A Valley Full of Resources: Valtellina
The Valtellina is a vast geographical area in the north of Lombardy, in the province of Sondrio, located on the border between Switzerland and Italy, surrounded by the peaks of the Alps and crossed by the Adda River. This is a magical and unique territory in terms of morphology, geography and the variety of products it offers: from appetising cheeses to great cold cuts, and from its famous apples to the traditional pizzoccheri.
Last but not least, there are the red wines, which are made from Nebbiolo grapes, known locally as Chiavennasca, cultivated on steep and rugged terraces that shape a landscape of over 2500 square kilometres. For centuries, a demanding, almost heroic viticulture has been practised here, even at high altitudes. Harvesting is still conducted according to ancient traditional methods, using the famous brente, where hundreds of tons of grapes are emptied after being harvested and carried on the shoulders.
The secret of this wine-growing area is the microclimate. In fact, the excellent southern exposure, the good rainfall distributed throughout the year, the breeze that rises from nearby Lake Como and the shadow of the Alps, which allows a good temperature range between night and day, have created the ideal conditions for the grapes to ripen perfectly. As a result, this valley has become the cradle of one of the greatest red wines of our territory, the Sforzato wine, which is one of the finest expressions of northern Italy.
The Sforzato Production Method
Sforzato, also known as Sfursat, is certainly one of the best dry sweet red wines in the world, and it originates from a very ancient and particular process. The grape used is Nebbiolo, the same red berry variety of Piedmont that gives rise to the famous Barolo and Barbaresco, and which has found a second home in this area. In the past it was known as Chiavennasca and, after some genetic studies, it has been established that it is the same variety adapted to another environment and climate.
This type of grape is very difficult to cultivate, but if it is grown in a respectful way and according to careful criteria, it can give birth to elegant and powerful expressions. The phrase "an iron fist in a velvet glove'' clearly sums up what Sfursat is all about.
The best Sforzato is produced in the province of Sondrio through a procedure that takes place before vinification, which also gives the wine its name: the 'forzatura'. It consists in exposing the grape bunches on wooden racks to better concentrate the sugars and reduce the amount of water. In other words, the grapes are dried, the water evaporates and the nectar becomes denser and more sugary. The grapes lose their weight inside the fruttai, dry rooms subject to continuous and controlled ventilation and constant humidity control. The drying process can last for months, enough time for the grapes to wither and lose all their water content. This is followed by a slow fermentation and refinement in wood which, according to the regulations, must last at least 12 months.
The Identity of the Valtellina Sweet Red Wine
Despite the traditional pale colour of the grapes, in the sweet passito version the features of Sforzato are an intense and concentrated garnet red mantle, which tends to ruby red when young, while it changes to orange with ageing in the bottle. It tears up in the glass conspicuously, creating very dense arches.
When swirled in the glass, it delivers an extraordinary bouquet of aromas, truly intense and very complex. Hints of dried flowers, red fruit jam aromas and intense tertiary notes of toasting and sweet spices penetrate the nose. Vanilla, tobacco, chocolate, coffee, leather and cinnamon are evident in a more or less perceptible way depending on the area and the touch of the producer. The taste reveals substance, power and class, in which smoothness, roundness and warmth are the outstanding qualities. Freshness and tannin balance an austere and very structured body. These are the peculiarities commonly found in the greatest wines of the area, such as Rainoldi's Sforzato, Nino Negri's Cinque Stelle and Dirupi's Vino Sbagliato.
At the table, the best culinary pairings for Sforzato are mainly based on the very tasty and structured dishes of the Valtellina tradition. Among these, a special place is reserved for the combination of Sforzato and pizzoccheri, a truly successful gastronomic encounter. However, this red wine also goes perfectly with dishes such as buckwheat pancakes filled with melted cheese, known as sciatt, sliced bresaola and slinzega and polenta taragna with venison stew and mushrooms.
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