Am I the only person in the world who sipped Nebbiolo from the Alto Piemonte while watching the Super Bowl last week?! Quite possibly!
Admittedly I am never the most ardent spectator of the Super Bowl (excluding the year the Saints won)! And a lingering cold had me feeling even less enthusiastic (except of course for Rhianna’s performance).
But the weather necessitated a pot of beans. And I was eager to try out a new variety of black bean from Rancho Gordo (Frijol Negro Santanero). And when I asked my stuffy brain to come up with a pairing (but something other than Pinot Noir or Gamay please!) I came up with Nebbiolo. Then I realized when scanning the shelves at EOX that even though we sell many many bottles from Antonio Vallana in the Alto Piemonte (and I have featured them in wine club) I have yet to write about them here.
The Vallana estate is located in the northwestern Italian region of Alto Piemonte. Most wine nerds need no introduction to the greater Piedmont/Piemonte region (home to the legendary subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco), but the more northern Alto Piemonte
continues to be a bit of an insider secret. Truthfully, it’s just now having a Renaissance after being truly devastated by the vine disease phylloxera and then two world wars. It was almost abandoned as many folks left the area in droves after so much bad luck – searching for more opportunity provided by bigger cities. Thankfully, some stayed like the Vallanas. More on them in a second but first an overview of the region.
The focus here in Alto Piemonte is similar to the greater Piemonte – setting Nebbiolo, locally known as Spanna, on a worthy pedestal but also growing some Barbera and lesser known varieties like Vespolina, Croatina, and Uva Rara (and often blending them). (There is also some white wine made from Erbaluce, but I have yet to see it in our market.) Alto Piemonte comprises four provinces and 10 appellations: Gattinara, Ghemme, Boca, Lessona, Sizzano, Bramaterra, Fara, Coste della Sesia, Colline Novaresi, and Valli Ossolane.
The region is nestled into the foothills of the Italian Alps along the Sesia River. It is at a higher elevation than the more well known regions further south in the Langhe Hills, and it’s this elevation that’s denoted in the name “Alto” Piemonte. This elevation results in a cooler climate and thus even more mouth watering acidity than wines of the Langhe. There is also a bit of volcanic bedrock found here that adds to the unique quality of the region.
Now a bit about the Vallanas…theirs is a story of perseverance. The first mention of the Vallana family name dates back to 1859 when Bernardo Vallana took over the vineyards. Bernardo and his son Antonio grew the winery enough to eventually export to Germany and Switzerland. And Antonio even began bottling the wine by vineyard (unheard of at this time). With the help of his son Bernardo they founded a formal company in 1937 “Antonio Vallana e Figlio”. Bernardo devoted his entire life to his beloved wine and eventually passed on the family business to his daughter Giuseppina. She married an English teacher Guy Fogarty in 1980, and they were also completely devoted to the vines and wines until his untimely death in 1996. After this passing Giuseppina managed to keep the winery afloat, but the wines left some major markets (including the United States). Thankfully, today, with the help of her children, Francis, Marina, and Miriam, the Vallana wines are once again available for our enjoyment.
And unbelievably, the prices seem more on par with a former time! We regularly have a couple of their Spanna (aka Nebbiolo wines) with age for under $30!? And their Barbera for under $20. All of their wines are high toned, red fruited beauties, and the Spannas take on this savory, spicy note with a bit of age.
Last night we enjoyed their Vallana Colline Novaresi Spanna 2018 ($24), and it tasted of dried cherries, dusty earthy, and that bit of sweet/savory spiciness (like Chinese Five Spice). It was quite lovely with the black beans and of course with Rhianna!
Other producers to check out from Alto Piemonte:
Colombera & Garella
Nervi (the one very high dollar example!)