It is a (pleasant) irony of my life story that I have chosen by chance to have made my home in Italy’s two Nebbiolo producing regions. First the Valtellina and now Barolo.
When I had my first taste of Nebbiolo it was at the Villa di Tirano cellars when the cooperative was still running. I will never forget my exclamation over its colour. In the days before I became a sommelier and knew anything about the importance of the colour of wine, the Nebbiolo shade struck me just the same. I’ll likewise never forget the reaction of my host at the cantina when smiling he said, “this is Nebbiolo. This is its colour”.
The beautiful brick red reminded me of so many suburbs of my childhood. Reminds me even now of the warm, dry tones from my continent, as though the red ochre Aboriginal paintings had been made from this wine, itself made from a grape named after the fog. Which incidentally is a defining characteristic of the Langhe region and its climate. The fog around these parts must be seen to be believed.
Most would say that coming from the Valtellina to Barolo is a step up in terms of wine and they’d be right. But the Valtellina will always be a special place for me…my own personal story of love and loss; the terraced vineyards in rising and setting suns a symbol of hardship, hope, tough choices, vision and new beginnings.
Why the sforzato wine from the Valtellina is not more famous around the world is a mystery to me. Kind of like the Amarone of the Nebbiolo world, it is made from grapes set aside in wooden cases and allowed to dry.
I prefer a more refined, even shy Nebbiolo, and will drink the Sassella DOCG cru. It is a beautiful wine: elegant, structured but delicate and the loveliest nose.
Sassella is where I took these pictures, on a Nebbiolo mountainside ramble around the spot of the “sentiero della memoria” or the path of memory. Heroic wine making they call it. The stone terraced vineyards provide beautiful views and a natural gravity fall for the funicular units that take the grapes to the valley floor. For those shipping the grapes to the top, it’s a long haul uphill through the vines, carrying this precious burden.
It’s a love story, a story of loss, with that ochre-coloured wine the poetic vein through it. Kind of like finding coonawarra earth in a glass at the other end of the world, along with different destinies you weren’t expecting, stories of love and loss, new stories, Langhe stories too.