What Is Chiavennasca?
Chiavennasca is what Nebbiolo is known as in the Valtellina valley, on the Italian-Swiss border. Valtellina is situated in the far north of the Lombardy region. This region has been producing wine since the 5th century and has been nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Despite this, it is one of Italy’s least well-known wine regions.
Valtellina has some of the most dramatic vineyard landscapes in the world, with impossibly steep vines sitting on the side of hard granite mountains that have been carved by glaciers. The steep and terraced plots mean that most vines must be worked by hand. At harvest time, workers transport grapes down the steep mountain slopes in small baskets. When winter rains wash the soil down the slopes, workers haul the soil back up the valley. It can take anywhere to up 1,600 hours of work per hectare per year to produce wine in Valtellina.
The vineyards are located on south-facing slopes along the Adda River to facilitate ripening. The mountains protect the vines from cold, harsh winds and helps to trap heat in the long valley. With vineyards sitting at altitudes of between 400-850 metres, the alpine climate produces wines that are more minerally, but still fresh and aromatic.
The soils are a mix of clay, sand, gravel and silt. The exact composition can vary widely depending on elevation. The altitude means large variations in daily temperature, which is great for producing acidity. The rocky, clay-based soils retain heat, which promote ripening. Warm, dry summers with long hours of sunshine maximises sugar levels in the grapes, creating an ideal balance of acids, sugar and ripeness.
Premier Chiavennasca (labelled as Valtellina Superiore DOCG) is aged for at least 24 months before release, first in wooden barrels for 12 months, and then in the bottle. Usual practice is to age using French or Slavonian oak. The more basic version (labelled as Rosso di Valtellina DOC) is aged for a minimum of 6 months.
There is also a version called Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG, which is unique to Valtellina. Sforzato is made from a minimum of 90% nebbiolo grapes, which is dried out until they’re raisins. This concentrates the sugars and results in a dry wine with a high alcohol level of about 14%. The result is a syrupy wine with low acid levels and high spiciness.
There are only about 40 producers in the Valtellina. Because the total cultivation area is so small, the majority of the wine produced is consumed within 200km of the valley. Although little known, the Valtellina produces outstanding wines with exceptional value.
There are 5 districts in the Valtellina, each named after local castles and churches. Each Chiavennasca has their own unique terroir. From east to west, the districts are:
- Valgella – the largest zone with the highest altitudes, producing the most perfumed wines, with aromas of dark fruits.
- Inferno – powerful wines from steep and rocky terrain. The tiny terraces here produce wines with more pronounced fruity and floral aromas, and crisp acidity.
- Grumello – these wines are easy drinking and approachable. They have medium acidity, smooth tannins and hints of minerality.
- Sassella – the most prestigious zone with powerful, concentrated wines. They have soft tannins and complex flavours, with notes of spices.
- Maroggia – the smallest zone with balanced wines. Maroggia wines have good acidity, soft tannins and ripe aromas of cherry, blackberry and raspberry. These wines have elegant finishes.
Why We Love Chiavennasca
We love the light-coloured Chiavennasca from Valtellina. These wines tends to be more feminine, with vibrant fruit and fine texture. Alpine Chiavennasca has more delicate tannins than a Barolo or Barbaresco, but with distinctively Nebbiolo bright cherry and strawberry flavours.
Chiavennasca have high acidity and complex aromas – from spice, earth, citrus, herbs, chocolate to truffles and cherries. A great Chiavennasca has a core of fruit, along with layers of secondary aromas and characteristics.
As a cooler temperature wine, it is finessed and aromatic. The aging process balances the acidity and tannins. As they age, they take on darker notes of earth, leather, and tobacco.
Pair it with hearty food that has got a bit of fat and salt to really bring out the flavours. Beef, pasta, and cheeses work especially well.
Taste Chiavennasca For Yourself
We have searched far and wide to find the best artisan Chiavennasca producers, so that you can enjoy a bottle for a special occasion, or a midweek glass. We love bringing you rare grape varieties from hidden forest vineyards and single hectare family producers.
Lovers of Nebbiolo will love this northern expression of the grape. Compared to wines from the Piedmont, Valtellina Chiavennasca is more affordable.
Our suppliers are Australia’s best, hands on importers who specialise in high quality wines of place. As lovers of Nebbiolo and fine Alpine influenced wines, we support small-scale producers who continue to uphold tradition and guard against the internationalisation of wine production.
We’re thrilled that you’re joining us on the journey so get your hands on some extraordinary Chiavennasca from the Italian Alps today! Enjoy!