Southern Comfort at La Valentina & Masseria Li Veli
Founded in 1990 by Roberto Sabatino and Andrea di Properzio, Fattoria La Valentina is located in Spoltore, a village nestled on the Pescara hills in the Abruzzo region, a skip away from the Apuglia region, where our second featured winery is located. Both regions are framed on their eastern borders by the Adriatic coast. Abruzzo, like most of Southern Italy, has been restoring its historic grape varietals to levels of excellence that the ancient Romans praised two thousand years ago. In Abruzzo, La Valentina is at the helm of a group of wineries that are turning out top quality wines from indigenous Montepulciano and Trebbiano varietals.
La Valentina’s winemaker Luca d’Attoma says, as will every winemaker, that excellent wines develop only from superb vineyards. Owner Andrea di Properzio farms with organic and biodynamic methods.” By ensuring that the land remains highly fertile and the plants healthy, they are able to fight off parasites and disease on their own and fully express themselves. In this way, they can produce the healthiest possible grapes of the absolute highest quality.” The Bellovedere hillside vineyard surrounds the winery at Spoltore and is planted with white Trebbiano and red Montepulciano, overlooking the Maiella and Gran Sasso mountains, over 6,600 feet high. The vineyard’s proximity to the sea, forest, and mountains defines the wines made from its terroir, including Spelt and Bellovedere, which in 2005 won the highest Tre Bicchieri award from “Gambero Rosso,” the prestigious Italian wine rating journal. The Binomio vineyard is located in San Valentino near the Maiella Mountain, about 20 km from the winery, an area that is hot, dry, and windy in the summer and very cold in winter. This 10-acre vineyard is a joint venture with well-known Venetian winemaker Stefano Inama. The Binomio is planted entirely with Montepulciano. La Bianca is the most recent acquisition in nearby Scafa and comprises 52 acres of Montepulciano, Ciliegiolo and Fiano.
Masseria Li Veli
Further south, Li Veli is located in the Apulia region, where winemakers have practiced their art since at least the 7th Century B.C.E. The 128-acre property occupies the heel of the Italian boot, which native peoples called the Messapic Isthmus, according to a map of Solento, dated 500 B.C.E., proof of the strong connections between Greeks and the Messapi population, originally from Illiria, an ancient region between Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Messapia means “land between two seas,” the Adriatic Sea to the north and the Ionian Sea to the south. The Phoenicians introduced vines to the area in 2000 B.C.E., but some scholars think that the Messapi learned new techniques from the Greeks. The Romans further developed viticulture with slave labor, and Monks maintained cultivation when the empire fell. The term masseria refers to the fortress farmhouses that date back to the Norman period. At first they served as country residences for city dwelling owners, who returned to supervise peasants, but later were transformed into defense structures that protected farmers from the Saracens.
In 1999, the Falvo family purchased the estate and gave new life to the intent of the Marquis Antonio di Viti di Marco, a famous Italian economist, who at the beginning of the 20th Century wanted to transform the property into a model winery for the whole of southern Italy. The Flavo family enlarged and modernized a pre-existing stone structure and transformed it into a state-of-the-art winery. Best know for its ownership of the Avignonesi estate in Toscana, Alberto Falvo, like many other highly successful producers in central and northern Italy, was intrigued by the enormous potential of southern Italian grape varietals and wished to apply his expertise, gained at Avignonesi, to developing a new quality benchmark in the Salento region, highlighting the area’s principal native varietals, including Negroamaro, Aleatico, and Primitivo, known as Zinfandel in California. The estate comprises 86 acres of vineyards. As Alberto Falvo states, “The passing on of tradition has required people to be innovative or, as someone said, to faithfully betray it: to develop traditional vines reconciling the memory of the land, traditions and people, with modern instruments to achieve quality.”
Italian Wines of the Month
La Valentina – 2009 Rosato di Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo
Rosato is made like a white wine except that the juice is exposed to the grape skins just long enough to acquire its gorgeous color unlike whites, which are immediately separated from the skins. This Montepulciano Rosato from the Cerasuolo appellation has as much flavor and aroma as your favorite white wine with the addition of a slight grainy texture from the skins. Altogether, it’s as good as it is beautiful with vibrant color, intense aromas of cherry and wild strawberry, and flavors of red fruit. Serve chilled, as you would a white wine, with appetizers, first courses, and grilled salmon.
Li Veli – 2008 Primonero, Salento
This delicious wine is 50 percent Primitivo and 50 percent Negroamaro from estate vineyards in Cellino San Marco. The term Primonero is a combination of the names of the two grape varietals that are often blended in the Salento appellation. The result is a delicious wine with the sweet and spicy flavors of Primitivo and the deep color and fine tannin backbone of Negroamaro. The two grape varieties are fermented together, aged for four months in oak barrels and for three months in bottle before release from the winery.
La Valentina – 2005 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Spelt
This delicious wine is 100 percent Montepulciano with a blend of fruit from the vineyards in Spoltore, San Valentino, and Scafa. Drink the aromas before the actual wine. They’re wonderful. You’ll smell wild berries, violets, and bergamot scents that melt into blackberry, black currant, and hints of cocoa and coffee. The palate shows rich balsamic flavor with an edgy mineral hit. After 18 months in oak barrels, the winemaker chooses a careful selection, then blends and bottles the wine, and retains the wine in bottle for an additional year before release from the winery. Serve at cool room temperature with roasted mountain lamb, scented with rosemary and garlic, or with grilled polenta with basil and wild mushrooms.
Li Veli – 2007 Pezzo Morgana, Salice Salentino
This wine is 100 percent Negroamaro, made from fruit that was harvested from Li Veli’s Pezzo Morgana vineyard. Deeply colored, the Pezzo Morgana shows aromas of prune and cherry jam with hints of caramel and pepper. On the palate, the wine is ripe and warm with flavors of ripe fruit that finish with raisin and almond notes. The wine was aged for 12 months in oak barrels and six in bottle before release. Serve with roasted red meats, wild game, and grilled sausages.
La Valentina – 2004 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Bellovedere
Located on the estate Bellovedere vineyard, the Montepulciano grapes for this wine were harvested from a two-hectare section of 28 year-old vines. The following 2005 vintage received the Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso. The wine was aged in French oak barrels and larger Slovenian oak casks for 18 months and was racked from barrel to barrel during that time to eliminate sediment but was not filtered before bottling. With dense red color, the Bellovedere has lingering aromas of ripe red fruit and hints of spice. The palate is stylish and velvety, almost creamy, but at the same time well balanced with acid and fine tannin structure. The palate has alluring flavors of red berry fruit and rhubarb with a long sweet finish. Serve at cool room temperature.
Li Veli – 2007 Masseria Salento
The Li Veli Masseria Salento is a blend of 50 percent Negroamaro and 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested from estate vineyards. The wine has deep ruby red color, typical of both Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose shows a complex, rich bouquet with scents of undergrowth black fruits that taper off with vanilla, light balsamic notes, and tobacco. In the mouth, the Masseria is ripe, smooth, and warm. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and six months in bottle before release, the wine has a cellar life of 20 years or more, according to the winery, but is deliciously drinkable now, paired with richly flavored dishes.
Italian Regions of the Month
Abruzzo has its fair share of art and architecture throughout its hill towns and mountain villages, but the Apennine Mountains dominate the region, taking up two thirds of the area and attracting hikers and skiers to resorts. The vast Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo is one of Europe’s most important nature preserves.
Descendants of various hill tribes, who settled the region in the Bronze Age, the Abruzzesi were difficult to unite, although the Greeks, Romans Swabians, Aragonese, and Bourbons all tried. Before the advent of modern transportation, the inhabitants were isolated in hill towns and villages clinging to the sides of mountains. After the 12th Century, the Abruzzesi were ruled by a succession of dynasties based in Naples to the south. As a result, their diet, speech, and customs are more similar to their southern neighbors than to their neighbors to the north or west.
The hills in the region are highly favorable for grapevines. The two classified wines are Trebbiano and Montepulciano, not to be confused with the town of that name in Toscana, where Vino Nobile is made. When grown on the lower hills, Montepulciano has an irresistible character, full bodied and smooth with the capacity to age. In the higher areas, the vines produce a lighter version, Cerasuolo, which is a sturdy, cherry-colored Rose`. The white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo has been described as a phantom vine, since its origins are unclear. At its best, the wine can develop a Burgundy-like complexity after four or five years of aging.
Pulia, the heel and spur of the Italian boot, is rich in art and architecture, which reflect the many cultures that have dominated the region over the centuries. The Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Swabians, and Spaniards among others have all left their imprints there. The octagonal fortress in Castel del Monte was built by Emperor Frederick II in 1240. The towns of Otranto and Gallipoli evoke the Greeks. And much of Lecce is Baroque in style, having flourished in the 17th Century. Alberobello is the capital of the “trulli,” which are whitewashed, circular buildings with conical roof tiles, and whose origins no one knows for certain.
Known as Europe’s wine cellar, Pulia produces more grapes than any other region and normally surpasses Germany and all but six other nations. In the past, it sacrificed quality for quantity. Many of its wines were without distinction and were consumed locally or used for blending in the wines of other regions. But during the last 15 years, producers have been making good to excellent reds, whites, and rose` from a range of grape varieties.
In the north, the terrain is hilly and the climate temperate. White varieties that dominate are Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Malvasia, Tribbiano, and Bombino Bianco and in the Itria valley, Locorotondo and Martina Franca. Red wines are the native Uva di Troia and Bombino Nero, as well as Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The lading DOC zone of northern Pulia is Castel del Monte, which makes a fine rose and a full-bodied red. In much of the north, the emphasis is on red wines.
The traditional wines of Salento in the south are the powerful reds Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, and Primitivo, related to California’s Zinfandel. Salice Salentino is the most prominent DOC zone in Salento and is noted for its rich red and for its rose`, some of which ranks with Italy’s finest.