Eric Asimov, the wine writer for the New York Times, wrote an article a few years ago about a lesser-known wine area in Northern Italy called Valtellina. We decided to check it out with one of our food and wine groups (“Taste of Northern Italy“) and have had the pleasure of returning many times since. It’s a bit longer drive from the villa than most of our day trips, almost 1.5 hours, but well worth it, not only for the wine but also for the beauty of the valley, the medieval castle ruins overlooking the valley, the 19th century grocery store and the restaurants we’ve come to know and love there, especially Ristorante Fracia.
Valtellina shares its northern border with Switzerland, and it looks it. How grapes came to be grown, and wine made, in such rugged territory is quite a mystery. The work involved in terracing the steep hillsides to grow grapes is mind-boggling, but wine has been made here since before the Romans arrived (for over 2000 years). Leonardo da Vinci mentioned Valtellina in his Codex Atlanticus, describing the mountains as “fearsome” and the wines made there as “powerful.” Both are still true!
The very steep terraces grow excellent grapes, primarily the same grape used for the famous Piemonte wines (Barolo, Barbaresco, etc.). In Valtellina the grape is called “chiavannasca” and in Piemonte it’s known as “nebbiolo.” We’ve visited several producers, including Nino Negri, Sandro Fay, Ar.Pe.Pe and Aldo Rainoldi, but the one we tend to visit for tours (and for purchasing cases to take home or back to the villa for future enjoying) is Aldo Rainoldi. We have come to know the young current owners, who enthusiastically welcome our groups and many other guests we’ve encouraged to visit. We begin with a tour of the cellars…
…and continue with a tasting of four or five of the wines. Most of the Rainoldi wines are made with the chiavennasca grape but they do also make a couple of very nice whites and a lovely sparkling wine and then a visit to the boutique to make our selections to ship home or take back with us to the villa.
When we return to the villa, we unload the cases to enjoy during the week or to take to the cantina for aging and sharing with future villa guests.