Ar.Pe.Pe for President!
Welcome to Valtellina. If you don't know this off-the-beaten-path wine region, you should. It is the most northern DOCG in Italy, where Lombardia meets Switzerland. And its high altitude, alpine climate, and well-drained glacial rocky soils make optimal conditions for growing Nebbiolo, known here as Chiavennasca. If you are only accustomed to the Piedmontese styles of Nebbiolo, from Barolo and Barbaresco to the Ghemme and Carema, then you are in for a very special treat.
Ar.Pe.Pe (short for Arturo Pelizzatti Perego) is a producer with a story that spans five generations and seems to be out of a telenovela. Founded in the 1860s, it fostered a world-wide appreciation for Nebbiolo but a mere hundred years later found itself fragmented by family disputes. A Swiss conglomerate bought the Pelizzatti Perego label and property, and soon after Valtellina’s wine spiraled into a mass-produced commodity. Thankfully, by the 1980s, fourth-generation Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, bought back some vineyards and re-introduced the age-old techniques he learned from his grandfather— with reduced production and raised standards. Since, and now with a fifth generation at the helm, painstaking attention is given to a Nebbiolo that speaks Lombard, where vineyards tended to by hand, maceration spans over thirty days, and the wine sees two-year aging in large old wood barrels before bottling.
Valtellina produces a DOC Rosso di Veltellina, but has four Superiore crus with a DOCG status: Sassella, Grumello, Inferno and Valgella. Their 2012 ROSSO DI VALTELLINA is a great value, with notes of incense and baking spices, sage and eucalyptus, bright cherry fruit and raw almond.
But it is Grumello that is after our hearts. The 2010 GRUMELLO ROCA DE PIRO, from a vineyard encompassing a rocky and steep hilltop, below the De Piro castle is stern in its notes of wet forest, Cuban cigars and frankincense. But the elegance is in the fruit—delicate cherries and blood, with an ethereal stoney minerality.
The 2005 GRUMELLO BUON CONSIGLIO, from the Buon Consiglio (Italian for good advice) vineyard near Sondrio, sees three years in oak, plus an additional in the bottle. It is fattier with a supple and velvety texture. Riper fruit conceals some charred toast, delicate herbs—thyme, oregano.
So If you consider Barolo to be the mighty King, with its prominent notes of cedar and tobacco; and Barbaresco the stern Queen, with its dried cherries and black tea, then Valtellina’s Ar.Pe.Pe is the President—for the quintessential Nebbiolo, serious in its biting tannins, ethereal in its bouquet of dried flowers and elegant in its spice. But above all, for the experience that speaks to time and place of a most venerable grape.