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North by Northeast

60 miles northeast of Milan, tucked away in the far north of Lombardy is the fairytale valley of Valtellina. High up in the mountains are old castles that remind one of Hansel and Gretel and turrets where Rapunzel would wait for her Prince Charming.

Surrounded by crystal clear lakes and sweeping mountains that cast their shadows on the vineyards below, the valley runs east to west, following the course of the Adda River. It is one of Italy’s most dramatic wine landscapes that has been producing wine for two millennia.

The bright and bouncy wines of Valtellina are made from a variety of Nebbiolo known as Chiavennasca.

One of the best and perhaps most unique expressions of the terroir comes from the Nobilis, a five generation wine family, whose name in the valley can be traced back to 1591.

Silvano Nobili, whose first vintage was released in 1988, is the quintessential small producer, producing 3000 cases a year. Together with his son Nicola, who took over in 2001, father and son tend to their wine with passion and precision. Based in Poggiridenti and Sondrio, the Nobilis have a total of 4 hectares, with parcels in Inferno, Sassella, and Sforzato with most of the vines facing west.

Because of the altitude of the vineyards, and the inclines of some of them, harvesting is done by hand and the Nobilis firmly believe in sustainable farming.

The wine that caught our eye is the 2008 Nobili Valtellina Superiore “Inferno.” It is made from a small parcel where the summertime mercury rises to hellish levels. But contrary to its name, the wine is bright crimson in color and lighter in body and power than its’ cousins in Barolo and Barbaresco. Typical of the nebbiolo of the region, an aroma of cherries and roses swirls around as soon as a bottle is opened.

Paired with salumi, game or pizzoccheri, the buckwheat and wheat short pasta of the region, the Nobili Valtellina is soft on the palate. It is a superb wine that can be served at dinner or as an aperitivo.

2008 Nobili Valtellina Superiore “Inferno” -- $40