Ar Pe Pe Sassella
Gorgeous and Devastatingly Delicate Nebbiolo
From the Mountains of Lombardy
Everything is just a bit more "nervous" in the mountains; high-altitude gives grapes an edge.
Whether it’s Ferrando’s Carema, Magnin’s Mondeuse or a host of others, there is something about their tension, their finely etched structures and their nervousness that fascinates us. Mountain wines are different than their valley brethren; they seem to reveal another layer of nuance with each smell and taste, and their bight and vigorous acidities always keep things playful and engaging (and make them awesome partners for a variety of dishes).
Today’s mountain offering is certainly one of our most curious: a back-vintage rarity from the old-school legend of Lombardy's Valtellina. Ar Pe Pe’s 1996 Valtellina Sassella Reserva Rocce Rosse offers one of the most gorgeously and devastatingly delicate expressions of the Nebbiolo grape we’ve encountered outside of the perfumed haunts of Barolo itself. If Valtellina wines can have a rusticity, a certain unruliness, Pe Pe's 96 puts this stereotype to shame. This is simply majestic, graceful Nebbiolo (at about 50% below basically any wine that had the vintage "1996" and the DOCG "Barolo" written on its label).
Valtellina is one of the regions where the combination of (seriously) heroic viticulture, ingenuity, and some help from Mother Nature allow grapes to ripen. The region boarders Switzerland and the vineyards reach elevations of two thousand feet. In order to soak up every precious ray of sunlight, the vineyards are steeply terraced and south facing with heat-retaining rocky soils. It's a bizarre micro-climate to be honest, a number of factors come together to even allow prickly pears to ripen in this region.
Do not let this wine’s color fool you, because it belies a flavor spectrum to run the entire range of Nebbiolo’s capabilities: Spice, game, dried rose petals, cherry and perfumed raspberry fruits, a hint of chestnut honey, tar, leather, tobacco and cinnamon along with a fascinating thread of sun-scorched rock minerality unique to the stony terraced hills of Valtellina. Sassella actually means rock and this particular bottling is named after the red rocks (rocce rosse) in the vineyard. The palate is silky and finessed with intense verve and real linearity (again, that mountain-fruit element shows itself).
At a staff tasting last year, this 96 Pe pe was unanimously the wine of the night and the bottles quickly disappeared from the shelves. When we received word that the winery was down to their last five cases from this great vintage we jumped at the opportunity and grabbed the final parcel.
Ar Pe Pe crafts their Valtellina in the most decidedly old-school fashion respecting the traditions of five generations of their family who have tended the backbreaking slopes of the region. They practice long macerations, use large chestnut barrels, and keep their wines in barrel for long periods of time and then bottle age it even further until it’s begun to enter its drinking window: The '96 Rocce Rosse spent four years in chestnut barrels and then another 6 years in bottle before release.
Nothing the winery does makes any concessions to modern tastes or economics - which is how we like it. The wines are all about elegance and understatement; nothing about them shows any leanings towards the bold or showy. (They don’t even make a Sforzato wine, which is made from dried grapes like Amarone.)
Now is the time for this email, with the fall approaching this wine is in glorious form. We’re confident that it will hold for the next couple of years, so you dare devils may want to hold on to a few bottles longer to see how this wine develops further. Italian wine writer, Franco Ziliani has written of drinking a very impressive bottle of 84 Rocce Rosse - when it was twenty-two years old.
Last week, we received our last 60 bottles from the winery’s last stock - once it’s gone that’s it. Click below or call the store at (212) 980-9463 to order. All orders are subject to confirmation and because of the limited quantities we may have to allocate the wine. Please give us the maximum number of bottles you are interested in. The wine is in stock and available for pick-up or delivery.