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The Vallana Winery

The Vallana Winery

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.

The Vallana Winery's Tasting Room

The Vallana Winery’s Tasting Room

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.

Vallana's fermentation tanks

These thick-walled cement tanks keep temperatures cool naturally as the wines ferment and age.

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.

Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and Wine Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

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Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009 with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009
with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

France’s Île de Beauté (Island of Beauty) lies one hundred miles south of France’s Côte-d’Azur and just over fifty miles west of Tuscany. This wildly majestic island enjoys some of the hottest, driest conditions in all of France (it holds the record for the most annual sunshine), and is where the Greeks first cultivated vines back in the 6th Century BCE. Despite this long history of production, it was not until the 1960s, when a horde of skilled wine-makers fled Algeria (the so-called French pieds noirs) for Corsica, that it became known for wines of quality of distinction.

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Clos Cibonne Cuvee Speciale Tibouren

Clos Cibonne Cuvee Speciale Tibouren

We’re so excited to share the Clos Cibonne Cotes de Provence red with you, as this is one of our favorite wines for late summer and early fall!

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Mottura Vineyard

Porcupine’s eye view of the Mottura Vineyard

This past April the Formaggio Wine Team took a pleasant trip to visit Sergio Mottura’s estate on our way to VinItaly 2014. We flew into Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning and drove north-east towards Umbria. We eventually split off from the crazy A1 autostrada onto small, one-lane roads. Just along the northern border of Lazio we reached the medieval hamlet of Civitella d’Agliano, and the home, hotel and cantina of the Mottura family.

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Ekiola Sheep in the Pyrenees Mountains

Ekiola Sheep in the Pyrénées Mountains

A trip through the French Basque country is one of distinct sights, scents, and flavors. Rolling hills of green pastures are punctuated by craggy mountain peaks and deep valleys, and sheep are everywhere! When Ihsan, Valerie and I traveled through the area in the fall, we tasted a huge array of sheep milk cheeses and an assortment of intense but beautiful wines. Here, we’re featuring a few of our favorite tastes: Ardi Gasnas from Fromagerie Pardou and Ekiola, and a killer red wine from Domaine Ilarria of Irouléguy. Ardi Gasna (or gazna) is Basque for “sheep cheese,” and these smooth, rich sheep cheeses are a specialty in the Pyrénées mountains.

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Jean-David Wine

Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit the winery of Jean David in the town of Seguret in the southern Rhône valley. Seguret is a walled medieval town perched on the edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains, equidistant between the towns of Rasteau to the northwest and Gigondas to the south. We were there in October and the weather was great! We had come directly from cool, rainy Burgundy where everyone was clad in thick sweaters, and when we arrived in the Rhône, we saw people everywhere walking around in flip-flops and t-shirts.

Jean David and his wife run their small winery together with just a bit of help harvesting in the fall. They farm around 17 hectares of vineyards where they grow red grapes – Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Counoise – and white grapes – Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Clairette. Jean also has a little Tempranillo in his vineyard that his father planted. When asked about the proportions of grapes in the vineyard, Jean replied: “sometimes I say to myself, ‘Jean… you should plant more Syrah…but then…’” and he shrugged and smiled. (more…)

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Hafod at Formaggio Kitchen

Part of what makes Formaggio Kitchen such a special place to work, as you may have gleaned from our other posts, is that our products, and our cheeses in particular, are sourced directly from producers and affineurs rather than second or third hand via American importers and distributors. As you can imagine, if you’ve seen our cheese selection, this is a pretty enormous task, so several of us play a part. My role, among other things, is that of British Isles cheese buyer. (more…)

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