The drive from the center of the village of Borgomanero takes maybe 15 minutes. It’s twisty-turny, and mostly we’re climbing up in elevation to some local hills that look favorably (i.e the exposition) toward the town. And even though we’re still in the same local region, we’ve crossed the river, and we’re no longer in Boca, but in one of Alto Piemonte’s sub-regions, Gattinara (below).
The soil here, and the minerals buried within, are much different here than in Boca. Not surprisingly, the wines are much different when tasted. I’m not talking about something stylistically different, it’s just different. These wines have their own identity, as they should, and of course, the vines are of a much different age, so I’m talking about much different levels of complexity, different structure, different finish, and so on.
The wines of Gattinara also differ in that they must be 100% Nebbiolo (locally called Spanna), and so unlike Boca, there are no components of Vespolina or Uva Rara grapes. These wines also carry the DOCG label, and not the DOC that the wines of Boca carry. These wines can age. Sometimes glacially, but patience is always rewarded.
This (below) isn’t much of a photo, but it may help to illustrate the differences between the soil characteristics of Boca and that of Gattinara. Much less pink tinge, here, and the stones/rocks appear that they could very well have come from a different country, let alone just a few kilometers away. I’ve included another photo, for comparison, of the soil in Boca.
We are done with our vineyard tours. My head is spinning. So it’s time to head back to the Vallana cellars and taste some wines.
When we arrive, everyone is busy, of course. Even Marina’s mother, is still at work (below). It’s a Saturday afternoon in Alto Piemonte, of course there’s work to be done.
We proceed upstairs, to their office/lab/tasting area (there’s another tasting room, more formal, downstairs, it’s lovely, and can accommodate large groups (I didn’t want to leave this room, ever – yes, there are wines here. Many.). All of the wines to be tasted have been prepared already (read: these guys, like most hosts in Italia, really get it. And by it, I mean economizing time), so it’s time to get to work (below). Did I just call this work?
I’ve already listed some of the wines in the tasting (I think there were circa 10 total), in prior blog posts, so I will just list the balance of the wines/tasting notes not yet covered; in order of tasting, finishing with the legendary, mind-bending, 1955 Montalbano. (not pictured, and with no note taken was a special project wine – i.e. not released, may never be, that Francis had created, a sparkling Nebbiolo, iirc. It was spot-on delicious, focused and crisp. I want cases of it).
Below, a photo of Francis and Marina, as we enjoy the sparkling wine, before the tasting begins.
2007 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna, 11 April, 2014. This follows the 2011 Spanna Colline Novaresi, with its more mature fruit that seems to have come from a warmer, more generous vintage. Sweet red fruits and tar on the nose, with a fresh, invigorating basket of mixed-floral floating above it all. On the palate, flavors of leather, tobacco and hard red candies. The palate lacks some of the power and cut of the nose; this could be in a phase. 12,5% abv. drink thru 2017. recommended/**
— edit: Marina did not like the way the first bottle showed so she went and grabbed a second one. Nothing reductive or awkward with the replacement, instead really fresh and very correct.
2010 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana, 11 April, 2014. Striking, crystalline garnet core, clear and bright. Aromas of cherries, soil, minerals; bright and fresh. Lots of tension on the medium(-) bodied palate; crunchy, crisp, and tannic at this stage. With some airtime, complex aromas of mushrooms and forest floor, though it remains light and airy. Forget about these for five years, and enjoy over the following ten. recommended/** 1/2
2011 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana, 11 April, 2014. This ‘shiner’ (i.e. not yet labeled) was nearly a complete opposite of the 2010 CB that came directly before it. Heady, sexy nose of ripe, fresh red and black fruit. Even though the color is no darker than the 2010, this packs way more, open and easily approachable fruit. Medium>full entry, brilliant attack, with tannins that seem almost chewy, though the great back-end acidity keeps this in balance and focus. I should grab a case or two to enjoy while the 2010s are resting. recommended/**
2009 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Boca, 11 April, 2014. Only in bottle for about 6 weeks at this point, but already showing really, really well. Ever so slightly darker than the 2011 Cuvée Bernardo tasted just prior, this offers a seriously deep, brooding and penetrating nose full of mushroom cap, savory, spice, molasses and soil. The nose and color kind of portend the palate experience, but not really – I mean wow, this is the Mercedes Benz of entries – sweet, light on the tongue yet packed with fruit; it just gets wider, deeper and denser from there. Full, magical and really quite elegant. In my notes I (double) underlined Great Acidity; one to save up for once it’s released. highly recommended/***
2005 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Gattinara, 11 April, 2014. This is one of the wines from the (extensive) tasting that stuck with me the most. Not so much for what it offered on the day, but for the obvious potential that lurks within. A little darker than the Boca served just before. The nose starts out with lovely mixture of red licorice and leather; the entry is full, with plenty of ripe, sweet tannins. Some aromas and flavors of tobacco, mulberry and mushroom emerge after 10 minutes in the glass. This has yet to fully come together, but with the overall structure, and the detailed length on the finish, I think it’s going to be a quite something in 4-5 more years and for a decade+ after that. This is about as good a food wine as I have a right to expect; fantastic. 13,0% abv. highly recommended/***
1996 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Boca, 11 April, 2014. This was really hard to pin down, let alone understand. Guy, the English teacher turned Italian winemaker after marrying Giuseppina Vallana in 1980, started this wine/vintage, but passed before it was finished. I mention that, because, subconsciously or not, this was different than the newer releases that came before, if for no other reason than its overtly rustic, leathery character. The color is slightly bricked, and while the nose is pretty hard to describe, the best I could manage at the time was a tar, roses, spice and red floral all on a saline canvas. Continually shifting in the glass, there’s a lot of entertainment here for circa $20. If I had a few, I’d probably open one every two-three years until they’re all gone. A geek wine, fascinating in its humility. recommended/**
1994 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Boca, 11 April, 2014. Slightly more bricked than the ’96 Boca served just before, this opens to reveal a considerably more mature, and ready wine than the aforementioned. Notes of cola, sweet cherries, some soil. But, wow, on the palate, I mean I was not ready/expecting this at all. Full, round, glossy and perfectly seamless. Full on delicious, and though the finish didn’t project that structure that some of the others before it have, this is the first one today that’s truly ready right now. Still full in the middle palate, this is one to seek out for current consumption. highly recommended/***
1972 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna Cuvee Bernardo Vallana, 11 April, 2014. Fully evolved color of bronze. Sweet cherries on the nose, with accents of toffee and dried herbs. The palate is sweet-ish, the acids bursting with freshness after having several decades of slumber. Still managing some good grip on the lengthy (as in > one minute, maybe closer to 2 minutes) finish. Interestingly, the tension seemed to build with each successive taste, as if it was some kind of slow-release acidity; quite fun. This was quite a treat, and maybe the perfect wine to get me ready for the legendary 1955 Spanna Montalbano that follows. Drink now, but was likely even better 10 years ago. recommended/**
1955 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Colline Novaresi Spanna Montalbano, 11 April, 2014. Fascinatingly dark color, with just a minimum of bricking. After 2 hours of aeration in decanter, this was poured to my glass, though I was not at all ready for what followed. Still amazingly fresh on the nose, with a repeating confluence of fresh berries, soil and flowers. The palate is full, precise, seamless; the texture/mouthfeel is singular. Still full of grip and tension, the wine clearly has a few decades of excellent drinking still ahead (some more positive evolution, too). Beautiful, complete, with a finish that lasts for minutes. I concluded my note with “hauntingly good”. very highly recommended/ *** 1/2 – ****
And I leave you with some cellar eye candy. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.
(header photo: Spring has sprung in Piemonte, let’s grow some Nebbiolo!)