Italy’s Valtellina Wines: Chiavennasca (aka Nebbiolo)

Italy’s Valtellina denomination, based in the region of Lombardia, offers some great, under-appreciated value wines. Although they do not quite reach the same heights as in Piedmont, nebbiolo-based wines from Lombardy are impressive and worth trying. If you are a lover of nebbiolo, this zone is worth exploring!

Map of Italy's wine regions

Map of Italy’s wine regions

About the Valtellina

  • The Valtellina. The best area for chiavannasca, the Valtellina zone located in the mountainous northern reaches of the region, along the Adda river in the province of Sondrio, where rocky clay-based soils prevail.
  • Classifications. The denomination’s basic wines — labelled as Rosso di Valtellina DOC — are made from a minimum of 80% nebbiolo and aged for six months in wood barrels. The premier wines — labelled as Valtellina Superiore DOCG% — are made from grapes grown on the premier plots within the same geographic area, comprised of at least 90% nebbiolo and aged for a minimum of 24 months (12 in oak barrels).
  • Versus nebbiolo from Piedmont. As compared to those from Piedmont, Valtellina nebbiolos lack the same dark fruit punch due to the modestly cooler temperatures that make it challenging for this very late-maturing variety to reach optimal ripeness. What they lack in power and harmony, however, they make up for in finesse, aroma and earthy concentration. Further, they typically hit more attractive price points, which makes them worth checking out.

While all Valtellina wines are of generally high quality, look for the following five Valtellina Superiore DOCG sub-areas for the best experience:

  • Grumello. Fruit forward and aromatic with notes of almonds due to small amounts of the local brugnola grape in the blend.
  • Inferno. Most powerful, concentrated and austere versions.
  • Maroggia. Lowest production with medium- to full-bodied, fruity versions.
  • Sassella. Viewed as the best of the Valtellina, richer and fuller-bodied versions requiring 3-5 years of aging.
  • Valgella. The most delicate, floral-perfumed expressions of nebbiolo.

What about Sforzato

Made from a minimum of 90% nebbiolo grapes, sforzato wines (aka Valtellina Sfursat) are unique to Lombardy’s Valtellina. Following a similar process to that used with the Veneto’s Amarone, they are made by drying out the grapes until they are raisins and their sugars are concentrated. Since all of the sugar is allowed to convert to alcohol, the resulting wine is totally dry; this results in high alcohol levels, usually around 14%. As with Amarone, the final result is a rich, almost syrupy, wine with low acid levels. While slightly less mouth filling, sforzato wines deliver a greater level of spiciness. Look for them in the Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG.

About the nebbiolo grape (chiavennasca)

Nebbiolo, known locally in Lombardia as chiavennasca, produces the most sophisticated red wines in Italy.

  • Trademark characteristics. The light-colored wines are characterized by large amounts of acidity and tannin, which typically require many years of bottle aging to balance and integrate. Despite their power, nebbiolo-based wines are never dense, jammy or distinctly fruity. Showcasing powerful aromas redolent of red cherries, roses and truffles, they also have notes of eucalyptus, violets, pine needle, herbs, mushrooms and cinnamon spice. As the wines age, they take on darker notes of tar, tobacco, leather and earth.
  • Name origin. The name nebbiolo is derived from the Italian word for fog, nebbia. The grape’s fog association could be derived from one of two possibilities: the fog that typically settles over the area of the Langhe in October or the characteristic white-colored coating that appears on the skin of the grape late in the growing season. The grape is also known by the following names: chiavennasca (Lombardy’s Valtellina), picotendro (Valle d’Aosta) and spanna (northern Piedmont).

Learn about the wines of Italy with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Italy’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Discovering Wines from Spain’s Balearic Islands

While most of the wines from the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera; located off the east coast of Spain) are nothing to actively seek out, the distinctive, full-bodied manto nero grape variety is an exception to this rule and worth trying. We would recommend wines from the Mallorca’s Binissalem DO, specifically. If you are looking for a white, try the local prensal blanc grape which yields light, herbal white wines.

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

About the Balearic’s Binissalem DO

Created in 1991, the Balearic Islands’ Binissalem DO is located on Mallorca, occupying the center of the island.

  • Vineyards. Vineyards sit on a flat plateau at elevations of 250-300 meters.
  • Soils. A rich topsoil of sandy alluvium covers a limestone and clay base; the limestone is critical as it absorbs much-needed moisture for the vines during the island’s dry summer months.
  • Climate. The climate is mild and Mediterranean, with relative stability in intra-day temperatures.

Red Wines

Binissalem is oriented toward red wines, which account for 60-70% of total production.

  • The best reds are based on the indigenous manto negro, which accounts for nearly 40% of total vineyard planted area; all of the denomination’s red wines must include at least 30% of this variety. They are well-suited for extended aging in oak barrels; there is a wide selection of wines at crianza, reserva and even gran reserva designations. They are bold wines with smooth tannins.
  • The denomination also grows cabernet sauvignon, callet, tempranillo, monastrell, syrah and merlot. They are typically blended in varying degrees into manto negro-based wines to add tannins, body and aromatic complexity.

White Wines

Despite its red focus, Binissalem delivers some quality whites wines.

  • The best are based on the indigenous prensal blanc (aka moll), which represents approximately 60% of total white production. Generally simple wines made for immediate consumption, they nevertheless reveal pleasant white fruit aromas and subtle flavors of green apple, ginger, honey, almond and herbs.

Learn about the wines of Spain with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Spain’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Wines from Casablanca Valley (Chile)

First planted in the early 1980s, the Casablanca (ka-sa-BLAHN-ka) Valley sits northwest of Santiago along a dry area of Pacific coastline on the western side of the Coastal Range. Only 18 kilometers / 11 miles from the coast, Casablanca is well known as one of Chile’s premier cool-climate regions, as its growing conditions are directly impacted by the sea. Heavy, cool fog enters in the evening and does not burn off until early afternoon, adding to the region’s already cool temperatures.

Although varied, soils are comprised of clay over a decomposed granite base in the flat areas and granite pebbles and sand on the hills. Further, since no major rivers run through Casablanca, the loose quality of the ancient soils allows vines to penetrate and establish deep root systems, which affords the resulting wines greater subtlety.

Casablanca can be informally divided into three sub-areas, all of which experience varying exposure to the sea’s influence:

  • Lower Casablanca sits on the lowest lying land in the far west of the region. The center of Casablanca’s production, it has the greatest exposure to ocean winds and is therefore the coolest. To draw a distinction: the region is less impacted by the sea’s temperature-stabilizing effects than neighboring San Antonio — another exceptional region for cool-climate style wines — so it experiences greater daily swings in temperature (slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights).
  • Upper Casablanca sits at the highest elevation on the eastern edge of the region. The least impacted by the sea, it gets the greatest amount of sunshine and experiences the widest daily fluctuations in temperature.
  • Central Casablanca has a mix of the conditions experienced in the Upper and Lower sub-areas.
Map of Chile’s wine regions

Map of Chile’s wine regions

White Wines of the Casablanca Valley

Casablanca has built a reputation for attractively-priced whites that are simple, fruity, and crisp, perfect for everyday consumption.

However, more recently, there is a new class of white wines emerging that is serious and very high quality. Further, they continue to hit attractive price points, making them tremendous values.

  • For the absolute best wines in this elite category, go with those based on sauvignon blanc, some of the best in Chile.
  • The bar is also similarly being raised for chardonnay; excellent steely versions prevail.
  • Aside from its two focus varieties, Casablanca is actively exploring a number of new white grape varieties, including riesling, viognier, and gewürztraminer, all of which have the potential to yield interesting results in the cooler temperatures.

Red Wines of the Casablanca Valley

While Casablanca’s cooler climate has led its innovative winemakers to focus on white wines, there are still some high quality reds being made.

  • Syrah is a variety of particular interest, delivering consistent, complex wines, packed with spice and herbs.
  • Cabernet sauvignon also yields respectable results in a cool-climate style.
  • Finally, in a very positive development, pinot noir is beginning to yield good results from select vineyards in cooler Lower Casablanca. Executed in an Old World style, they are the region’s most exciting new wines.

Learn about the wines of Chile with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Chile’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.

Yountville AVA in Napa Valley (with map)

The Napa Valley, with 15 additional “nested” AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) over 45,000 planted acres, is one of the premier wine producing regions in America. One of its most famous AVAs is Yountville, located in the center of the Valley. Yountville was the place where Napa Valley’s first vineyards were planted (1836) and is now the home to gastronomic destinations like The French Laundry and Bottega Ristorante.

Map of Napa Valley wine regions

Map of Napa Valley’s wine regions

About Yountville AVA (Napa, California)

Located in the center of the Napa Valley, the Yountville AVA (sea level to 1100 ft above sea level) experiences very balanced temperatures: it is modestly warmer than the Carneros and Oak Knoll AVAs to its south, but cooler than the Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena AVAs its north.

This balanced temperature profile gives Yountville’s cabernet sauvignon — cabernet dominates the AVA’s production at nearly 70% of total — a very distinctive profile. Yountville cabernets are more subtle, gentle and reserved than those from the warmer AVAs; however, they have a greater polish than the harder, earthier versions from the cooler AVAs. Tannins are hard and acidity levels are good. Yountville: an appellation with wines in harmony!

The Yountville AVA also produces quality merlot.

Learn about American wines with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles many American winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.