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2001 Azienda Ag. Fay "Ronco del Picchio" Niebbolo Sforzato, Valtellina (Lombardy), Italy

It's not every day you find wine that's endorsed by Leonardo DaVinci. OK, OK, maybe that's pushing it a little. He didn't really endorse this particular wine, but he did enjoy wines from Valtellina enough to include the following note in his Codice Atlantico: "A valley surrounded by tall and terrible mountains, it makes really powerful wines." As if you needed any other reason to seek out the robust reds produced in this corner of the country. Winemaking has been around in this section of Lombardy since the Etruscans were the biggest baddest civilization in the region, and wines from Valtellina have figured prominently in the praise of Pliny, Cato the Elder, and even Virgil.

The region grows primarily the varietal Niebbolo (known locally as Chiavennesca) and of which local wines must contain at least 70% by DOCG regulations. Also grown are Pino Nero, Merlot, Pignola Valtellinese (a regional white grape), and Brugnola (aka Fortana).

Azienda Agricola Sandro Fay is based in the small town of San Giacomo Di Teglio and is widely considered to be one of the better producers in the region, despite being fairly small. Other than that, I'm afraid I don't know much more about this clearly talented estate owner. I did find out his e-mail address though, so if you speak Italian and want to chat him up, go for it.

This wine is a Sforzato, which is a term that might not be familiar to many consumers (myself included). It refers to a specific class of wine made from grapes that have been partially dried before being put through the winemaking process. This is an ancient process practiced by many early winemaking cultures that survives in the wines of Valtellina as well as several other places, most notably the Vin Santo of Tuscany. This practice concentrates the sugars of the grape and requires extra care during the fermentations process which is generally slowed due to the higher sugar levels. Resulting wines, carefully made so as to not contain extremely high alcohol levels (in Valtellina the wines must have at least 14.5% alcohol) or levels of acid can display extremely concentrated flavors.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is deep blood red in the glass with a hint of brown at the edges. The nose is concentrated and strong with aromas of dates, black figs, anise, and overripe plums. In the mouth it is lush and smooth with primary fruit flavors of black plums and black cherries wrapped in velvety tannins. It finishes long with flavors of crushed herbs, especially and surprisingly, lavender.

Food Pairing:
On a whim I broke this wine out of the cellar to serve with a pasta dish, which probably wasn't the right pairing for it given the concentration of the wine and its tannins. Ideally I would have served it with something like this mortadella stuffed pork loin with rosemary potatoes.

Overall Score: 9.5

How much?: $55

Unfortunately, there's only one place you can get this wine in the US, and that's from the guys down at Wine Expo in Santa Monica. Try them at 310-828-4428.

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