Not Nebbish About Nebbiolo. The Wines of Vallana

 Vineyards in Alto Piemonte.

Vineyards in Alto Piemonte.

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We find ourselves in the town of Maggiora, some 100 miles northeast of the Langhe. Here, unlike their more famous counterparts Barolo and Barbaresco, Nebbiolo is known as Spanna, but that’s not a rare thing for Italy. This noble grape of the Italian north is also known as picotèner in Carema, and chiavennasca in Valtellina, but what is perhaps expressed best by all of these distinct names is that nebbiolo is a grape for terroir.

Fast Facts:

The Region:

Colline Novaresi in the Alto Piemonte.

Spanna:

Nebbiolo in the local dialect.

Vallana:

The winery, established in 1937, but with family tradition going back to the 1800s in the wine world

Map of the Region:

Maggiora is in the Alto Piemonte where you’ll find the foothills of the Alps before they cross the borders into Switzerland, and the Alto Piemonte (“High Piedmont”) was once Italy’s largest and most important region for Nebbiolo production.

Following a rather dreadful outbreak of phylloxera in the 1800s and the booming industrial revolution of Italy in the 1940s, what once was some 40,000 hectares of vineyards was down to less than 600 hectares, and winemakers were focusing on the more prominent Langhe, where production of Nebbiolo had reached a zenith in the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco.

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From Skurnik Wines:

Here, at the base of the Alps, at the foot of Monte Rosa, where the Mediterranean and Continental climates meet, Alto Piemonte takes on a charming and highly aromatic character. Alto Piemonte has acidic soils, rather than the alkaline soils of the Langhe, giving the wine its acid backbone and ultimately the structure and character that adds to the age ability. These vineyard sites are on gently sloping terraces along the left bank of the river Sesia and Lake Maggiore. Vallana owns vineyard sites within Colline Novaresi including the 2 important crus of Boca and Gattinara.

Though these wines may not come from those heralded regions, that’s not to say that they are of any lesser quality.

Antonio Vallana and his descendents have been making highly regarded Spannas for over 75 years now and the family owned operation is now in the hands of Giuseppina and her children Marina and Francis Vallana.

We are thrilled to carry a trio of our favorite wines from Vallana, the Campi Raudii, Boca, and Gattinara.

Vallana Campi Raudii

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So named for a battle from Ancient Roman times that took place not too far from where the Vallana Winery calls home.

Historically, the clash was known as the Battle of Vercellae which took place in 101 BC between the Consul Gaius Marius and the Celto-Germanic Tribe called , Campi Raudii (“the red fields”) is their homage to tradition, and the foundation of viticulture in the area. The Campi Raudii is a blend of 90% Nebbiolo with the remaining 10% split between Uva Rara and Vespolina. After a rigorous selection process, the grape must is kept in cement tanks during fermentation, and only 1,000 cases are made in a vintage year.

What is Uva Rara, you may ask?

It’s a blending grape that originated in Lombardy, but is often found with Spanna to soften the overall tannins as well as add a little aromatic lift. Despite translating to “rare grape” this varietal is often found all over Lombardy, especially in Oltrepò Pavese.

Vallana Campi Raudii Regular Price: $19.99 Sale Price: $17.99

Vallana Boca

At 450-500 meters above sea level, Boca is the highest winegrowing region in all of Piedmont, with ancient volcanic soils that date back to the formation of the Alps. The vineyards are shaped in a natural amphitheater. They must be aged for a minimum of 22 months, with 18 months spent in wood. Boca was granted DOC status in 1969.

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The soils here are a far cry from the rich muddy soils of the Langhe. Acidity is a prime trait of the wines here, as the Boca region is north of its Gattinara counterpart in the Colli Novaresi. Neither as ripe as Gattinara, nor as linear as Ghemme, Boca finds itself somewhere in between the two stylistically.

Skurnik considers Boca the hidden jewel of their Vallana portfolio, in their words “If Gattinara is the King, Boca is the Queen. The best words to describe this wine are elegant, finessed and delicate”

Here, Nebbiolo is allowed to make up to 70% of a blend, and the Boca is made up of 65% Nebbiolo 20% Vespolina and 15% Uva Rara. The Vespolina helps add a little more floral finesse, while the Uva Rara contributes a more silken texture. After being picked by hand, each grape is vinified separately.

The 2011 is the current vintage of the Vallana Boca, and it is truly expressive of what the DOCG has to offer, with a lively acidity underpinning the heft and structure of the Nebbiolo.

Vallana Boca - Regular Price $39.99 Sale Price $35.99

Vallana Gattinara

Gattinara, we love you so. In fact, if there was any common thread to be tied in this store, it would be the amount of high altitude red wines that we carry and truly love. Why high altitude? It allows for a larger temperature differential, and cooler nights allow for the acidity to remain intact.

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What’s more, Gattinara has longevity - not only in the length of the wines, but how far back in history the area has been recognized as a wine producing region. Charlemagne referenced it in writing, and the Ancient Romans were the first to bring viticulture here. It would seem almost tongue and cheek to say that wine is second nature here, but that is the truth.

From Walter Speller’s Article For Jancis Robinson’s Website:

I found all the wines of Gattinara based on Nebbiolo (called Spanna here) to be admirably consistent and original. Stylistically they are very different from Barolo and Barbaresco, relying less on power and more on perfume and elegance. This makes them very approachable when young but, owing to their prominent acidity and fine tannins, they are capable of ageing gracefully for many years as well. Many Gattinaras are 100% Spanna, but the disciplinare, the official production rules, allow a maximum of 4% Vespolina and 6% Uva Rara. This reflects the current state of several old vineyards.

There’s another distinction in the disciplinare between Barolo and Gattinara - oak aging. Barolo requires a minimum of 18 months in oak and a minimum of 38 months total before release. In Gattinara, they require a minimum of 24 months spent in oak and a minimum of 35 months total before release. The level of requirement for oak aging is only met in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG where it is also a minimum of 24 months.

The long and short of that? Gattinara only gets better with age. And Vallana is so stringent with their quality that the 2008 is their current vintage, showing just how youthful and capable these wines can be at 10 years old.

Though the rules allow for minimal blending, the Vallana Gattinara is 100% Nebbiolo from original clones that predate the appellation itself.

The entire Vallana line is practicing organic, which is just the cherry on top of a great lineup of great wines.

Vallana Gattinara - Regular Price: $49.99 Sale Price : $44.99

Further Reading:

A First Taste Guide to Gattinara

An Overview of Vallana from the Skurnik Portfolio

Finally Mapping Gattinara

Wine & Spirits takes on Alto Piemonte

GuildSomm takes a look at Northern Piedmont