Posted by: tomciocco | December 28, 2013

ANOTHER ONE FROM THE CELLAR – SFORZATO

Let me begin with my usual semi-apology that I feel obligated to proffer with posts about wines like this one. Typically, I discuss wines that are fairly affordable, and that are in currency at the time of writing. Tonight, no, and no again, but it is my wife Jen’s birthday today, so as I always say, if the wine is ready to drink, and the right people are around to help you drink it, why wait?…I try to follow my own advice when I can.

So as you can see from the title, this is a post about an old Sforzato, which might sound like an antique Italian car, but which I can assure you is a wine, and a very special at that. Sforzato (a.k.a. Sfursat) is a wine from an area in the northernmost reaches of Lombardia called Valtellina, hard by the border with the Italian-speaking Swiss region of Ticino. This area of northern Italy is home to a peculiar and unique clone of the celebrated Nebbiolo that is associated almost exclusively with the neighboring region of Piemonte, but here in Lombardia however, this vine is known by the name Chiavennasca (kya-veh-NAS-ca).

Many other Chiavennasca-based Valtellinese wines with names like Inferno, Grumello, Sassella are also made from this great grape variety in the same way that Barolo and Barbaresco are across the border in Piedmont, but Sforzato is a sort of figurative cross between the great Nebbiolo wines to the west in Piedmont and another great wine to Valtellina’s east, namely, Amarone. So here’s the skinny – Sforzato is a pure Nebbiolo wine like Barolo, that just like the equally great Amarone, is made from fruit that is partially dried by laying the bunches out on straw mats spread out upon racks in barns whose doors are left open during the Fall and Winter following their harvest, allowing them to dry partially which markedly concentrates and intensifies their juice, and consequently the wine made from it.

The Sforzato growing region is a tiny one, Nebbiolo is a notoriously difficult and fussy grape to grow, and the climate here presents formidable challenges to any type of viticulture, let alone one involving such a recalcitrant vine variety, so it should come as no surprise that Sforzato is pretty scarce stuff, and it doesn’t come cheap either, but because of the method of production, it unequivocally embodies all of Nebbiolo’s nobility, uniqueness and power writ as large as one can write it. What better wine with which to celebrate?

I matched this powerful but still supremely elegant wine with a first course of traditional Valtellinese buckwheat and Taleggio cheese fritters (ugly for sure, but very tasty and healthy to boot), followed by a regionally-styled beef stew made with leeks, red cabbage, tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, Marsala wine, and a mess of herbs, served over a cushion of polenta.

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Azienda Agricola Sandro Fay Sforzato “Ronco del Picchio” 2002

Just transparent brownish brick-red color. Arresting nose of dried black currants, green olives, tomato paste, black tea, dried red flowers, fudge, brown spices, and linseed oil. In the mouth, the wine is huge and sculpted with still stiff, satiny-textured tannins and a well-honed acidity, but still maintains a a fine balance and distinguished elegance. From this imposing structure spring powerful flavors of dried cherries, prune, black raspberry jam, wild mushrooms, butterscotch, white truffles and sarsparilla root. Very long and warm earthy grilled fruit finish. A paragon for the fusion of elegance and power. 

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Responses

  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m certain, Tom, that my beloved late nonno from Piedmont would have found the fritters and other accompaniments to your wife’s birthday dinner to his satisfaction. And I’m certain that he would have appreciated the wine as well. I had heard of Sforzato wine when I lived near Milan several years back, but I never had the opportunity to taste it. Does its name come from the House of Sforza which ruled Milan in the 15th and 16th centuries? Thanks for sharing, once again, your thoughts about such interesting wine and accompanying foods. And a dolce Buon Anno to you and yours for the imminent new year.

  2. Hey Tom-

    It’s my understanding that the name “Sforzato” comes from the verb “forzare” which means to force or wrench or crack which is a tangential reference to the dried grapes used to make the wine being tough to press. That said, I’m not sure that that’s an established fact, and the Sforza family reference seems more than plausible…

    How’s the vineyard search coming?

    Thanks as always for the comments, and Buon Anno to you as well.

    T.C.

  3. Thanks for having taken the time to reply to my comment, Tom. I have several vineyard visits scheduled for January–one in the Quercy area near Cahors, the other in the Gers, west of Toulouse. I’ll let you know if either looks to be interesting. I look forward to hearing more about your wine-and-cooking exploits in 2014.


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