TRAVEL & WINE:
Millions of people all over the world dream about traveling to Lake Como during their lifetime and some get the opportunity to visit. But what most don’t dream or know about are the magical wines from Valtellina. This wine region is located approximately 30 minutes north of Lake Como. Here in this picturesque Alpine valley, with its terraced vineyards carved from stone etched into the side of the mountains, you will find one of the most elegant wines in the world made by Arpepe. Nebbiolo, the grape grown here is known locally as Chiavennasca.
Also found in Piemonte (Piedmont), Nebbiolo (Barolo & Barbaresco), is a popular grape known around the world. Valtellina is the true birthplace of this varietal. Yet in Valtellina you will find a completely different expression due to the terroir and different winemaking practices. The first time that Nebbiolo was referenced in print was by the name Chiavennasca, nearly 800 years ago. (well before Barolo.)
One of the finest examples of Valtellina wines can be found at ARPEPE. Vineyards are found in Sassella, Grumello and Inferno. Arpepe nurtures serious wines that I am personally in love with. They are elegant, like a fine burgundy, but with amazing Alpine characteristics which immediately can transport you to their land. Schist sandy soils, steep hills with hand-carved stones as steps into the mountainside evoke the fact that everything is 100 percent done by hand. (By the way, Valtellina is currently nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Upon my arrival at Arpepe, I was greeted by the charming and eloquent Isabella, one of the three sibling proprietors of this 150 year old winery.
Isabella was dressed like an Alpine mountain climber and greeted me warmly. I knew instantly I was in for a treat and an amazing tour. She showed me almost all of her vineyards. As we walked up the steep steps she regaled me with the history of the land and her family. The name Arpepe is an acronym for the first two letters of her father’s entire name, Arturo Pelizatti Perego. The history of this winery runs deep as Isabella and her two brothers, Guido and Emanuele, are the 5th generation! In comparison to Barolos, the wines at Arpepe require nearly 4-5 times as much labor to produce. This is as a result of the steep cliffs and everything being done by hand without tractors.
After the tour, Isabella had several wines waiting for me to try. I was blown away with what the wines represent and how expressive they were! Arpepe represents classic, old school, wine-making. It means a lack of interference within the cellar and no barriques! (which I prefer in order to understand the varietal and typicity, rather than vanilla from barriques or harsh wood tannins) Arpepe’s wines are found mostly in sandy soil with schist and slate rocks. This geological makeup delivers an insatiable salinity, minerality and structure on the palate.
The bouquet tends to be more expressive and aromatic than Barolo. Probably because the climate is cooler and the terroir is different. One of the overwhelming characteristics I observed was the aromas of the stones, as if water had just rained on them. Also the scent of cherries, pine and cardamom were present. The wines have leanness, low alcohol levels ( 13%) and wonderful acidity.
Arpepe wines are supple pairing partners with a myriad of different foods. Think about pairing with fish, chicken or steak if you prefer. You might be surprised to learn that raw fish like sushi and a local fish like grilled perch melt together when combined with these wines. I surmise as a result of the acidity and balanced tannins. I can guarantee that you will blow your guests away with how spectacular these wines are; Arpepe is truly fit for kings…and queens.
After the visit, I met with Isabella and her husband for dinner where they took me to Trippi, an amazing local restaurant that serves regional cuisine. Typical plates would be the charcuterie, Bresaola (famous around the world), Pizzoccheri (a buckwheat pasta usually served with a creamy Casera cheese sauce) and my favorite cheese from Italy, Bitto. We had the pleasure of trying a 10 year old Bitto! I was in complete heaven with just a morsel of this.
The Alpine cows milk makes cheese more grassy and fresh as a result of the altitude and terroir. What made this night even more special but also one of the most enjoyable days of my recent trip was Isabella’s wonderful company and authentic heartfelt approach to life. (In addition to her wines) The evening culminated with a very special bottle of her 1999 Pettirosso which is named after the red breasted robin from their vineyard. This has a very special private meaning to their family that you will have to ask about. Petirosso kept changing and had over 15 different aromas over the course of our dinner. Trippi also serves the Arpepe Rosso out of 3 liter bottles by the glass.
I came away from this trip inspired to drink more Valtellina but especially Arpepe for its elegance, purity and ageability. Lastly I must mention the prices. They are usually half or 1/3 the price of Barolo. Several of their wines can be found under $30. Here is a list of some of their wines for purchase in America.
Thank you Arpepe and Isabella for your hospitality and time. Your winery is truly one of the finest in the world!
PS. I hope to see you soon!
EatDrinkExplore: The best time to visit Valtellina is from March to November because this is when they are producing the Bitto cheese. You can also appreciate the stunning landscape of the terraced vineyards, which you can’t see in the winter.