geographically distinct from Piemonte’s Nebbiolo and several clones have been identified. Can you tell us something about the clonal choices that you made in your vineyards?

A2. Valtellina’s Nebbiolo presents greater biodiversity in its clones compared to Piemonte’s Langhe Nebbiolo (where the three main clones are Michet, Lampia and Ros√©). In Valtellina at least 10 different clones have been identified. For our vineyards, we have selected a mix of the various clones and we are observing how each of them has adapted to our terroir and how it performs. This way, we can identify the vines that perform best and then use those same clones to add new vines or replace existing ones.

Q3. Let’s talk a little bit about viticulture: what’s the average density and age of your vineyards? Are your vines all grafted? Which month of the year do you harvest and is it all done by hand?

Helicopter carrying Nino Negri's harvested mountain Nebbiolo grapes

A3. Our average density is 5,500/6,000 vines/HA and on average our vines are 50 years old – most are grafted, but there still are a few plants that are ungrafted.

We harvest exclusively by hand due to the characteristics of our territory, which prevent the use of anything mechanical. It is pretty much the same for all of the Valtellina producers, although some (such as Nino Negri) go as far as using helicopters to carry the crates with the harvested grapes as fast as possible to the winery. In general, we harvest the grapes for all our wines in the second half of October, except only those for our Ultimi Raggi Cru (which is our late-harvest wine) which get picked in the second half of November, just before the first snow of the season.

Q4. Speaking of the Ultimi Raggi: this is a wine that falls within the Valtellina Superiore Riserva DOCG appellation (subzone Sassella). Since it is a dry raisin wine, can it be considered your own take of a Sforzato della Valtellina? Why does it not fall within that separate DOCG?

A4. Well, yes and no: our Ultimi Raggi is a late-harvest dry raisin wine like a Sforzato, but it cannot be classified as such as the regulations for the Sforzato della Valtellina DOCG appellation require that the grapes be picked during the regular harvest season and then be dried on straw mats (in other words, it is not a late-harvest wine).

Instead, with the Ultimi Raggi we have made the choice of drying the grapes while they are still on the vine, by picking them generally a month later than the regular harvest. It is a riskier choice, because a few years ago we had just finished harvesting the last vines for the Ultimi Raggi when it started snowing: had it happened one day earlier, a large part of our harvest would have been lost. So, it is a riskier choice, but we feel that it really pays off in terms of the quality of the wine that we make.

Q5. How do you feel about organic viticulture? Is it something you are considering embracing?

A5. We practice an integrated approach to viticulture, which imposes very restrictive practices already. We would love to go all the way to organic, but considering our geography, that is made of steep mountain slopes and makes it impossible for us to mechanize anything, currently we are not in a position to incur even greater labor costs. Just think that the integrated viticulture approach that we practice results in 1,300 working hours per year for each hectare of vineyards: more than twice the number of man hours that are required in Piemonte’s Langhe and about three¬†times as many as those required to harvest hill vineyards in general.


Delastage "rack and return" process of Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting must

Q6. Let’s move on to your ultra-conservative winemaking choices: what kind of vats do you use to ferment your wines? Also, do your wines do malolactic fermentation? And for both fermentations, do you use selected yeasts and acid bacteria or are both fermentations spontaneous?

A6. We still use 50 HL wood barrels to ferment our wines: we have them made using the same traditional, proprietary mix of oak, chestnut and acacia that we use for our aging barrels. Then, after each fermentation, we gently scrape the inside of the barrels to remove any possible residue. It is a lot of work compared to just using stainless steel vats, but we think it is worthwhile because of the additional flavor and smoothness it contributes to our wines.

All of our wines go through a couple of day of pre-fermentative cold maceration to maximize the extraction of color and primary aromas, then they go through spontaneous alcoholic fermentation using only indigenous yeasts and finally they do a full, spontaneous malolactic fermentation that is kick started by careful temperature control.

Q7. What kind of barrels do you use for aging your wines and what is the main driver for your choice?

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s aging barrels

A7. As is the case for our fermenting vats, we use large 55 HL wood barrels for aging our wines too: these are made of a proprietary mix of oak, chestnut and acacia woods that we have traditionally been using from the very beginning. We also have a few smaller 5.5 HL tonneau casks made of the same wood mix that we sometimes use, but it is an exception.

In addition, none of our aging barrels is toasted: we only use un-toasted wood to minimize the release of tertiary aromas/flavors to our wines. We made this conservative choice because we want our wines to underscore primary and secondary aromas and to be a reflection of their unique terroir. Anyone can add spicy notes to a wine that, in itself, could be not very exciting: we want our consumers to appreciate our wines for the story they tell about our grapes, our territory and the environment our vines grow in.

Q8. Speaking of terroir, how would you briefly describe that of your vineyards? Also, how would you say that the wines made from grapes grown in the three different subzones you have vineyards in (Sassella, Inferno and Grumello) differ from one another?


Valtellina mountain vineyardsA8. The Valtellina district of Lombardia counts a little over 800 HA of vineyards altogether, and our grapevines grow on mountain slopes at an average altitude ranging from 400 to 600 mt (1,300 to 2,000 ft) above sea level. The soil here is scarce, as rocks abound.

This is also one of the main differences between the Grumello subzone versus the Sassella and Inferno subzones: the former has somewhat more soil, it is less rocky and this makes for easier, readier to drink wines, whilst the latter subzones have very little soil and rocks prevail Рthis makes the wines coming from these areas more austere and dependent on longer aging periods to properly assemble and integrate their components and smooth their edges.

Q9. Now, regarding the commercial aspects of your business: your annual production is about 60,000 bottles Рwhat is roughly the split between export and domestic consumption? Which are the top three countries to which you export?

A9. This year marks the first time that we export more than we sell domestically: 60% of our production has in fact been exported.

Geographically, the USA is the top country we export to, Japan is the second and Russia (which we just started exporting to this year) came in third. This year we also started selling to a few new countries beside Russia, among which Hong Kong, Taiwan and a market that we are excited to finally be in Canada Рour Rosso di Valtellina will be soon available in Quebec and we are very excited about this new challenge.

Q10. Finally, are there any new projects that you are working on that are worth pointing out to our readers?


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrelsA10. Yes, definitely. We already talked about the two new Crus which will become available in 2018, for which we are very excited and feel very strongly about their quality and potential.

Beside such product news, from a viticultural perspective we have decided to convert our vineyards to the Simonit-Sirch pruning method for controlled grapevine growth. In the context of a Guyot-type training system like the one we use in our vineyards, this method has the objective to optimize the performance of each vine through selective pruning of only young (one or two year old) stems growing out of the head of the trunk.

The purpose of this is to cause the vine to develop two main stems that originate from opposite sides of the head of the trunk and run parallel to the bending wire, giving the vine a characteristic T-shape. This optimizes the canalization of the plant’s lymph into such two main vessels and makes a vine grown with a Guyot-type training system more similar to a free-standing bush vine, which nowadays is considered the most efficient vine training system and one that considerably increases the life expectancy of the vine.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

That’s all: hope you enjoyed the read, and let me thank Isabella once again for her exquisite hospitality and for being so patient as to answer all of my questions! ūüôā

Meet the Maker: History and Wine Tasting of One of Valtellina’s Finest: Ar.Pe.Pe.

On our previous post, we have presented the Italian wine district of Valtellina, its territory, history, dominant grape variety and just briefly, its wines. Now is the time to focus on one of the finest producers of Valtellina wines, Ar.Pe.Pe.¬†(pronounced “Ahr-Pay-Pay”).

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s History

The somewhat curious name of this premium Valtellina winery is an acronym that stands for ARturo PEllizzatti PErego, that is the full name of the winery’s founder.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

Arturo was the descendant of a Valtellina family who had been in the wine industry since 1860 and who, by the 1960’s, had grown to own or manage 50 HA of vineyards. Arturo’s father, Guido, had built the family business’s winery by carving it into the rock of those very mountains on the slopes of which their vineyards lay: the new winery became operational in 1961.

Guido’s death in 1973 resulted in a paralizing feud among his heirs over the allocation of his estate: because of this, the heirs decided to sell the family’s business and the “Pellizzatti” brand to a then large wine and food conglomerate to which the family also leased the vineyards for a 10 year term.

‚Ä®Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrelsIn 1983, however, upon the expiration of the vineyard lease term, Arturo claimed back his own portion of the family’s vineyards (12 HA), bought back the winery that his father had built and started afresh his own wine business, under the current Ar.Pe.Pe. brand.

Arturo devoted all his knowledge, experience and energy into creating a range of top quality wines that would underscore and maximize the potential of the mountain Nebbiolo grapes and Valtellina’s unique terroir. In so doing, he took his chances and from the very beginning he decided not to compromise on anything, aiming for top of the line wines that would be optimally aged by the time they were released to the market.

This meant that for the first six years following Ar.Pe.Pe.’s creation, their vineyards were harvested for six times, wine was made for each vintage, but not a single bottle was released to the market because of the very long aging times that Arturo had prescribed for his wines. This is what his heirs affectionately refer to as his “nostalgic hardheadedness“.

But when the first bottles of one of his top Crus, the Valtellina Superiore “Rocce Rosse”, were finally made available to retailers in 1990, all those sacrifices paid off and the immediate success and rave reviews proved that Arturo’s philosophy of unwavering commitment to excellence had been right and long sighted.

Ar.Pe.Pe. then quickly became one of the most respected and prestigious brands in the landscape of Valtellina’s Nebbiolo’s. In 2004, Arturo passed away and his legacy passed on to his three children: Isabella (who became Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist), Guido and Emanuele, who have since shared the leadership of the family business.

Isabella, 
Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner, with her brother Emanuele in their tasting room

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Wine Tasting

On the next post, we will publish our interview of Isabella Pellizzatti Perego, Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner, but before that here are my quick tasting notes (i.e., these are not full-blown wine reviews) for¬†those wines in Ar.Pe.Pe.’s lineup that had just been¬†released to the market at the time of my visit and that my gracious hostess Isabella was kind enough to let me taste:

  • ArPePe, Rosso di ValtellinaRosso di Valtellina DOC 2011 (13% ABV)

This is Ar.Pe.Pe.’s entry-level wine, made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes harvested from their lower altitude vineyards (1,150/1,300 ft – 350/400 mt above sea level) in the Grumello and Sassella subzones (for more information, refer to our introductory post to the Valtellina district). The wine ages 6 to 12 months in large wood barrels before being released to the market. The Rosso di Valtellina retails in the US for about $32.

Tasting Notes: The wine’s color was ruby red, with aromas of violet, cherry and raspberry. In the mouth, the wine was freshly acidic, with smooth tannins – a young, easy to drink, ready to be enjoyed red.

Rating: Good Good

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Stella Retica” Riserva DOCG 2006 (13% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Stella Retica" RiservaThis is the second vin of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s two¬†grand vins¬†in the Sassella subzone (the “Rocce Rosse” and the single-vineyard “Vigna Regina”). As will be better explained in our interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist, the Stella Retica is only made in those vintages when the Rocce Rosse is not released (i.e., for any given vintage, either one of the Rocce Rosse or the Stella Retica is made).

The Stella Retica is made¬†from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown at an altitude between 1,300 and 1,650 feet (400 to 500 meters). It ferments¬†in Ar.Pe.Pe.’s signature mixed wood fermenting barrels (more about this in our interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist) for 12 days and ages in large wood barrels for 24 months, plus 24 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Stella Retica retails in the US for about $48.

Tasting Notes:¬†The wine’s color was ruby red with garnet reflections, with a fine and intense bouquet of cherry, wild strawberry and mineral hints of granite. In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was freshly acidic, gently tannic, and tasty, with medium body. All in all, a very pleasant and enjoyable wine.

Rating: Very Good Very Good

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Rocce Rosse” Riserva DOCG 2002 (13% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Rocce Rosse" RiservaThe Rocce Rosse is one of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s two¬†grand vins for the Sassella subzone (in addition to the single-vineyard Vigna Regina): it¬†is made¬†from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Sassella subzone only in those years in which the quality of the harvest is extraordinary. It ferments in wood fermenting barrels for 40 days(!) and it ages in large oak, chestnut and acacia wood barrels for 48 months, plus 36 additional months of in-bottle aging.

The Rocce Rosse is a top of the line wine that is suitable for long-term aging. It retails in the US for about $72.

Tasting Notes:¬†The wine’s color was garnet, with a spectacular, complex and intense bouquet of cherry, raspberry, cocoa, nutmeg and hints of tobacco, licorice and minerals (granite). In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and¬†silky smooth; it was acidic, gently tannic, and tasty, with full body and a long finish. A spectacularly exciting wine, already perfectly balanced and integrated after 11 years: a true sensory pleasure to be enjoyed with red meat or game dishes.

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Ultimi Raggi” Riserva DOCG 2006 (14% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Ultimi Raggi" RiservaThe Ultimi Raggi is Ar.Pe.Pe.’s late-harvest dry wine, made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Sassella subzone vineyards at the highest altitude (about 1,950 feet/600 meters above sea level) and left on the vines to naturally dry and therefore concentrate and maximize sugar levels through a late harvest.

The wine is fermented for 20 days in wood fermenting barrels and aged for 24 months in large wood barrels, plus 12 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Ultimi Raggi retails in the US for about $79.

Tasting Notes:¬†The wine’s color was garnet, with a complex, intense and explosive bouquet of spirited cherry, strawberry jam, raspberry, red fruit candy,¬†cocoa, tobacco. In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, with supple tannins, and tasty, with mineral hints of granite. It was full-bodied and with a long finish. An outstanding, structured and masterfully balanced¬†wine: the perfect companion for structured red meat or game dishes or seasoned cheeses.

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

Meet the Maker: An Introduction to Valtellina’s Mountain Nebbiolo and Wines

After our post about Tenuta San Guido (the Bolgheri estate where Sassicaia is made) and our interview of Tenuta San Guido’s owner, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, here come three new posts in our “Meet the Maker” series.

This time around we move from Bolgheri, Tuscany, all the way north to the Valtellina district in Lombardia to:

  1. Provide an overview of this very special area and its wines;
  2. Present one of the finest Valtellina producers, Ar.Pe.Pe., and taste certain of their wines; and
  3. Interview Isabella Pellizzatti Perego, Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner.

Map of Valtellina

Map of Valtellina, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the Territory and History

The Valtellina district¬†is an area in the northernest part of Italy’s Lombardia region, close to the border with Switzerland, that comprises¬†two mountain ranges¬†stretching from west to east (known, from north to south, as¬†Alpi Retiche¬†and¬†Alpi Orobiche) and a narrow valley in between, where the town of Sondrio lies.

Due to the geography of this area, viticulture in Valtellina has always been challenging, since most of the vineyards grow at an altitude of about 1,300 to 2,300 feet (400 to 700 meters) above sea level on narrow stone-walled terraces carved from the steep southern slopes of the northern mountain range (Alpi Retiche), so as to maximize the grapevines’ sun exposure. The rocks of the Alpi Retiche mountain range are prevalently granite-based, which means that the soil where the Valtellina grapevines grow is a sand-limestone mix and a very shallow one, as it is often less than 3 feet/1 meter deep.

Valtellina’s harsh geography means that vineyard mechanization is virtually nonexistent, with grapevine treatments, pruning and harvesting being made exclusively by hand, thus significantly increasing the average production cost.


Valtellina mountain vineyards

Historically, the first evidence of viticulture in Valtellina dates back to the IX century (specifically, to year 837 of the Common Era). We have to wait until the XVI century, however, to have the first documented information about the size of the Valtellina vineyards, which back then were about 3,500 HA. As a result of the spread of the grapevine pathogen Uncinula necator (a fungus that causes powdery mildew of grapes) and the Grape phylloxera (an aphid-like pest that attacks the roots of Vitis vinifera grapevines and that almost completely destroyed the vineyards throughout Europe in the late XIX century), the overall size of the Valtellina vineyards dropped to less than 1,200 HA in the XX century.

The relevance of Valtellina as a wine grape landscape of significant cultural value is underscored by the fact that Italy put forward Valtellina’s candidacy (together with that of the Langhe/Roero/Monferrato area in Piemonte) to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Valtellina’s candidacy is currently still pending and is part of¬†UNESCO’s Tentative List.

About the Appellations

The Valtellina district comprises two DOCG, one DOC and one IGT appellations, as follows:

  • Valtellina Superiore DOCG
  • Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG
  • Valtellina Rosso DOC
  • Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT

The Valtellina Superiore DOCG appellation, which we are going to focus on for the purpose of this post, encompasses a territory of approximately 430 HA in the vicinities of the town of Sondrio. The appellation is further divided into five subzones, as follows:

  1. Grumello (about 78 HA)
  2. Inferno (about 55 HA)
  3. Maroggia (about 25 HA)
  4. Sassella (about 130 HA)
  5. Valgella (about 137 HA)

The appellation regulations require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes¬†and that they be aged (i) for a minimum of 24 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the base version of Valtellina Superiore or (ii) for¬†a minimum of 36 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the “Riserva” version.

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrels

About the Grape Variety

As mentioned above, in Valtellina Nebbiolo¬†(which is locally known as Chiavennasca – pronounced “key-avennasca”) is king.

The regulations of both of Valtellina’s DOCG appellations and the Valtellina Rosso DOC appellation all require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes.

You can find several cool facts and much information about Nebbiolo on our Grape Variety Archive page (which has been compiled based on Information taken from the excellent volume Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012) Рhere is just a short abstract:

Nebbiolo is without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous black-berried grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca).


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s 5.5 HL wood tonneau aging casks

About the Wines

The wines of Valtellina are not very well known to the general public, but they resonate with Italian wine connoisseurs because those wines that are made by serious producers are fabulous Nebbiolo-based reds, that pack tons of quality and structure, are suitable for long-term aging and still can be had for significantly less expensive prices than their better-known counterparts from Piemonte.

Interestingly enough, 2013 marked the first year in which a wine from one of Valtellina’s top producers (Mamete Prevostini, Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Sommarovina” DOCG 2009) made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013 (in 82nd position – congratulations!): perhaps this will contribute bringing the wines of Valtellina more into the limelight with wine aficionados.

On the next post, we will focus on one among my absolute favorite Valtellina producers: Ar.Pe.Pe. and on a tasting of certain of their wines. On the last post of this mini-series, we will then publish an interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner, Isabella Pellizzatti Perego. Stay tuned! ūüôā


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner with her brother Emanuele in their tasting room