Explore the Valtellina Vineyards

>Explore the Valtellina Vineyards

You’ve heard us talk about the Valtellina region before on this blog – it’s Italy’s most dramatic wine landscape and a source of fine wines that are becoming increasingly popular among wine connoisseurs and amateur tasters across the world. The Valtellina is also a great day trip for our guests at the Palazzo, either with our drivers and guides to show you the way or on your own for a day of exploration. Either way, we know you will love the stunning scenery, quaint alpine villages and delicious food and wine in the Valtellina and we’ve developed a handy primer on the region to give you the insider info and top tips you need to have a great trip to the Valtellina.

Where is the Valtellina?

From Lezzeno, daytrippers to the Valtellina region will first need to take the car ferry from Bellagio to Varenna, and then follow the lake shore until you reach the northern most tip at Colico. From there, the SS38 takes you along the Adda River into this picturesque valley, bordered to the south by the Bergamasque Alps and to the north by the Bernina Alps that straddle the Italian-Swiss border. You can be in the heart of the valley in less than 90 minutes, a bit further to experience how the valley narrows and the mountains get taller…

The area has been much contested over the centuries, most devastatingly during the Thirty Years’ War, as it was home to a key alpine pass linking the Po River transport route in Lombardy with the Danube watershed. Batted around like a football between various European powers that be, the Valtellina finally became official Italian territory in 1861. In the last desperate days of World War II, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini even considered mounting a “last stand” here, trying to hold off the Allied Forces advancing north towards Germany. In his delusions of grandeur, he likened the heroic sacrifice of himself and 30,000 loyal soldiers to the Spartan king Leonidas at Thermopylae in 480 BC. He eventually gave up the plans and tried to sneak – not exactly the bravery of Leonidas!! – across the Swiss border on Lake Como (see the exact spot when you hike the Greenway).

These days, the Valtellina is a hidden gem many tourists are unfamiliar with, which gives visitors an authentic look at the Northern Italian lifestyle without the crowds and the opportunity to sample some of its best enogastronomic treats – from the wines we talk about below to specialties like air-dried, salted beef known as Bresaola della Valtellina and the strong Bitto cheese, often served atop the buckwheat pasta called pizzoccheri.

How do the vines grow?

The Valtellina certainly has some of Italy’s most dramatic vineyards. Grapes grow on tidy terraces as high as 2,500 feet above sea level, on slopes that are perilously steep and secured against landslides by an astounding 1,500 miles of “muretti” or stone walls. Keeping the walls intact and pruning or harvesting the vines is back-breaking work – celebrated as “viticoltura eroica” in the local vernacular, or heroic viticulture, because you need to practically be a superhero to scamper up and down the stone stairs with the heavy “portini” baskets strapped to your back. (Modern technology, it seems, has taken the place of heroism for some of the big producers; they use helicopters to transfer the grapes to the winery during harvest!) Valtellina has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Status and locals are hopeful they will receive the designation in the not too distant future – and the financial support for maintaining their walls and local culture that comes along with it.

Clay, loam, sand and gravel form the soil in various compositions at different locations, though much is lost each year due to winter rains and replaced each spring by portini after portini of soil carried up the stairs. The south-facing slopes make the most of the frequent and warm sun, which has a heat index comparable to Mediterranean islands during the summer, and the tall mountains block cold winds from the north and the south. The gentle “Breva” winds (which make Lake Como’s northern branch such a great spot for kitesurfing!) warm the valley in the spring and keep humidity in check. The rocks in the soil and in the stone walls retain the day’s heat and radiate it throughout the cold nights, keeping the soil warm and frost-free.

The star of the Valtellina vineyards is the nebbiola grape, known here as chiavannesca. In fact, some experts believe the genetic evidence shows it may have even originated here! It’s the perfect grape for this unique landscape, as it ripens later in the year after the punishing suns start to cool and benefits from the substantial drop in temperatures on summer nights. Chiavannesca also lends itself to the appassimento, or raisining, technique used for the Sforzato wines the area is famous for. 

What are the main wines of the Valtellina?

There are four main wines in the Valtellina – Rosso di Valtellina DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG (with five sub-zones), Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG and Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT.

The Rosso di Valtellina DOC is the foundation of the local red wine pyramid – an immensely drinkable wine with a fruity aroma cultivated across the Adda valley, it is ready for drinking after only a year of aging and suitable for any meal.

Made with at least 90% chiavannesca, Valtellina Superiore DOCG are a bit more concentrated and heavier than the Rosso di Valtellina wines. These wines have a mandatory 24 months of aging, 12 of which take place in oak barrels. This intensely fruity ruby-red wine pairs well with meats and medium-mature cheeses. These wines can only be made in five zones of the Sondrio province. Of the five sub-zones, Sasella is probably the most prestigious; its vines grown on a particularly sunny slope that is full of “sassi” or rocks to ensure good drainage and heat storage.

Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG gets its name from the verb sforzare, which means to force. The Nebbiolo grapes for this wine are “forced” or dried for several weeks before vinification, which concentrates the sugars and produces a robust wine. Aging is at least 20 months, the first 12 in wood and then in the bottle. The Sforzati are without doubt the most popular wines of the Valtellina – big, prestigious wines that rival the Barolos of this world, but with a lightness and elegance that makes them unique. Ideal food pairings include grilled meats, stews, mature cheese and the local pizzoccheri pasta served with sharp Bitto cheese and cabbage.

Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT is a broad, catch-all designation for local wines that can apply to red, white, rosé and even sparkling wine. The reds are mainly chiavannesca-based, with some relying on the local pignola and rossola grapes. The whites are usually blends of two or more international varieties like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling, but may also include nebbiolo fermented as a white wine.

What are the vineyards to visit?

La Gatta: 
Via Gatta 33
23030 Bianzone (SO)
Tel: +30  0342 720004

Housed in a 16th-century Dominican convent, La Gatta has over 30 acres of primarily Nebbiolo grapes. Visit the cellars where the wine ages in small oak barrels and taste award-winning vintages like the Sforzato San Domenico and the Riserva La Gatta. The alfresco lounge, serving the estate’s wines with a selection of locally-produced cold meats and cheeses, has sweeping views of the unique Valtellina landscape. 

Ar.Pe.Pe:
Via Buonconsiglio 4
23100 Sondrio
Tel: +39 0342 214120

Fifth-generation winemakers headquartered in Sondrio, Ar.Pe.Pe has vineyards in Sassella, Grumello and Inferno. Their philosophy is focused on working as naturally as possible in the vineyards (true heroes!) and the vinification technique is tailored each year to the harvest and the yield, even if that means some labels are not released. Visitors can marvel at the wine cellars hewn out of the rock below the ruins of Castello Grumello. 

Sandro Fay
Via Pila Caselli 1
23036 San Giacomo di Teglio (SO)
Tel: +39 0342 786071

A family-run vineyard founded in 1973, Sandro Fay has roughly 37 acres of vines primarily located in the Valgella sub-zone. Sandro Fay is laser-focused on single-vineyard wines, in an effort to produce terroir-driven wines with distinctive personalities. Sandro’s daughter Elena does tours and tastings in a restored farmhouse nestled directly in the vineyards. 

Nino Negri 
Via Ghibellini 3
23030 Chiuro (SO)
+39 0342 485211

La Fracia
Via Fracia
23030 Chiuro (SO)
+39 0342482671
Open daily from 12-3 and 7 to 1, except Tuesdays

With almost 77 acres of vines in four of the Valtellina’s five sub-zones, Nino Negri is the area’s largest estate. Its headquarters in the charming 15th-century Palazzo Quadrio has a rich history of winemaking, as evidenced by a historic press and an eclectic collection of tools displayed across the grounds. Sara guides guests through the vineyards and tastings in the stone-clad tasting room, accompanied by local specialties. The estate’s rustic-chic restaurant La Fracia is truly “a pearl among the vines”, serving local delicacies and Valtellina wines in the stone-clad dining room or the panoramic terrace. 

And for people in your group not interested in wine?

There are lots of ways to enjoy the Valtellina that have nothing to do with wine. Here’s just a small sample: shop for local cheeses like it’s 1883 at Fratelli Ciapponi in Morbegno; tackle the ziplines and tree-top obstacle courses of Fly Emotion; indulge in spa treatments and heated outdoor pools at the historic Baths of Bormio or the chic farmhouse/hotel La Fiorida; discover the Valtellina’s rich architectural and artistic heritage at Palazzo Salis; marvel at 6,000 year old engravings on the boulders of Rupestri di Grosio; or trek your way through the mountains of Bormio and sample local delicacies at remote “Rifugio” restaurants and alpine dairies. 

You’ve heard us talk about the Valtellina region before on this blog – it’s Italy’s most dramatic wine landscape and a source of fine wines that are becoming increasingly popular among wine connoisseurs and amateur tasters across the world. The Valtellina is also a great day trip for our guests at the Palazzo, either with our drivers and guides to show you the way or on your own for a day of exploration. Either way, we know you will love the stunning scenery, quaint alpine villages and delicious food and wine in the Valtellina and we’ve developed a handy primer on the region to give you the insider info and top tips you need to have a great trip to the Valtellina.

Where is the Valtellina?

From Lezzeno, daytrippers to the Valtellina region will first need to take the car ferry from Bellagio to Varenna, and then follow the lake shore until you reach the northern most tip at Colico. From there, the SS38 takes you along the Adda River into this picturesque valley, bordered to the south by the Bergamasque Alps and to the north by the Bernina Alps that straddle the Italian-Swiss border. You can be in the heart of the valley in less than 90 minutes, a bit further to experience how the valley narrows and the mountains get taller…

The area has been much contested over the centuries, most devastatingly during the Thirty Years’ War, as it was home to a key alpine pass linking the Po River transport route in Lombardy with the Danube watershed. Batted around like a football between various European powers that be, the Valtellina finally became official Italian territory in 1861. In the last desperate days of World War II, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini even considered mounting a “last stand” here, trying to hold off the Allied Forces advancing north towards Germany. In his delusions of grandeur, he likened the heroic sacrifice of himself and 30,000 loyal soldiers to the Spartan king Leonidas at Thermopylae in 480 BC. He eventually gave up the plans and tried to sneak – not exactly the bravery of Leonidas!! – across the Swiss border on Lake Como (see the exact spot when you hike the Greenway).

These days, the Valtellina is a hidden gem many tourists are unfamiliar with, which gives visitors an authentic look at the Northern Italian lifestyle without the crowds and the opportunity to sample some of its best enogastronomic treats – from the wines we talk about below to specialties like air-dried, salted beef known as Bresaola della Valtellina and the strong Bitto cheese, often served atop the buckwheat pasta called pizzoccheri. 

How do the vines grow?

The Valtellina certainly has some of Italy’s most dramatic vineyards. Grapes grow on tidy terraces as high as 2,500 feet above sea level, on slopes that are perilously steep and secured against landslides by an astounding 1,500 miles of “muretti” or stone walls. Keeping the walls intact and pruning or harvesting the vines is back-breaking work – celebrated as “viticoltura eroica” in the local vernacular, or heroic viticulture, because you need to practically be a superhero to scamper up and down the stone stairs with the heavy “portini” baskets strapped to your back. (Modern technology, it seems, has taken the place of heroism for some of the big producers; they use helicopters to transfer the grapes to the winery during harvest!) Valtellina has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Status and locals are hopeful they will receive the designation in the not too distant future – and the financial support for maintaining their walls and local culture that comes along with it.

Clay, loam, sand and gravel form the soil in various compositions at different locations, though much is lost each year due to winter rains and replaced each spring by portini after portini of soil carried up the stairs. The south-facing slopes make the most of the frequent and warm sun, which has a heat index comparable to Mediterranean islands during the summer, and the tall mountains block cold winds from the north and the south. The gentle “Breva” winds (which make Lake Como’s northern branch such a great spot for kitesurfing!) warm the valley in the spring and keep humidity in check. The rocks in the soil and in the stone walls retain the day’s heat and radiate it throughout the cold nights, keeping the soil warm and frost-free.

The star of the Valtellina vineyards is the nebbiola grape, known here as chiavannesca. In fact, some experts believe the genetic evidence shows it may have even originated here! It’s the perfect grape for this unique landscape, as it ripens later in the year after the punishing suns start to cool and benefits from the substantial drop in temperatures on summer nights. Chiavannesca also lends itself to the appassimento, or raisining, technique used for the Sforzato wines the area is famous for.

What are the main wines of the Valtellina?

There are four main wines in the Valtellina – Rosso di Valtellina DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG (with five sub-zones), Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG and Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT. 

The Rosso di Valtellina DOC is the foundation of the local red wine pyramid – an immensely drinkable wine with a fruity aroma cultivated across the Adda valley, it is ready for drinking after only a year of aging and suitable for any meal. 

Made with at least 90% chiavannesca, Valtellina Superiore DOCG are a bit more concentrated and heavier than the Rosso di Valtellina wines. These wines have a mandatory 24 months of aging, 12 of which take place in oak barrels. This intensely fruity ruby-red wine pairs well with meats and medium-mature cheeses. These wines can only be made in five zones of the Sondrio province. Of the five sub-zones, Sasella is probably the most prestigious; its vines grown on a particularly sunny slope that is full of “sassi” or rocks to ensure good drainage and heat storage.

Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG gets its name from the verb sforzare, which means to force. The Nebbiolo grapes for this wine are “forced” or dried for several weeks before vinification, which concentrates the sugars and produces a robust wine. Aging is at least 20 months, the first 12 in wood and then in the bottle. The Sforzati are without doubt the most popular wines of the Valtellina – big, prestigious wines that rival the Barolos of this world, but with a lightness and elegance that makes them unique. Ideal food pairings include grilled meats, stews, mature cheese and the local pizzoccheri pasta served with sharp Bitto cheese and cabbage. 

Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT is a broad, catch-all designation for local wines that can apply to red, white, rosé and even sparkling wine. The reds are mainly chiavannesca-based, with some relying on the local pignola and rossola grapes. The whites are usually blends of two or more international varieties like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling, but may also include nebbiolo fermented as a white wine.

What are the vineyards to visit?

La Gatta
Via Gatta 33, 23030 Bianzone (SO) +30 0342 72000
Housed in a 16th-century Dominican convent, La Gatta has over 30 acres of primarily Nebbiolo grapes. Visit the cellars where the wine ages in small oak barrels and taste award-winning vintages like the Sforzato San Domenico and the Riserva La Gatta. The alfresco lounge, serving the estate’s wines with a selection of locally-produced cold meats and cheeses, has sweeping views of the unique Valtellina landscape. 

website

Ar.Pe.Pe
Via Buonconsiglio 423100 Sondrio +39 0342 214120
Fifth-generation winemakers headquartered in Sondrio, Ar.Pe.Pe has vineyards in Sassella, Grumello and Inferno. Their philosophy is focused on working as naturally as possible in the vineyards (true heroes!) and the vinification technique is tailored each year to the harvest and the yield, even if that means some labels are not released. Visitors can marvel at the wine cellars hewn out of the rock below the ruins of Castello Grumello. 

website

Sandro Fay
Via Pila Caselli 1, 23036 San Giacomo di Teglio (SO) +39 0342 786071
A family-run vineyard founded in 1973, Sandro Fay has roughly 37 acres of vines primarily located in the Valgella sub-zone. Sandro Fay is laser-focused on single-vineyard wines, in an effort to produce terroir-driven wines with distinctive personalities. Sandro’s daughter Elena does tours and tastings in a restored farmhouse nestled directly in the vineyards. 

website

Nino Negri 
Via Ghibellini 3, 23030 Chiuro (SO) +39 0342 485211

With almost 77 acres of vines in four of the Valtellina’s five sub-zones, Nino Negri is the area’s largest estate. Its headquarters in the charming 15th-century Palazzo Quadrio has a rich history of winemaking, as evidenced by a historic press and an eclectic collection of tools displayed across the grounds. Sara guides guests through the vineyards and tastings in the stone-clad tasting room, accompanied by local specialties. The estate’s rustic-chic restaurant La Fracia (Open daily from 12-3 and 7 to 1, except Tuesdays, +39 0342482671) is truly “a pearl among the vines”, serving local delicacies and Valtellina wines in the stone-clad dining room or the panoramic terrace.

website

And for people in your group not interested in wine?

There are lots of ways to enjoy the Valtellina that have nothing to do with wine. Here’s just a small sample: shop for local cheeses like it’s 1883 at Fratelli Ciapponi in Morbegno; tackle the ziplines and tree-top obstacle courses of Fly Emotion; indulge in spa treatments and heated outdoor pools at the historic Baths of Bormio or the chic farmhouse/hotel La Fiorida; discover the Valtellina’s rich architectural and artistic heritage at Palazzo Salis; marvel at 6,000 year old engravings on the boulders of Rupestri di Grosio; or trek your way through the mountains of Bormio and sample local delicacies at remote “Rifugio” restaurants and alpine dairies.

2018-08-13T08:21:49+00:00August 13th, 2018|Categories: Food|0 Comments

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