The past week we have been in Italy. Mainly working, visiting vineyards north of Milan in Valtellina. We also spent a day in Milan, walking past attractions and taking photos (and catching Pokemon – I know, pathetic!). We have been avoiding Italy as a holiday as well as a wine destination. We have found it too touristic and poor when it comes to service culture (mainly due to the rude service you get). Italian wines are also usually too aromatic and “thick” for our taste. Not saying they are bad, but just not our style. However, with the discovery of the perfect nebbiolos from Mamete Prevostini, we decided to give Italy a try and organized this trip to Valtellina to visit vineyards and talk some business. As we always want to know a little bit more about where our wines come from (local vibe and cuisine), we decided to extend our stay with a few days of vacation. After two and a half days of touring in the region, I can say without any exaggeration, Valtellina is one of the best wine destinations I have ever visited in my life. Italy has been reborn in my mind.
Valtellina is in a valley in the Lombardy region of northern Italy: east of Lake Como, bordering Switzerland. Today it is known mainly for its ski center, hiking and delicious bresaola meat. For wine enthusiasts it is known for its beautiful high altitude nebbiolos and intense sfortzatos. Nebbiolos from Valtellina are lighter, more acidic, and mineral driven than their cousins from Barolo and Piemonte, and the price tag is easier for the pocket. They are very drinkable when young but also hold an amazing aging potential, up to 20 or 30 years (even 60 years was thrown around in some of our conversations). Focus is on making a product reflecting the terroir, which is rock with a thin layer of soil (depending a bit on the region within Valtellina). Vineyards are terraced on steep hills facing south, where they capture the sun all day long. Harvest is done late (common to nebbiolo). Even as late as November. Surprisingly, wine tourism in Valtellina is still much unknown. I will write about the different producers we discovered next week.
I have to also mention the hotel we stayed at in Valtellina: the Wine Hotel Retici Balzi. Amazing! It is a small family owned hotel in the middle of the terraced vineyards overlooking the town of Sondrio. At first glance, the hotel looks like a decent road side B&B. However when entering, an amazing view of the valley opens up through the tall lounge windows. There is a terrace overlooking at valley below where guests can enjoy the breeze of wind travelling through the valley. The rooms are very spacious, tasteful and quiet. We had a huge terrace of our own with sun chairs and a hammock. One of the best things however was the food and wine at the hotel. A wine bar only for quests, serving up to 10 different wines by the glass. Mostly local Valtellina reds, but also well selected Franciacorta sparklings as well as a local Valtellina sparkling wine. From a Swedish point of view, they cost nearly nothing, 2-5€ per glass. Breakfast and snacks were all hand made in the kitchen, even the crostinis (hail the chef!) I am probably a fool when telling people about this place as it is awesome (I should just keep it my little secret), but the owners deserve better. We paid 150€ for the junior suite at this little gem (one night, that we booked just a few days before our trip), and I feel it was worth every penny and even more.
As we drove back to Milan Saturday morning, we passed through a few cute cities on Lake Como. I was hungry for pictures and M was thirsty for a cappuccino. After a nerve wrecking search for a parking spot, we paused for a coffee on a lakeside cafe in Varenna, one of the smaller villages on the lake. The scenery was beautiful, but that was about it. The town, flooded with tourists was exactly the Italy we had dreaded. The service at the café was uninterested and the cappuccino was almost undrinkable. We took a deep breath and continued our drive along the idyllic coast of Lake Como towards hot Milan. Looks aren’t everything, it is the heart and soul of Valtellina makes it super special. We will for sure be back!