Rainoldi – Probably the greatest Italian wines of which you’ve never heard
Posted on April 02 2014
One of the great joys of exploring the wines of Italy is that it is a country with a hugely diverse palate of indigenous grape varieties as well as a wide range of climates and terroirs. Not that it’s all wonderful. I recently spent a dismal hour tasting a range of wines from a supplier whose USP was that he only worked with producers using extremely obscure varieties. As one turgid wine followed another, it became increasingly apparent that their obscurity was well merited.
Nevertheless, even a jaded old wine merchant like me can sometimes still come across a little known corner that surprises and delights. One such is the northernmost wine region of Lombardy, Valtellina, which nestles in the foothills of the Alps right on the Swiss border. As the crow flies, it’s about 20 miles south of San Moritz. It is the only major valley in Italy that runs east/west rather than North/South. The vineyards in the Valtellina are located at extremely high altitudes (300 – 600+ meters) and are protected from cold, harsh winds by the nearby mountain peaks, which also trap the heat in the valley. The stony schist-based vineyard soils also retain heat and release it during the night to warm the vines. These conditions provide a long, slow growing season for the Chiavennasca grape, allowing it to fully develop its flavours over a long, slow growing season. Vines here are cultivated exclusively by hand on the precipitous (but optimally exposed) steep slopes along the north bank of the valley.
Chiavennasca? No? Me neither, until a couple of years ago. It turns out to be the local name for Nebbiolo, that king of Italian grapes which is responsible for the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. And that what’s makes this region really exciting to me. Because if we have a source of really good Nebbiolo that doesn’t charge the exorbitant prices for top Piedmont wines, then we’ve found the Holy Grail. And we have! The only reason that it is so little known in this country is that the Swiss have been hoovering most of it up for years.
The flagship estate of Valtellina is Casa Vinicola Aldo Rainoldi. Founded in 1925, it is now run by the third generation of Aldo’s. They own some of the best vineyard sites in the region, including the aptly named ‘Inferno’, so named partly because it is a natural sun trap, but also because it is so vertiginously steep that it is hell to work. Everything has to done by hand, except getting the grapes off the hillside. For this, Aldo has come up with a novel solution. A helicopter! And he’s made a video of the process too.
We currently stock two of his wines:
Aldo Rainoldi ‘Inferno’ Vatellina Superiore DOCG 2009
The grapes are hand-picked in the third week of October. After a slow maceration, the wine matures for almost 2 years in Slovenian oak barrels before spending an additional year in bottle in their cellars before release.
The wine itself is beautifully structured with a typically floral nose, silkily smooth tannins and spicy tobacco and leather notes underlying the cherry fruit.
Aldo Rainoldi Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG 2009
The character of this wine is defined by its particular production method. It is only made in the best years from a strict selection of grapes that are then left on mats to dry for about 3 months over the winter. This method, called Apassimento, is similar to that used to produce Amarone in the Veneto. The difference here is that the raw material which is much finer.
His 2009 is a stellar wine which is deep red in colour with an intense nose of clove, coffee, cocoa and roasted hazelnut. The palate is warm and vigorous with cinnamon, smoke, ripe plum and a hint of spice, lasting acidity, wonderfully balanced tannins and a very long finish.
You can buy 12 bottles of ‘Inferno’ Vatellina Superiore DOCG 2009 for £200 (a saving of £4.33 a bottle).
A case (12 bottles) of Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG 2009 is available for £375 (a saving of £5.75 a bottle)
Or if you’d like six bottles of each wine then the price is £295 (a saving of £53 on the case).
Free local delivery is available on the cases.