Posted by: acooksca | 04/02/2009

Wining and Dining well in Valtellina, Italy

If you have never heard of Valtellina or its wines, you are not alone. They are seldom found in the U.S. When I searched for them locally, one shopowner told me with a whiff “I don’t carry wine from Lombardy”. Well, perhaps he should.

The Valtellina is in the Sondrio Province of Northern Lombardia. The valley hugs the Alps in an East-West trajectory for 100 miles leading from Lake Como in the west along the Swiss border to Stelvio Pass in the East. With a range of protecting mountains on either side, the climate of The Valtellina is warm enough to ripen Nebbiolo grapes.

valtellina-wine-terraces-1Entering the valley we were immediately struck by an extraordinary system of 2500km of terracing. Following the contours of steep hillsides, drystone walls form narrow terraces in which to grow grape vines. Soil was brought in baskets from the valley floor to fill the terraces. Today these serpentine walls are being considered as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Here, the Nebbiolo grape is traditionally called Chiavennasca. We noticed though, that local wineries are becoming marketing-savvy and calling it by the more prestigious name of Nebbiolo. In Sondrio, the capital of the region, wine route maps can be had at the helpful visitors’ center. Typically local wineries are quite small and not open for tastings without appointments. Fortunately, most Valtellina wines are readily available at restaurants and wine shops within the valley.

We sampled appealing mid-weight Sassellas, lively with balanced fruit and acidity. They paired particularly well with the semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses of Valtellina. Sassella Superiore is a wine rich in personality and character, its grapes selected from the best fruit grown in Sondrio and Castione. It has an affinity for beef or wild mushrooms. The acknowledged viticultural gem of Valtellina is the highly prized Sforzato.

The name Sforzato or Sfurzat, refers to the traditional practice of drying the grapes. The best bunches are selected to dry on wooden lattices until the end of January. During this winter period the grapes lose up to 40% of their weight and they yield a concentrated juice that is unusual and densely aromatic. A slow fermentation period is followed by aging at least 24 months in wood and bottle. Sforzatos we sampled tasted of ripe fruit, meatiness and a hint of leather. They paired elegantly with the game and dry cured salumi this area is noted for.

Before we headed to Italy we were able to locate Sassella Superiore Sommarovina 2001 and Sforzato di Valtellina Alurida 2001- both produced by Mamete Prevostini.  The Prevostini family has its home and winery in the nearby valley of Chiavenna. Michela Prevostini, the vivacious sister of the winemaker, continues her grandmother’s restaurant, Crotasc. The kitchen offered a modern treatment of traditional valley products.

Our menu began with a delicate game pate in the shape of a fig on micro greens with lightly pickled forest mushrooms. A glass of their 2005 Opera Chardonnay, un-oaked and perfumed with pure fruit, accompanied this starter. Their 2003 Albera Sforzato took us through the next courses of boar ravioli in a butter-emulsified stock, venison filet over polenta with cannolini beans, and a plate of three cheeses: an aged goat cheese, semihard cows milk and an aged Bitto with a very fine local honey. The meal ended with a wine poached pear and cinnamon gelato.

Michela spoke about her cousin living in San Francisco, who married into the family that owns one of our favorite North Beach restaurants, Tommaso’s. After high school, Michela spent several summers in Napa Valley and is acquainted with some top vintners there. It was suddenly clear how this one winery got the connections to import their products into The West Coast. We were glad to be able to sample their wines in San Francisco before we left for Italy and then again on their native soil.

Mamete Prevostini winery and Crotasc Restaurant:
General information about Valtellina:


Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.


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