Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Valcalepio Rosso – Blue Collar Wine

The Valcalepio wine region runs east from Como, along the base of the Italian Alps, to the western border of Franciacorta, or the small mountain lake Iseo. I lived in this region for an extended period of time. At one time I was even considering the purchase of a small vineyard and 1700s country house located in the surrounding hills of Lake Iseo at about 600 meters. Bergamo is a hard land, with hard working people and the best “muratori”, brick masons, in Italy. They are known across Italy for their great experience and hardworking attitude and for being, let’s say, brash.

Bergamaschi are no nonsense, value is what you can eat or what covers your head. While tutoring young kids in my early days I was often the last chance for 14-15 year old kids to stay in school. If they did not show a sincere desire to get good grades they were either laying bricks, farming, or working in the manufacturing plants. Their wine is the same. Any given vineyard will have about a 50-50 split of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This area is subject to tremendous variations in the climate. It is right at the foot of the Alps, the evening breeze flowing out of the Alps during the hot summers was heavenly, but the temperature changes can be extreme.

The environment is not a problem for the great Bergamaschi del Valcalepio. They want a great table wine and more importantly a potent and sweet grappa. They do not need to make a $300 bottle of wine. They want a fantastic $5 bottle table wine to drink after an excruciating day of hard labor. This wine is not modified to be more marketable, the Bergamaschi couldn’t care less, so whatever the season produces is what goes into the wine. Valcalepio will be 25-60% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remaining Merlot. You could say this was the first designer wine. Valcalepio is not well known, even in Italy. Raffaella has never tasted it and her family is from an area only 40 km (28 miles) to the south.

I would be surprised to read a positive review by one of the “important wine people” when discussing Valcalepio. It is just not what they are looking for, although it has an ancient pedigree, it is not suave. Valcalepio is a table wine, variable from year to year, inexpensive, no big marketing campaigns, and the wine is usually produced in a shared winery. Many local farmers support a common infrastructure, bring in their grapes, produce their wine and then take it home. The winery’s infrastructure is then ready for the next farmer. Sometimes groups of farmers will pool their harvest and make a common batch of wine. Either way Valcalepio is just too common to be part of the big name producers.

This is our fortune. Lack of coverage keeps this wine genuine and inexpensive. Valcalepio is a perfect everyday table wine for the hearty dinners of Casoncelli, Maialino all’ Olio, Polenta Taragna, Luganiga, Salamelle and Taleggio, which are part of the Bergamasco lifestyle.

The ten day Sagra dell’uva of Trescore Balneario finished yesterday, the production of the wine has begun, and in just about 15 days the first Vino Novello will be available. Vino Novello is the new wine. It can be consumed until the first hard freeze and is stored in clay vats in the mountain farmhouses. Tradition serves Vino Novello in porcelain bowls on cool autumn nights.

My time in during the harvest was all too brief but it was enough to determine that this will be a good year for Valcalepio. The Vino Novello is worth a taste should you be in the area before December and the regular production will be bottled in March. If you can find a bottle it is an opportunity to try a genuine farmer’s wine, not the royalty of the wine industry, instead the wine of the working man.

Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon 25-60% - remaining Merlot.

Color: Deep red.

Alcohol Content: Minimum 11.5 %

Serving Temperature: 16-18 c.

Decanting: None.

Pouring: Pour slowly with a 15-20 degree inclination.

Glass: Red wine glass.

Aging: Not applicable.


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Anonymous music of italy said...

Greetings from Greece,

the village of Valcalepio looks so peacefully, it's like taken from a fairytale.

I think I would enjoy the "designer wine" Valcalepio because I need variety for my day to make sense.

By the way, once again your pictures are great! One picture of a barbeque like this is enough to postpone my diet. :-)


10:51 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Evie The real fun is participating in the harvest and making the wine, working hard and spending time with friends. Once the day's work is done, a nice pig, basted in Olive Oil, roasted for several hours over the fire pit.

Some polenta on the table, succulent pig and the Valcalepio, obviously without a label, flowing all night long! (It was hard getting up this morning)

5:00 AM

Blogger GollyGumDrops said...

I've always found the wine made and drunk locally in Europe is so much better when you drink it in situ. $5 wine perhaps doesn't travel well, but any wine served in a tumbler at workmens bars tends to be heavenly!

1:00 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Golly I agree entirely and I know you know your wines! I shall be back in Italy later this year. Perhaps we can taste a few locals together.

2:57 PM

Blogger GT Traveller said...

I just returned from a visit to Grumello del Monte and could not agree more. It was beautiful, and the vinyards stretch out up the hills in all directions - fantastic!
And while I am a beer drinker, some of the local Valcalepio was greatly enjoyed - a very nice wine. I hope to find some here in US and am frustrated that I brought none home with me!

Thank you for your posting and photos. I will post photos on trip advisor for my hotel stay soon.

5:16 AM


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