Balgera, Valtellina Superiore "Valgella"
Balgera, Valtellina Superiore "Valgella"

Balgera, Valtellina Superiore "Valgella"

Lombardy, Italy 2015 (750mL)
Regular price$37.00

Balgera, Valtellina Superiore "Valgella"

SommSelect subscribers have seen many rhapsodic odes to Italy’s Valtellina region in this space. By now, anyone who loves nuanced, soaringly aromatic, long-maturing red wines has Nebbiolo from Valtellina in regular rotation. But still, today’s offer is special. In addition to a “young” single-vineyard wine from Balgera that is nearly a decade old (it’s a 2015, and yes that’s their current release), we’ve got a small amount of their 2005 Riserva from that same cru-designated vineyard, “Valgella.” Both are absolute steals, and both reinforce two salient points about Nebbiolo from this part of the world: First, a wine does not need to be “big” to age for decades—it needs to have acidity and balance. Second, our tasting of Balgera’s dynamic duo was merely the most recent instance when a Nebbiolo-based wine was the undisputed winner on a table full of benchmark bottles from around the world. The obvious move here is to take at least one of each of the ’05 and ’15, for what promises to be a fascinatingly delicious side-by-side comparison. Whatever you do, do not miss out!

Balgera is one of the oldest of the old-school producers in Italy’s Valtellina region, a remote growing zone near the Italian-Swiss border whose dramatic vineyard terraces run along the north bank of the Adda River. In 1885, when Italy was still a nascent republic, Pietro Balgera founded his family’s winery in the village of Chiuro, producing wines from the local Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) grape that were mostly sold across the border in Switzerland (for many years, most Valtellina producers did most of their business in Switzerland, not just because of the convenient location but thanks to an official trade accord). Five generations later, brothers Luca (winemaker) and Matteo (sales and marketing) Balgera are at the helm, overseeing a characteristically small farm with 10 hectares of vineyards.

These vineyards are scattered across a growing zone that is itself very small: Centered around the city of Sondrio, about three hours north of Milan, Valtellina is a deeply carved valley with roughly 300 total hectares of vines along a 30-mile stretch of the Adda. The steep pitches of the hillsides require the sandy, rocky vineyards to be terraced, and they’re held in place by a network of hand-laid stone terraces that were originally thought to be the work of ancient Ligurians, who had built similar terraces in the Cinque Terre near the Mediterranean. All vineyard work here, as is plain to see, must be done by hand (producers estimate that 1,500 man-hours per hectare are required to see the grapes through to harvest).

“Valgella” is the vineyard designation on this wine: It is one of five subzones (sottozoni) within the broader Valtellina that have been given special designation on labels—like “cru” vineyards in France. In addition to Valgella, there are four other officially delimited vineyards under the Valtellina DOCG umbrella: Inferno, Grumello, Sassella, and Maroggia. All these sites have a multiplicity of owners farming and bottling wines from them (as in Burgundy), and for a wine to be called Valtellina Superiore with a vineyard designation, it must be comprised of at least 90% Nebbiolo from said vineyard and be aged a total of 24 months (12 of which must be in wood barrels) before release.

Balgera completely shatters the minimum requirements when it comes to maturing its wines. Their Valgella Riserva (of which we got hold of some 2005), spends 12 (!) years in large, used Slavonian oak barrels of 50- to 100-hectolier capacity; it’s then transferred back to stainless steel tanks for a year, then spends an additional 12 months in bottle before its commercial release. The “regular” Valgella bottling, meanwhile, spends four years in Slavonian oak barrels, 12 months in concrete vats, and 24 months in bottle.

In the glass, Balgera’s 2015 Valgella shines a translucent garnet red with hints of pink and orange at the rim, with the kind of aromatic profile that has you swirling and sniffing for minutes before you take your first sip: perfumed scents of cranberry, raspberry, orange peel, dried flowers, tobacco, sandalwood, and a hint of black pepper. It is medium-bodied, with a bright, racy quality that makes it a nice foil for meats and cheeses; Valtellina is known for a mountain-pastured cow’s milk cheese called Bitto, and this wine will cut through that like a pair of skis through fresh powder. Give it a brief decant and serve it at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems and imagine yourself at a rifugio in the Swiss-Italian Alps, red-cheeked and hungry after a morning of skiing. Try it with the attached recipe; it couldn’t possibly be more typical of the region. You will be hooked forever after. Enjoy!

Balgera, Valtellina Superiore "Valgella"

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