Traveling to Italy to vinotrip has been one of my dreams. I expected to visit the more well-known regions of Piedmont or Tuscany for my first wine tasting trip to Italy, but Lombardy was calling. I had heard of Franciacorta for sparkling wines, Valtellina for it’s Nebbiolo and Oltrepo for its Pinot Noir, but I had no idea how absolutely incredible this region would turn out to be – a new generation of winemakers leading the way, changing the wine story of the region from easy drinking wine to the producing highest quality wine – organic, new varietals and old. Known for its lake tourism, this area is a must travel to, a must wine taste region!
Last week we were fortunate to be wined and dined by several of the top wineries and smaller outfits, as the region begins to ready themselves for increasing wine tourism in Lombardy. Based on Italy’s exceptional love given to its creations, passion, art and history adding into all Italy offerings, it is no surprise they are making quality wine from toe to heel to mid-thigh. Quality, smaller quantity, is the future of wine and Italy is readied and waiting with exceptional price points, exceptional wine and exceptional experiences.
(Note: Fly into Milan, the airport is incredibly easy to navigate. All of the signs were in both Italian and English and the wine regions and lake are an easy train ride away.)
Day 1 touring Moscato di Scanzo and Valcalepio
Highlights of Moscato di Scanzo / Winery 1:
- The representatives of the Consortium of Moscato di Scanzo met us at the Martinì Col di Paste villa to begin tempting our vision into their delicacy, Moscato Nero.
- Moscato di Scanzo is the only naturally growing dark Moscato grape in the world. The wine was originally made to be a sweet wine but as they refine the wine, it is now made with less sugar and made to be more food friendly and savory.
- We were greeted with an overlook of the small valley below, looking from one side over the entire valley, the second smallest DOCG in Italy.
- The valley is divided into 3 distinct areas, the far left, the middle and the far right. The left, the steepest, is 400 meters above sea level – Monte Bastia/Scanzo, the middle, Rosciate and the right, tribulina, each with their distinct features, a little more marl, a little less moonstone, a little more wind, a little less fog, a little more sun, etc. shaping out the varieties found across the valley.
- There are 19 producers, with one hectare each (2.47 acres).
- We started by toasting with a delightful Franciacorta, a sparking Extra Brut blanc de blancs (made from Chardonnay) grown in Lombardy’s neighboring famed Franciacorta, in the method champenoise and then a DeToma sparker that was wonderful.
- They call the special soil of this valley moon rock, “Sass de la Luna” – a special mix of limestone and marl (remnants from ancient seabeds) that shines from the steeper hills where the vegetation is unable to cling. The ancients believed the moon was falling down. This mixture is hard underground, but crumbly when it is dry above the earth. It holds the cool water when the temperature gets very warm.
- This area was likely farmed originally by the Greeks and these wines are looked upon as a special jewel of Italy since red Moscato grapes are found nowhere else in the world.
- To make Moscato di Scanzo, they use the appassimento method, harvesting the grapes in small buckets and laying them out to dry for a minimum of 21 days. The grapes lose about 30% of their weight through evaporation, concentrating their natural sugars and flavors. Afterwards, the grapes are very gently pressed and the juice is aged for 24 months in stainless steel. This gives the wines a flavorful and aromatic quality, no wood, very fresh. The blue grapes have excellent tannins and good acidity from the moon rock. This makes for not just sweet wine, but a much more complex wine.
- The minimum alcohol is 14% and is a perfect “meditation wine”, enjoyed after a meal on its own while contemplating the beautiful countryside. As we tasted, I kept longing for a warm fire, a blanket paired with a glass of Moscato di Scanzo.
(Note: My first surprise was the Franciacorta. I’m not a big fan of Pinot Grigio, I enjoy prossecco for mixed drinks, but don’t drink it on its own often, but all of the sparkling wine we tasted in Lombardy was world class. A great deal of Italian wine never makes it to the US because many winemakers prefer to sell first and make a name for themselves in their own country and now, as many are gaining popularity, they haven’t quite caught up in the US yet. But trust me, they are coming. Outstanding quality at an outstanding price point!)
Pictures: After toasting, we were led on a walk through the vineyards lined with olive trees.
(Note: Northwest Italy – Lombardy in particular- is a special historical area. Lake Garda was covered and uncovered by an advancing and retreating enormous glacier which left rich mineral deposits throughout the valley and along the walls surrounding the Lake Garda region. It was also a transient area of many cultures passing by, leaving traces of culture as they went, many conquerors using these valleys in front of the Alps to spread throughout Europe. Etruscans and Romans planted in these fertile soils.)
Winery Visit 2:
- Cascina San Giovani, moscatomartinelli.com, built adjacent to a 12th century church.
- The fabulous owner bought the property with the intent to preserve the church, but it needed significant restoration. They are hoping to preserve as much as possible, but it is under construction.
- Her new winery is modern and beautiful and her young wines are showing promise. We tasted 8 Moscato di Scanzo’s paired with a local delicacy of risotto.
Overview of tasting profile of the incredible samples we tasted:
Moscato di Scanzo in general: Color: ruby red, some with a touch of garnet on the edges due to aging; aromas: cooked fruit, plum, cherry, light herbaciousness (due to sage and aromatic underbrush grown around the vineyards); older wines show chocolate, spice, tobacco, cedar, cinnamon, clove. Palate: sweet, soft, delicate. Long finish with subtle tastes of nuttiness.
Specific wineries we tasted:
- Fejoia: deep, ripe berry, light on the palate, not overly sweet, Rosciato. Great with cheese or chocolate.
- De Toma: 2017, oldest company in the area. Est. in 1894. Rosciato Cru, have a lot of moonstone giving their wines greater minerality, an east to west vineyard for greater southerly exposure, deep black cherry, rhubarb, beautiful acidity, vibrant. The herbal aromas in this wine were surprisingly delightful. Savory notes to pair with roqueford cheese or blue stilton. The hint of rose is great with spicy plates with pepper.
- Martinì Col di Paste. Luchetti Ippolita – located on the Tribulina, (the first winery we visited), black raspberry, more ripe, less herbal.
- Magri Sereno. Rosciato – blackberry, herb, full mouth feel, black pepper on back end of palate.
- Cerri: Tribulina, located next to Martinì Col di Paste.
- Pagnoncelli Folcieri 2017: established in 1962, on Monte Bastia. The steepest lands. Rich, dark, but elegant on the palate. Their mid-century estate is host to weddings, brunches and is run by the President of the Consortia, Francesca Pagnoncelli Folcieri, President of Consorzio di Tutela Moscato di Scanzo.
- Cascina San Giovanni: lovely, dark fruit, acidic. This is one of her first vintages, shows real promise. Excited to see more!
- La Berlendesa, 2018: Scanzo area, very delicate, beautiful fruits. One of my favorites on the palate. Bright, but long finish, pepper on the end.
Winery Visit 3:
- We drove to the town of Scanzorosciate, named after the two founders of the town, and walked across the small, picturesque square, past two mid-century churches and down the one main street of stones, to Francesca Pagnoncelli Folcieri’s, President of Consorzio di Tutela Moscato di Scanzo, in her seventeenth-century villa, moscatopagnoncelli.com.
Francesca (Francy) lived in Florence and Milan working as an Architect. In her own words, Her father“carried on the family tradition of producing Moscato di Scanzo but probably more as a duty than as a true passion.When we children lived and worked far away he decided to sell our small vineyards. When he communicated it to us my heart became very small … I could not think that wine, Moscato di Scanzo, would come out of our life.”So she returned to return to Scanzo. Since 2014 she and her husband both work on the wine.“I realize how difficult it is to leave the earth when you know how much it can offer. The difficulties and production uncertainties are always many, but you always have the certainty that your work has a true and profound meaning.” Francesca Pagnoncelli Folcieri. For those of you who speak italian, videos of Francesca and the area: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLliiqsDTZ8, https://vimeo.com/418512541.
- The architecture of her home was exquisite, built on medieval foundations. The antiques, the frescos and the wine cellar, all beautiful and special in their own way. The back courtyard with the family garden and views of the vineyards above, spectacular.
- We were greeted with watermelon mint cocktails, reserve grappas and a table of treats including incredible chocolate. We were spoiled. Attending an event at Francesca’s home must be incredible, they host weddings and parties there. Her personality is kind, fun, energetic. She is an incredible person, sharing her love of wine with the world.
(Note: We met many, many female winemakers throughout the entire trip. Many of them had left for Milan to have careers, only to return to their passion, to their roots and take over their family craft. They were brilliant, charismatic, communal, environmentally aware, committed to quality wines and caring for their surroundings. These areas of Lombardy are doing some really special things.)
Valcalepio – Bergamo Winery and Dinner:
- What a day and it was already 6:30pm! We were off to our wine dinner in the neighboring town in Valcalepio, aka the garden of Bergamo.
- Our dinner was hosted at the Medolago Albani Winery in Trescore Balneario, a town famous for it’s thermal spa center.
- The villa and winery are owned by the President of the Valcalepio Protection Consortium, Conte Emanuele Medolago Albani, as well as the historic castle and winery in the hills above (https://www.visitbergamo.net/en/object-details/753-villa-redona/). He was an extremely gracious host as were his son and his wife, with whom we were fortunate to dine with that evening.
- Villa Redona is both a hotel, event space and a winery and boasts stunning views, outdoor dining and an ample reception room.
- Our tasting consisted of Medolago Albani wines along with several of the DOC Terre del Colleoni wines from various Valcalepio wineries. The tastings were led by an excellent Italian Sommelier.
- The presenters shared about the exceptional tourism in the region, the thermal spas, the increased investment in tourism, the many castles (one owned by our host Conte, whose family earned the title in the mid-1800’s and also a castle in Bergamo that is noted in the history books). The region is working on a new initiative to pair fashion, history, culture and wine.
- We were invited to a lavish buffet of fresh meats, cheeses, fresh breads and such a wide variety a treats for our palates. There was a table filled with charcuterie, several small bite plates, pork and artichoke, fresh sourdough with fresh olive oil, polenta. We were then served a decadent fresh pasta, stuffed with something amazing, with roasted sage and pancetta on top made with their local cheeses. Then came the tiramisu, fresh caramel lemon meringe cake with fresh cantaloupe. I texted my foodie friends, “I want to say my heart is full, but I am pretty sure it is my stomach”.
- We tasted many great bottles, mostly Bordeaux blend varietals, (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends) from throughout the region from DOC Valcalepio and DOC Terre del Colleoni. These two DOC’s overlap almost entirely, but help define the many varietals that can be made in the region. Valcalepio wines are “bianco, rosso and sweet Moscato Passito”. Bianco is a blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco and pinot grigio and rosso is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot). Terre del Colleoni are dry red wines, rosato and various styles of white wine (dry, sweet and sparkling) and are focused on varietal wines. There are also some being made under the IGT label, giving producers greater creative freedom.
- The wines we tasted were good, all very different. We had just a brief time to taste through the collection and I will definitely be watching to see how this beautiful area evolves their interesting wine region. The collective’s motto is “Together We Can” and they are advancing the idea that “wine is a precious jewel of the territory and the culture producing it. Wine is a messenger of its territory ”. https://www.visitbergamo.net/en/wine/
Overview of wines we tasted:
We started with the Medalgo Albani selection:
- Their lovely sparkling wine, a Spumanti made as a Brut Medoto Classico, made with Chardonnay, crisp, light a great aperitif.
- Valcalepio DOC Bianco (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Grigio), golden apples, white flowers and lemon, lovely minerality and a touch of salinity to ideally pair with fresh seafood. This was a fantastic wine.
- Valcalepio DOC Red few months in oak, easily drinkable, 12%abv, vanilla, morello cherry and herbaceousness, tomato leaf.
- Classico Rosso Riserva(60% Merlot, 40% Cab) aged for at least 2 years in French oak barrels, pairs with meat and game, ruby red color.
- At the end of the night, the Conte’s son decided to share with us a specially aged Chardonnay, I believe 30 years, to round out the night. It was absolutely delightful and greatly appreciated. Deep, ripe apple, pear and a delicious nutty long finish. A great example of a finely aged Chardonnay.
Then the Consortio wines:
(All Valcalepio Rosso’s below are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each company provided a classic and a riserva. Riserva’s are aged longer in oak than the classic. There were so many I could only taste a few, but they were cold weather red blends, red and black fruit, oak, and also tomato, bell pepper notes, *tasting notes from online research)
- Cantina Bergamasca Valcalepio Rosso DOC (Vino Biologico) and Cantina Bergamasca Akros Valcalepio Rosso Riserva: Typical of cold weather cabernets and merlots – Dark ruby, aroma of fruity, spicy and grassy notes, blueberry, candied cherry, hints of oak, vanilla and herbs. Cantina Bergamasca was established in 1957 . The vineyards belonging to 150 members of Cantina Sociale Bergamasca.
- Tosca Ossodellup Valcalepio Rosso DOC 2019 & Tosca Bemu Valcalepio Rosso Riserva 2018: Ruby red color, aromas of jam, blackberries and blueberries, plum and pink and violet flowers, spices with vanilla, licorice, leather and tobacco, toast, Taste is mineral, fresh, tannic, ripe fruit, spices and aromatic herbs.
- Magri Sereno Scanzorosciate Rosso Riserva Valcalepio DOC & Magri Sereno Rosso Valcaleopio DOC: Deep ruby red, aroma of ripe fruit, toasted wood and cinnamon.
- Il Cipresso Bartolomeo Valcalepio Rosso Riserva DOC: Full-bodied, smooth tannins, 30-year-old. 30 months in French oak; Il Cipresso Dionisio Valcalepio Rosso DOC– vino biologica (organic): fruity aroma, aged for 12 months in French oak.
- I Due Lauri Valcalepio doc Rosso Riserva – Medolago Albani – 2018: Very intense ruby red color with purple highlights. Elegant, ample bouquet, with marked hints of small fruits. Taste of great personality and structure, with long aromatic persistence.
- Il Calepino Surie Valcalepio Surie: Aromas of ripe fruit, toasted wood and cinnamon. On the palate, balanced tannins, vanilla, roasted coffee, ripe fruit and spices. Complex. Il Calepino Valcaleopio DOC: Flavors of cherry, wild berries, cut grass, spices, vanilla and chocolate, velvety tannins.
- Valcalepio doc Rosso I Pilendri – Locatelli caffi & Riserva: Ruby red color with violet tinges, aroma of morello cherries and red berries; taste velvety and balanced.
- Le Rovere Senesco Valcalepio Rosso DOC & Riserva: red with garnet color, aromas of ripe red fruit, full bodied.
- Villa Domizia Valcalepio Goudes & Riserva: black current, oak, red bell pepper.
(A note on DOC (Designation of origin) vs. DOCG (Designation of origin guarantee) – a supposed guarantee by the Italian government to be wines of especially high quality. The DOC designation is similar to the French AOC/AC system. The regulations for DOC wine dictates production area, wine color, permitted grape varieties, max/min proportions, styles of wine, alcohol levels, and allowed production techniques. The DOCG wine designation came about to differentiate the top Italian wines. The regulations are more restrictive and each wine must pass an in-depth technical analysis and tasting. However, at the end of the day quality comes down to the individual producer. There are many of the highest quality Italian wines that are neither DOC or DOCG, because the producer chooses to make the wine from varieties or proportions of varieties not permitted by the rules. The perfect example, Super Tuscans — the highly celebrated Tignanello, Sassacia, and Ornellaia wines — which had to be labeled as ‘table wine’ initially because they didn’t meet Chianti DOCG regulations. The producers chose to make these wine outside the DOCG ‘quality’ classification because they wanted to make the best wines possible and felt the rules were to restrictive. So, while DOC and or DOCG classifications may still be helpful in understanding Italian wine, they are not perfect indicators of quality.)
Thank you to Valcalepio. The region is outstanding, the thermal spas, the castles, romance, sunsets, food, wine… what could be better?