At Nino Negri's sky-high vineyards, the hand harvested grapes are transported to the winery via helicopter.
(image courtesy of Frederick Wildman)
Drinking wine is easy and one of life's greatest pleasures. However, producing wine is often arduous and down-and-dirty work. In the case of Nino Negri, you can also describe winemaking as daredevilish and high-flying - their incredibly steep vineyards in Valtellina soar at elevations of 2,400 to 3,000 feet. Italy's largest terraced area of viticulture, Nino Negri's nearly vertical vineyards rule out the use of any mechanical equipment and once the grapes are harvested by hand, they are transported to the winery by helicopter!
Founded in 1897 and located in the Lombardy region at the base of the pre-Alps on Italy's border with Switzerland, Nino Negri is regarded as the premier winemaking estate in the Valtellina DOCG. Their chief winemaker, Casimiro Maule has been at the estate since 1971 and was recognized in 2007 by Gambero Rosso as "Winemaker of the Year."
Lucky for us, we don't have to scale any mountains to enjoy the elegant and expressive wines of Nino Negri and can easily find a bottle at our local fine wine shop or online. The estate specialty is Sfursat (strained or forced); a wine made from Chiavennasca (the local name for Nebbiolo) grapes that have dried for 100 days in the cool, dry, alpine air. Sfursat is described as combining "the opulence of Amarone with the elegant complexity of Barolo." I had the pleasure of joining Claudio Alongi, a member of the Nino Negro winemaking team, for a tasting of their exquisite '5 Stelle' Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG 2011 ($88). Produced only in the best years from the finest selections of Chiavennasca, it is truly an impressive wine. A rich shade of deep garnet, Sfursat is a full-bodied yet austere dry wine with flavors of dark fruit, roasted hazelnuts, fennel, and a hint of clove. It has a vibrant acidity that is characteristic of Nebbiolo and time will soften the noticeable, but not unpleasant tannins. If you really want to splurge, buy one to sip now and another to taste in 10 years! Sfursat is a great match with roasted red meats, game, and mature cheeses.
Less expensive but still incredibly delicious is Nino Negri Quadrio Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2011 ($20). Quadrio is named for the 15th century Castello Quadrio di Chiuro that houses the Nino Negri cellars. Mostly Chiavennasca (90%) with a touch of Merlot (10%), Quadrio is sophisticated but approachable with lively flavors of tart fruit that are softened by the plummy Merlot. Prior to bottling, Quadrio matures for 18 months in large French and Slavonian oak casks that impart the wine with just a touch of toastiness. Quadrio is a lovely introduction to the Nino Negri style.
Visit the Nino Negri website to learn more about their wines. Cheers!