Nebbiolo on the Mountain Top
1999 Ar Pe Pe Sasella Riserva Vigna Regina
One of Italy's Great Traditional Estates
Barolos and Barbarescos often seem to steal all the limelight, with their power and brawn.
What a shame.
After all, Nebbiolo (like all noble grapes) is incredibly sensitive to where it’s planted and can display an enormous range of flavors.
Today we take Nebbiolo up the mountain, to 1,200-1,800 feet above sea level. Here, in Valtellina, an alpine region bordering Switzerland, Nebbiolo shows its lighter, more nervous, delicate and finessed side (you might even say Burgundian).
For us, this expression of Nebbiolo reaches its greatest heights in the resolutely traditional wines of Ar Pe Pe. Have no doubt, the late Arturo Pelizzatti Perego (who sadly passed away in 2004) deserves to be held among the ranks of Italy’s great traditional winemakers, right there with Bartolo Mascarello, Paolo Bea, Edoardo Valentini and others.
This is a producer we're obsessed with - the wines are singular, authentic and represent just astounding value. Consider that these steep mountain vineyards require between 1,300 and 1,600 man-hours of work annually per hectare. The rolling hills of Tuscany, as but one example, need just 300 man-hours.
Some readers may remember our offer last summer on Ar Pe Pe’s stunning 1996 Sasella Riserva Rocce Rosse (though maybe you won't remember as it sold out in less than 24 hours). Today, we jump to the next great vintage, offering one of the estate’s top bottles in recent history: The old-vine 1999 Sasella Riserva Vigna Regina at $53.88.
In the context of the great traditional Barolos and Barbaresco of Giacosa, Conterno, Bartolo and Giuseppe Mascarello, all of which are at (or well beyond) the $100 mark, the value today is very apparent.
The 99 Vigna Regina is classic Ar Pe Pe. The light color belies the sheer concentration and dazzling complexity the wine has to offer. The silken, well-integrated tannins combine with a brisk acidity, shocking finesse, and an intriguing medley of fruits, perfumes, spices, and earth. This is a simply fascinating wine, the aromas seem to rifle through the mountain, the orchard, and the forest: bright cherries, red berries, rose, violets, leather, truffles, and rocky minerals all join the flavor procession.
This is the unique signature of a classic Valtellina wine - few regions so uniquely combine microclimate with viticultural optimism and human ingenuity. We are essentially in the Alps here. The only way that the grapes are able to ripen is by taking advantage of the perfectly situated, south-facing terraced vineyards with heat-retaining granite soils. The river below adds the essential edge, reflecting sunlight onto the vines and bringing the grapes to full expression.
The effect of all of this is rather amazing: The sun intensity is so great that even prickly pear cacti can (and do) grow on these terraced slopes. Cool, mountain nights build the wine's formidable structures.
While the cult of Ar Pe Pe is still modest (which is why the prices are still reasonable), after years of toiling on the back-breaking slopes in near obscurity, it seems like Ar Pe Pe is finally starting to receive the attention the estate deserves - in Italy at least. In November of last year (2009), the Italian Sommelier Association awarded the 99 Vigna Regina the top wine of Lombardia.
Ar Pe Pe crafts their Valtellina in the most decidedly old-school fashion, respecting the traditions of the five generations of their family who have tended these backbreaking slopes. They practice long macerations and use the traditional, large chestnut and oak barrels (which are up to 40 years old) to age their wines. After extended periods of barrel aging, the wines then continue their elevage in bottle, in the estate's cellars, for as long as it takes them to enter their drinking window.
Today's wine was only first released in late 2008 - nearly 10 years post vintage!
Nothing the winery does makes any concessions to modern tastes or economics, nothing is bold or showy. This is, admittedly, exactly how we like it. This is an expression of Nebbiolo that is all about elegance and understatement. The estate doesn't even make a Sforzato wine, which is made from dried grapes like Amarone and has to be considered about as flashy as the Valtellina can get.
The 1999 Vigna Regina is just starting to enter the sweet spot. This is just the beginning of what should be a long and glorious drinking window. The Italian critic Franco Ziliani has written of drinking a very impressive bottle of 1984 Rocce Rosse, when it was twenty-two years old. Have no fear in cellaring this wine for 5-10 years.
Quantities are extremely limited - email us at email@example.com or call the store at (212) 980-9463 to order. All orders are subject to confirmation.
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