The rolling Alpine foothills of the Alto-Piemonte (or Upper Piemonte) are not as well known or as frequently visited by wine-lovers as the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions just to the south, but fascinating and delicious Nebbiolo-based wines are made here, too!
In the Alto-Piemonte they use the local name Spanna for their Nebbiolo grapes, and their soils are red with iron and porphyrite rock. The top wine designations here are Spanna Colline Novaresi (DOC), Boca (DOC) and Gattinara (DOCG).
These days you’ll find three wonderful Alto-Piemontese wines from the venerable old Vallana estate on our shelves.
The Vallana winery is a fascinating juxtaposition of new and old. The winery was founded by Antonio Vallana in 1937 and is run today by his energetic young great-grandchildren Francis, Marina and Miriam. The grand children have a British father, so their names (and accents) seem a bit unusual for a Piemontese family. Their father, sadly, passed away at a young age, before the children were old enough to take over winemaking operations. It was at that point that their mother, Giuseppina Vallana, took control and kept the winery alive.
Today the winery stands as a monument to its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Vallana wines were at their peak of production and popularity. Today winemaker Francis uses just just a fraction of the huge cement tanks and solid, rambling underground storage caves built by his grandfather. A visit to the Vallana winery is like stepping back in time to the 1960s. We were there on a cold January day, and we peered into lavishly decorated but unheated and unused rooms where one could just imagine MadMen-era-attired people drifting in and out with big hair and glasses of Gattinara.
In the (equally chilly) bottling room and unused offices, yellow and orange colors dominated and plastic curtains rustled when we passed by. The one room that was cozy and heated with another office with big windows, massive metal desks and an in-use rotary-dial phone with a cord! Here we tasted the wine line-up and snacked on local cheeses and little salami sandwiches. Francis, an enologist with a Ph.D in viticulture, spoke eloquently and in great detail about the farming of his grapes and the making of each wine. His friendly sister Marina chimed in with facts about the family and the winery’s history. In the corner sat their mother, Giuseppina Vallana, mostly silent, smiling and listening until she presented us with a fluffy panettone when we were leaving. (“She pretends she doesn’t speak English.” said Francis)
Overall the Vallana wines exhibit an elegance and charm that makes us want to hoard them. We keep their Gattinara and Campi Raudii on the shelves at the South End location at all times. The Campi Raudii is Vallana’s entry-level wine, made mostly of Spanna with two years of aging. It’s fresh and fruity with a smooth, lingering finish of classic Nebbiolo cherry fruit and iron-y earthiness. Francis believes in long bottle aging, and he releases his wines later than most. Thus, the current vintage of Gattinara that we have on the shelf is 2005. The grapes for the Gattinara are original clones that pre-date the formation of the Gattinara DOCG. They are hand-picked early in October, and are fermented and barrel aged in large barrels for at least two years. A long bottle aging develops the wine further. Our current 2005 vintage Gattinara is aromatic, smooth and high-toned with pretty cherry fruit and a lovely, elegant lightness. Decant or open the bottle at least an hour before drinking if you can.
Either of these two wines would certainly merit a place on this year’s Thanksgiving table, though for my family of drinkers I’m sticking to the Campi Raudii!
This fall we’ve also received one coveted case of Vallana’s 1997 vintage Gattinara, available only in New York and Boston. In this aged beauty you’ll find the same Gattinara structure with more evolved leather and truffle notes. Softer fruit and more savory. Please let us know if you’d like a bottle of this special wine set aside for you (we think it’s a steal at $50.95!).
For more information follow this link to the Vallana website.
The Vallana wines are available at Formaggio Kitchen South End in Boston. If you would like to pick up any of these wines at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge we will be happy to send them over with one day’s notice.