Valtellina is one of Italy’s most dramatic wine regions, and one of the least explored. Located in Lombardy, in the far north close to the border with Switzerland, Valtellina stretches from Morbegno in the west, then heads east to the main town of Sondrio and carries on to Tirano, all along the Adda River. This region is also home to the spa town of Bormio and on the footstep of the stunning glacial Stelvio National Park (the largest protected nature reserve in Europe). There are countless ski resorts here and over 300 kilometers of slopes. The wine country of Valtellina is a viable day excursion for wine tours from Lake Como, Lugano, and even Milan. The region offers wine lovers looking for an unusual wine region off the beaten track a selection of small, boutique wine estates, stunning alpine scenery, and superb gastronomy (local specialties include Bitto, Casera and Scimudin cheese; Bresaola; “Polenta Taragna,” and Buckwheat Tagliatelle). And plenty of fresh and clean mountain air!
The History of Winemaking
Valtellina has been a wine-producing area for more than 2,000 years, like much of Italy. Indeed, wine was made here by the Ancient Ligurians and Etruscans even before the Romans arrived. Over the centuries, farmers discovered that the higher altitude improved the wine, including its alcohol content. Vineyards were cultivated on ultra-steep terraces along the Valtellina’s preposterously steep hillsides. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about the wines of Valtellina in his Codex Atlanticus, saying Valtellina was a “valley surrounded by tall and fearsome mountains” and that it made wines that are “heady and strong.” This observation still holds true today!
Sforzato di Valtellina & Valtellina Superiore
There are two DOCGs in Valtellina- Sforzato di Valtellina (also called Sfursat di Valtellina which is a “Passito Rosso Secco”), aged for a minimum of 18 months and Valtellina Superiore, which is broken down into different crus, all of which are aged at least 24 months and if a “Riserva” then at least 36 months. The crus are Grumello, Inferno (the most powerful wines tend to come from here), Maroggia, Sassella, and Valgella (the most delicate wines tend to come from here). The principal grape variety is Chiavennasca (the local name for Piedmont’s Nebbiolo and an Italian grape varietal that has been cultivated since medieval times here). The DOCG wines are generally comprised of at least 90% Chiavennasca and then blended with other quality local grapes like Brugnola, Rossola, Pignola. Then there is a DOC Valtellina Rosso (also called Rosso di Valtellina DOC), which requires that at least 80% of the blend be Chiavennasca and does not have minimum aging requirements.
The Sfursat di Valtellina wine is a dry red “Passito” style wine made by making wine with dried grapes. The best bunches of Chiavennasca are selected and laid out on specially made mats in aerated purpose-built cellars to dry (similar to the process in Valpolicella for Amarone). The “breva” wind, which blows through this region, has historically helped Sfursat wines’ production. The grapes spend about three and a half months drying like this. Towards the end of January (once the main winery tasks for the other wines are all finished), the grapes will have lost about 40% of their weight, the sugars will have concentrated, and the signature passito aroma will be present. The wine is then made, and two years of aging are to follow between barrel and bottle, resulting in an intense, dry, unique, and delicious red wine with approx. 14% Alc.