1. I served the Vietti and the Novy blind. But the btls were a dead give-away because of their shape. So I pulled a switcheroo..put the Novy in the brown/fat Vietti btl and the Vietti in the tall/classy Novy btl. I was sure they'd use the btl clue and mis-identify the wine. WrongoDongo....nearly everyone nailed the wines right-on. I preferred the Novy...because it
spoke of Nebbiolo made by a Pinot producer. The Vietti, which most people preferred, spoke of Piedmontese Nebbiolo w/ a loud & clear voice. It had a laser-sharp purity of Nebb fruit that I really liked. But the texture & mouthfeel of the Novy carried the day for me of these two wines.
2. Nebbiolo in Calif: We are, of course, told by certain wine authorities that Nebbiolo is a colossal failure in Calif. I beg to differ. I've had some very good/interesting Nebbs from Calif, this Novy being one of the best. What I really like about Nebbiolo is that etheral perfume of lilacs/violets it can have on the nose, with hints of licorice & tar. But, crimeney, on the palate it can be absolutely brutal w/ the acids and the tannins. I must admit it's a variety I struggle with. Those from Barolo/Barbaresco in particular. I liken drinking Piedmontese Nebb to stuffing one nostril w/ violet petals, the other nostril w/ lilac petals, sealing both nostrils w/ burning/hot road tar; then sticking out your tonguebetwixt the jaws of a vise and torquing that sucker down...some pleasurable things but a hell of a lot of pain.
When I complain about Barolo/Barbaresco; I'm always dismissed as a dolt because everybody
knows that you have to give these wines age in the bottle to soften. What I don't understand is why they can make long-aging Bordeaux and RedBurgs that are attractive right out of the gate, but they can't w/ Barolo/Barbaresco. And then I'm ridiculed because I didn't give them enough breathing time. "Everyone knows that Barolos need a day or two to breathe and soften up".
To me, Calif oughta be able to capture that exotic perfume of Nebb, but make a wine that is attractive and not so friggin' painful on the palate. That's what I've liked about some of the Calif versions I've tried, particularly this Novy. Barolo & Barbaresco it ain't, for which I'm glad. Wine shouldn't hurt to drink. The Stolpman's that SashiMoorman makes are also quite good; as are SteveClifton's Palmina Nebbs. Now add AdamLee to the list. Maybe EmilioCastelli some day.
3. Of this batch of Valtelline wines, the fays seemed head & shoulders above the rest. They had the most fruit and seemed more Calif in style, more modern winemaking. The Rainoldis seemed a bit pinched & tight in style; like a prim & proper but rather stiff Sunday School teacher (forgive me Mrs. Benlon). The Balgeras had lovely old Nebb noses but seemed a bit too tired & dried out on the palate.
4. I first became enamoured of Valtelline Nebbs back in the early '70's when I'd buy them up at LiquorMart in Boulder at the insistence of PhilReich and ReneRondeau. The NinoNegri's were a bit on the commercial side, but those from AuturoPelizzatti were mightly impressive. Alas, I haven't seen his wines or know if he's even still producing since those yrs long ago.
5. Sfortzato: My original understanding was that Sfursat was simply late harvest Nebbiolo. John Paine (Western marketing guy for Neil Rosenthal) corrected me that they are made like Valpolicella Amarone/Recioto and dried on straw mats in the winery. Additional research on the Net (below) indicates that to indeed be the case; but there is some wiggle-room that it can be simply a late harvest Nebbiolo. These Sfursats we had didn't have the hard/harsh character I often get in Recioto.
I wonder why the recioto/Sfursat technique is not more widely used in Calif. I know Randall Grahm makes a Recioto of Barbera that's pretty interesting. Calif could, of course, make the greatest Recioto/Sfursat in the world if they chose to. But they would probably dry the grapes on plastic trays instead of straw mats, and use forced air/blowers, rather than ambient wnry conditions, to promote dehydration and, therefore, it would not be authentic Recioto and, therefore, an inferior wine. And there'd be whining about the terroir thing.
6. Additional stuff on Sforzato:
Sforzato di Valtellina is a very special wine obtained uniquely from Nebbiolo grapes that are
left to ripen for a longer period than is required for the production of regular wines. Its
quality depends not so much on technical matters as on climatic conditions and the quality of the grapes. It therefore embodies the characteristics of this fascinating Alpine territory.
Sforzato or Sfrusat is a dry wine obtained from drying the best Nebbiolo grapes harvested in the most well exposed vineyard in the regions of Valtellina and Valtellina Superiore. The local name for Nebbiolo grape is Chiavennasca. The vines are cultivated by hand as except for a few small gently sloping spaces it is practically impossible for the use of any kind of mechanization. The grapes are collected manually. It is hard work to transport the grape collections on the shoulders of the peasants through the paths of the terraces. One feels a sense of admiration for the hard work of the peasants and their tenacious will. Getting quality wines, which have been the pride of centuries of Valtellina, rewards one. The grapes are spread out in mats or in boxes and are left to wither naturally usually from Harvest time, which is late October until mid January or even early February. This treatment leads to a high concentration of natural sugars and special aromas. The dehydration of the grape varies between 30-35% and this produces a great wine, which is a combination of body, elegance, longetivity and easy digestibility. The vinification process consists of soft pressing of the grapes and subsequent fermentation. A 2 to 3 year ageing in oak casks & a final 6 to 12
month bottle refinement give this red wine its uniqueness.
Sforzato Della Valtellina is a very special wine obtained uniquely from Nebbiolo grapes that are
left to ripen for a longer period than is required for the production of regular wines. Its quality depends not so much on technical matters as on climatic conditions and the quality of the
grapes. It is thus an embodiment of the uniqueness of this Alpine territory. Sforzato Della Valtellina owes its name (sforzato which means withering or strained) to the very ancient practise of withering Nebbiolo grapes.
The red wines made in this area are produced using Nebbiolo grapes; it is a fine late-maturing
vine that, has created over the centuries a perfect harmony with the soil, leading to unique
wines such as the Valtellina Sforzato or Sfursat, whose name comes from the traditional practice of drying the grapes, which has been done in the Valtellina since ancient times.
The wine is obtained by hand selecting the best bunches of grapes and then leaving them to dry on wooden lattices placed inside a dry and well-aired room, the "Fruttaio", for at least 110 days until the end of January. During this winter period the climate of the Valtellina does the rest of the work and thus favours the drying and shrinking of the bunches of grapes. At the end of January the grape has lost about 40% of its weight, the fruit has dried and the concentrated juice has developed unusual and very dense aromatic properties. After pressing, a slow fermentation period follows and at least 24 months ageing and refining, first in wood and then in bottles. Valtellina Sforzato is thus a unique expression of a vine, the Nebbiolo
and the area of this fascinating Alpine valley. Valtellina Superiore is always made using Nebbiolo grapes and is divided into five sub-denominations: Maroggia, Sassella, Grumello,
Inferno and Valgella that, like Sforzato, are proudly entitled to the DOCG.
Some wines from the Valtellina region are designated Sforzato; a very similar style to Recioto
Amarone, with the powerful wines having been fermented from air-dried grapes.
Valtellina Sforzato (also known as Valtellina Sfurs?t) was classified as DOCG in 2003, this is a
dry red straw wine made from partly raisined grapes in the style of an Amarone. It must be made of a minimum of 90% Chiavennasca grapes, with the optional addition of a maximum of 10% of other permitted red varieties. The grapes are picked late, and then dried on wooden racks for up to three months. The wine is made in February or March, with slow fermentation on the skins in traditional style. This leads to low levels of acidity, and formation of
special aroma compounds, the wine is ruby red and extremely soft, it must have a minimum alcohol content of 14% vol., and must be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months.
Especially strong and tangy as it ages, Bitto is a great excuse to open a bottle of the area's
most famous wine, Sforzato di Valtellina (also known as Sfursat). Loosely translated as "forced" in local dialect, Sforzato is made entirely from Nebbiolo that represent the finest grapes from a grower which are harvested a week or so earlier than the clusters that will make a Valtellina Superiore. The grapes are laid on a straw mat in a small room (usually in a specially designed, humidity controlled building called a fruttaio) for three to four months
where they will dry. During this process (known as appassimento), the berries shrivel and
their flavor intensifies. This is the same process used to make Amarone, the famous red wine from the Valpolicella area of the Veneto region, but while those wines are very forward and
slightly alcoholic, most bottlings of Sforzato are a bit more subdued, though no less flavorful.