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Jancis Robinson celebra il Nebbiolo di montagna della Valtellina e Arpepe

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E’ con grande gioia che ho letto che una delle più grandi penne del giornalismo del mondo, l’inglese Jancis Robinson (che era presente con i colleghi master of wine Nicolas Belfrage e Tim Atkin ad una degustazione di Barolo che tenni per AIS a Londra, e che ho avuto il piacere di invitare in Puglia, era la sua prima volta in quella regione, nel 2011, quando collaboravo con Nicola Campanile alle prime meravigliose edizioni di Radici del Sud) ha pubblicato uno stupendo articolo su una fantastica zona vinicola italiana e sui vini inimitabili che vi si producono.

Parlo della Valtellina e della sua viticoltura eroica e del Nebbiolo di montagna da vigne sottratte alla roccia.

Ho chiesto a Jancis, con qui anni fa feci un memorabile tasting di Vin Santo insieme al master of wine e mio maestro Nicolas Belfrage, il permesso di ripubblicare su Vino al vino il suo articolo pubblicato sul Financial Times di cui è wine columnist, il cui testo potete leggere anche sulle purple pages Web della grande wine writer britannica, qui.

Un grazie a Jancis e complimenti agli amici di Arpepe, i cui vini celebravo long long time ago, eravamo in pochissimi a farlo e sulle guide andavano di moda altri vini valtellinesi oggi dimenticati, nel 2003, 2004, e poi, dal 2006 in poi, su questo blog.

Benvenuta nel club degli amici di Arpepe Jancis!

“Which wine grape is currently most fashionable? The Pinot Noir of Burgundy? I would respectfully suggest it’s a little too widely planted nowadays for it to seem cutting edge. The Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux? You must be joking. Syrah is showing some form; its Australian version Shiraz definitely not.

Let me posit the Nebbiolo of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is famously as finicky as Pinot Noir and needs a particularly propitious site to ripen. Furthermore, like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is good at expressing the nuances of different terroirs. But, although Australians, in particular, and some Californians are doing their damnedest to coax fair copies of Barolo out of their vineyards, Nebbiolo is very much a rarity there, as it is worldwide. And for fashionistas, rarity is an asset.

The world’s greatest concentration of Nebbiolo vines, by far, is in the Langhe hills in Piedmont, south of Turin, where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown. And here the total area is growing: Nebbiolo wine is in such demand that many a Langhe slope — traditionally devoted to grapes that are easier to ripen, such as Barbera and Dolcetto — is being planted with Nebbiolo.

Due north is the historic wine region of Alto Piemonte, which used to be a much more important source of Nebbiolo than Barolo. Today, however, its wines — with names such as Gattinara, Ghemme and Lessona — are sought after, thanks to the fame of Nebbiolo, but are distinctly thin on the ground.

In the far north of Lombardy, almost in Switzerland, is Valtellina, which is so far off the track beaten by most wine lovers that it receives scant attention. But it deserves much more, not least because the style of Valtellina wines is so in tune with what many 21st-century wine drinkers seek: fresh, pure, expressive and mineral. The wines also tend to mature rather earlier than Barolo, which is useful. Oh, and they are cheaper.

Like Alto Piemonte, Valtellina was once extremely significant as a wine producer. Thanks to its position, it was an important subalpine trading post, supplying vast quantities of wine to the thirsty Swiss. But when the St Gotthard tunnel and other transalpine routes were built it lost its special status — though not its extraordinary topography.

We almost lost our Italian specialist, Walter Speller, when he finally made it there, so vertiginous are the slopes on the 50km stretch along the right bank of the Adda valley to which 2,500km of vine terraces cling. They are often destroyed by heavy rains. Some can be reached only by funicular.

These vineyards are extremely difficult and expensive to work. Yields are much lower than average. Whereas in the Langhe, for example, one person can look after about 10ha of vines, it is more like one hectare in Valtellina.

And to make life even more difficult, the average size of a vine holding is tiny. Fewer than 10 of Valtellina’s 900 vine growers own more than three hectares (7.5 acres) of vineyard; more than half of them own less than half an acre. More than two-thirds of them are part-time vignerons, tending little patches of vines that have been in their families for generations. Like their counterparts in Galicia, north-west Spain, farmers like to hang on to what they’ve got. Negotiating a purchase can take decades.

The vast majority of growers sell their grapes to one of the few wine producers of any size. Nino Negri — an ex co-op, now owned by Gruppo Italiano Vini — is the biggest. The best-established independent producer is Ar Pe Pe, named after fourth-generation vigneron Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, who founded it in 1984.

Today Ar Pe Pe is run by Arturo’s sons Emmanuele and Guido and his daughter Isabella. Visiting London a few years ago, Isabella told me ruefully that Valtellina was virtually ignored in the 1980s and 1990s by the powerful annual Italian wine guides, who were obsessed with alcohol and oak. “My father was seen as ridiculously old-fashioned,” she remembered. They favoured old chestnut casks, which have no tasteable effect on the delicate fruit of the Nebbiolo vine. Here, Nebbiolo is traditionally called Chiavennasca, after the town of Chiavenna, en route to the all-important Swiss market. Nowadays, the fashionable N-word is much more widely used.

Valtellina’s alpine wines are not naturally hefty. Some vineyards are as high as 800m and temperatures often plummet at night. Until recently, the higher vines have struggled to ripen fully and the tradition has been to dry some of the grapes to produce a stronger wine called Sforzato — the same technique used to make Amarone from the Valpolicella zone, but with fresher, lighter results.

In December, I had the chance to taste 30 of Valtellina’s better wines at an event we organised to bring these delicate creations to the attention of British wine lovers. The 100 or so tasters were delighted with them, as was I. I found myself giving scores of at least 17 out of 20 to 13 of them: an unusually high strike rate. The only problem with these elegant Nebbiolos is that they can be difficult to find.

One good — and perhaps unexpected — augury for such a testing wine region is that a new generation of producers is emerging, some of them from scratch. Barbacàn, Boffalora, Cà Bianche, Dirupi, Maria Luisa Marchetti, Alfio Mozzi and Pizzo Coca are all names worth looking out for.

Valtellina encompasses a zone called Valtellina Superiore, whose wines are a little riper than regular Valtellina. Within this Superiore zone are the subzones of Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, Valgella and Maroggia, strung out along the valley like jewels in a necklace. I was particularly excited by the quality of the two wines from the delightfully named Inferno — from Aldo Rainoldi and Rupi del Nebbiolo — but neither has a UK importer, alas. Looking through my tasting notes, I see words such as “pungent”, “stony”, “like licking tarmacadam”, “rocky” and even “hot rocks”. All very much in line with the popular quality of minerality about which I wrote last week”.

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Due brevi note di presentazione Sono nato a Milano nel 1956 e dal 1966 vivo in provincia di Bergamo. Giornalista pubblicista dal 1981, dal 1984, dopo aver collaborato, scrivendo di libri, cultura, musica classica e di cucina, a quotidiani come La Gazzetta di Parma, Il Giornale, La Gazzetta ticinese e Il Secolo d’Italia, mi occupo di vino. Per diciotto anni, sino all’ottobre 1997, sono stato direttore di una biblioteca civica. Continua a leggere ...

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3 Commenti

3 Commenti

  1. Alfonso Stefano Gurrera

    04/02/2020 at 09:54

    Anch’io ho provato un immenso piacere. Ma non nel leggere la Jancis Robinson ma di scoprire il tuo ritorno e quello della tua penna. Per questo mi pregio di augurarti un lungo periodo di solida e prolungata serenità. Ma, più che un augurio,il mio vuol esser un invito a meditare su la vita di tutti noi che, per il dieci per cento, sta in quel che ci accade e per il restante novanta nel modo in cui reagiamo.
    A presto
    Tuo Stefanuzzo

    • Simone Castelli

      05/02/2020 at 11:19

      “…meditare su la vita di tutti noi che, per il dieci per cento, sta in quel che ci accade e per il restante novanta nel modo in cui reagiamo…”

      Chapeau Sig.Gurrera

  2. Simone Castelli

    05/02/2020 at 11:24

    Perchè ho sempre pensato di cercare Nebbiolo in Langa snobbando quello della mia cara regione Longobarda???
    Forse perchè ho assaggiato quello di Gattinara ( Osso San Grato in cantina ) e l’ho trovato non di mio gusto (forse non l’ho capito)…IL CHE MI HA PORTATO INFINE A PENSARE DI SPENDERE IL MIO TEMPO SOLO IN lANGA…errori, orrori…

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Autore: Franco Ziliani - P.IVA: 02585140169 - Questo blog non rappresenta una testata giornalistica in quanto viene aggiornato senza alcuna periodicità. Non può pertanto considerarsi un prodotto editoriale. Le immagini inserite in questo blog sono tratte in massima parte da Internet; qualora la loro pubblicazione violasse eventuali diritti d'autore, vogliate comunicarlo a Franco Ziliani, saranno subito rimosse.
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