I don't have any problem saying that US grocery store wine is generally terrible. Not terrible as in undrinkable, but terrible as in having all the character of a Kraft Singles cheese slice. Except slathered in bizarre oak treatment rather than plastic wrap. Italian grocery store wine, though, that's a different story. Even the miniaturized version of the chain grocery store (Iperal) in the sleepy lake town of Domaso had a whole aisle filled with wine, most of which was local and moderately priced.
|Nino Negri and Fratelli Bettini's signs nestled in the vineyards at the western edge of Sassella|
The biggest footprint on the shelves belonged to the wines of Nino Negri. Negri is not a small producer by any means. The yearly production at Negri according to Isabella Pelizzatti Perego of Ar.Pe.Pe. is around 1 million bottles--about 25% the production of the entire Valtellina region. But it isn't Gallo, either, and it showed in the wines. The production is divided over a variety of price levels, styles, and Crus. There is clearly some deference to market forces as there must be, but there is also value in a producer that makes legitimate and readily available wine.
Aside from a Negri Rosso di Valtellina that was weirdly spritzy and well, plonky, the entry level Cru bottlings had more going for them than you could hope for given the modest $11-$12 US tariff. It is common for producers to lease vineyards or purchase fruit from families who want to keep their land, but don't have the means or interest to make wine commercially. My guess is the 'basic' Valgella, Inferno, Grumello and Sassella have significant contributions from 'negociant' purchases of this nature. (I also noticed different labels on the same shelf for the same vintage and Cru, suggesting multiple lots or sources of a certain bottling.)
Early on we picked up a horizontal of the 2007 Negri Valtellina Superiore Crus (notes below) for pairing with meals at 'home' throughout the week. The wines showed minimal oak influence and were fresh, aromatic expressions of Nebbiolo with vinous structure. The 2007 vintage was characterized as excellent when we visited Rainoldi, which I take to mean warmer than usual. Perhaps that gave these entry level wines a bit more material than usual. The Sassella, for example, had weight comparable to a more elegant leaning Barbaresco. Regardless, I found it remarkable that what one might otherwise expect to be a notch above vino da tavola actually expressed typicity of the Crus (as characterized by the producers in Valtellina and in Bastianich's Vino Italiano). There were hints of rusticity; though clean these weren't polished wines. But they displayed plenty of character, had honest structure, and went well with pasta, cheese and salami. What more could you want?
Up next, separate posts for our visits to Rainoldi and Ar.Pe.Pe.
- 2007 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore - Valgella - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - ValgellaAromatic--tobacco, rose, dried cherry. Lighter/med body, earthy flavor. Mineral (iron), med acidity and somewhat astringent tannin. The note doesn't do it justice--rather ethereal and weightless, hard to put down due to its bouquet. The lightest of the '07 Negris I tried.
- 2007 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore - Inferno - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - InfernoRounder, but tighter nose than the Valgella. Cherry and red fruit, iron, mildly earthy. Medium body, tannin became more pronounced with air and aromas opened up. Minerality, tobacco/herb and meaty-spicy Nebbiolo bouquet develop. Good material, needs an hour decanting now.
- 2007 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore - Grumello - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - GrumelloMy least favorite of the Negri quartet tried over the week. Meaty, earthy, spicy aromas, a bit rustic on the palate. Cherry, med tannin, med acidity, light red color. Finishes a little bitter and slightly astringent. Still, perfumed with pleasant herbal character--the nose is great even though this wasn't a complete wine. Like other Negris, no noticeable oak.
- 2007 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore - Sassella - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - SassellaCherry, menthol, tobacco, spice. Ripe tannin, well structured, sweet fruit, lengthy finish with a hint of tar, warm. Med/full body, giving an almost Barbaresco-like weight and texture. Consistent with perceived typical character: not as powerful as Inferno, more stuffing than Grummello and Valgella. Yet this was open and nuanced aromatically. A bargain.
Just as a little bonus, here's are a couple of good 'grocery store' wines from Bettini, whose vineyard sign is pictured above. The first is a white wine made from Nebbiolo and the second a well-aged 1997 Valtellina Superiore that was buried on a bottom shelf.
- 2010 Bettini Chiavennasca Bianco Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT - Italy, Lombardia, Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT
Tasted from a cup--wasn't aromatic but perhaps that was the cup not the wine. A white wine made from Nebbiolo, which is called Chiavennasca in the Valtellina. Had very round texture with fresh and mineral driven flavors. Cheap, too, at about $8 US.
- 1997 Bettini Valtellina Superiore Riserva - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore
Aged Nebbiolo bouquet. Intoxicating aromas of dried cherry, rose, iron and earth. Light/med body, high acidity, grapefruit pith on the finish. Intense minerality, Nebbiolo spice inner aromas, tannin mostly resolved. Found at the Iperal grocery store in Colico for ~$16. In really great condition given 15 years of age--silly to find this on the shelf for a pittance.