Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Valtellina of Aldo Rainoldi (Part IV)

My sole poor quality photo of Inferno taken on the road to Chiuro
Having seen the vineyards, guzzled the widely available vino, and eaten the local food, it was time to move on to an actual cellar.  We had scheduled a visit to Aldo Rainoldi in advance of departure to Italy, and it turned out it was a bit fortuitous as all the producers in the area were preparing for VinItaly.  After settling into our hotel in Sondrio and eating pizza and gnocchetti with a venison ragu, we headed a few miles down Via Stelvio to the town of Chiuro where Rainoldi's cellar is based.

A glass-line tank in Rainoldi's cellar now used to store cases of bottled wine
If I were to describe Rainoldi in a sentence or two, it would be as a modern producer rooted in tradition.  Their approach is pragmatic on one level--their website is "Flash"-y and highlights the awards they've received while they invite invite tourism and have an area for hosting tasting at their cantina.  Yet they trace back five generations all headed by an Aldo Rainoldi to around 1925 and maintain production of traditional botti-aged Valtellina Superiore DOCG Crus.  Perhaps an appropriate visual metaphor is the above glass-lined fermentation tank that Rainoldi now uses to store bottled wine.  The history is not forgotten or discarded, but rather is part of the evolution.  

Botti containing (from left to right) 2008 Grumello, 2010 Sassella and 2010 Sfurrsat
Rainoldi produces up to 200k bottles per vintage covering a broad range of styles and price levels.  The entry level Rosso di Valtellina and Nebbiolo IGT are made only in stainless steel.  Next are the 'tradizionale' bottlings from Grumello, Sassella and Inferno that are aged exclusively in botti for 18 months, then given a year in bottle before release.  The Inferno and Sassella Riserva cuvees represent a more modern approach as these see 1st-use medium toast barriques from the Allier forest, though it's not clear whether these see all new oak or only some.  In addition there is a cuvee named Prugnolo after the local name for a stone fruit bearing blackthorn.  This is a blend of three Crus and is aged in 2nd use barrels.  But there is still more: two different Sfursats where the Nebbiolo berries are dried at different elevations, one near the valley floor and the other in a building above the valley, and a pair of white wines.

A barrique containing 2010 Sassella
Our two-hour tour and tasting with Michela Rainoldi began by descending into their cellar.  After passing by the glass tanks, we entered into chambers filled with botti.  Botti may be commonplace in Italy and southern France, but these were quite novel to me given that I've only seen a handful in California wineries.  (In fact, the largest collection of botti I saw in California were being used for display!)  Those pictured here are rather newer looking, but others looked well-worn and extremely old.  If you look carefully the botti have a glass contraption on top for monitoring the level of wine in the vessel.  When the level of wine gets too low due to evaporation there is risk of oxidation and they must be topped off.  I neglected to ask about the type of wood used for the botti, though chestnut is possible if not likely.

Dusty old bottles in the cellar
Though there were barriques for the Riservas, there was something else you don't see in the New World: decades old bottles.  Unfortunately these weren't part of the tasting that followed, but then there wouldn't be much wine left for the next generation if they did that.  Seeing this sort of living history does make one inclined to trust the producer's estimation of aging capacity.  They know because they've seen how the wine evolves.

The tasting lineup running in order from right to left
As for the wines themselves, we tasted primarily from the 2007 vintage with a couple from 2008 as well.  Notes are included at the end and include the bianco Tzapel, Nebbiolo vinified as a white and Sauvignon Blanc, we took home with us. Michela Rainoldi, who seemed to have a very keen sense of the business, added a bit of context in explaining that in Valtellina in the past 5-10 years the overall approach has changed in the direction of making less rustic, less astringent wines.  That along with the 2007 vintage's warmth seemed to be evident in their overall character.

The 'tradizionale' bottles (on the right, though Michela mentioned they will be using a more contemporary label soon) were terroir-driven, yet had a refinement of texture and class that I hadn't found in the widely distributed Valtellinas.  The Prugnolo and Inferno Riserva showed a bit more flesh and flashiness--the finesse and flavors of the oak were present though nicely integrated.  Personally, I like what high quality oak adds to wines when used judiciously, especially wines that are less rich in the first place because they often are rounded out without over-extracting from the barrel.  Finally was the Sfursat, made by drying grapes on mats after harvest to increase concentration.  It's a style that I don't think anyone could dislike.  The high toned Nebbiolo character is still there, yet it is concentrated with darker fruit flavors without seeming raisiny.  Still my preference remained for the Valtellina Superiore style, though I enjoyed both the traditional and more modern approaches.  Certainly if you encounter Rainoldi's wines in the US, you should view the Riservas not simply as 'better' but also 'different' due to the stylistic goals they are aiming for in the cellar.

Something every tasting room needs: a deli slicer for cutting paper thin pieces of cured meat
Last but certainly not in this series least is my post on Ar.Pe.Pe.
  • 2007 Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore - Grumello - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - Grumello

    16-20 months in botti, 1 year in bottle before release. Aromatic, floral, red fruits and tobacco. Elegant, refined, smooth fine tannin, well balanced. Mid weight.

  • 2008 Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore - Sassella - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - Sassella

    Aged in Slavonian oak botti, tougher vintage than 2007. Aromatic and showing mainly red fruits, but not as defined, structured or complex as the 2007.

  • 2007 Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore Prugnolo - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore

    Named after a wild stone fruit that grows locally, translated as blackthorn or sloe. A blend of Sassella, Valgella and Grumello aged in 2nd use barriques. Round, smooth, red fruits (again), but with some oak spice, toast and tannin. Floral, less herbaceous than the tradizionale bottlings.

  • 2007 Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore - Inferno Riserva - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore - Inferno

    Modern style, aged in new barriques, intended for aging, from the smallest, steepest and rockiest Cru in Valtellina. Refined, structured, spicy, floral, red fruits (yet again), though more mature/ripe in character with a bit of cocoa. A departure from the regional style, but I am a sucker for wines that balance character with the sheen that quality French oak brings.

  • 2008 Rainoldi Valtellina Sfursat - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina

    From 500-600 meters above sea level where there is more heat/sun exposure as well as large diurnal flux. Dried on mats after harvest. Tannic and extracted, more rich than raisiny, approaches the concentration of Piedmont with this style. Interesting spice/ginger character, concentrated, tannic. More a wine of a style than varietal or regional expression, though this is the traditional approach to make a powerful alpine Nebbiolo.

  • 2011 Rainoldi Valtellina tzapel - Italy, Lombardia, Valtellina

    A blend of Nebbiolo vinified as a white wine and Sauvignon Blanc. Some dissolved CO2 was present when opened, probably from going from a cool cellar at ~200 m to serving temp at 1500 m. Uber-refreshing, high acidity and 12% ABV. Yet had very surprising viscosity, weight and body. The nose was fruit-driven, melon and apple. Minerality underneath it all on the finish. A quaffer with significantly more going on than you can expect for sub-$10 (ex-cellar). I don't see much relation between Nebbiolo made as Bianco and regular Nebbiolo--the skins seem to have all the magic of Neb--but it does seem to make a lovely round yet light wine.

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