We had a birthday party for my husband last weekend, the kind of party that begs for that one special bottle from your collection.  For me it was the Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore, Inferno Riserva from 1997 that I had been saving for a few years.  This is the bottle you eyeball every time you look through your collection… so worth the wait!

Valtellina is a special place- high in the mountains of Lombardia.  These wines are made from the local clone of Nebbiolo, known regionally as “Chiavennasca”.  The mountains are steep, the climate harsh and unforgiving.  These are mountain-dwelling people who farm grapes in such a tough terrain- it is surprising and wonderful that the wines produced as a result are among some of the most complex and elegant in the world.  There are several “Cru” areas within the Valtellina- Inferno being one of the most exciting.  This little sliver of valley receives the benefit of the most sun and consequently the

“Inferno” wines can tend towards riper fruit, and brighter flavors.

My bottle of Rainoldi had just begin to turn brick red around the edges, but it was fresh and perky on the palate.  With the dried fruit and flowery nose you’d expect from a Valtellina Inferno,


this wine also carried gorgeous notes of wild sage and drying orange rind.  It was soft and supple on the palate- delicate like an older Barolo, but with the power and body of an Amarone.  After all these years, decidedly NOT a disappointment.  More like a revelation.

Of course, the food was fantastic and plentiful, thanks especially to Emil’s grilling skills.   We roasted a whole suckling pig on his Weber grill, and complimented it with a whole host of side dishes.  And cheeses.  There are always lots of cheeses at our house…

Yes, that’s a yam in his mouth.  I ran out of apples…

Emil’s mom’s Salad Olivier– this is just plain Armenian-Russian deliciousness.

The Robiola was especially fantastic with this Valtellina wine.  Heaven.

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Borani.

One of Emil’s Birthday Pies (no cake, please), of the Blueberry persuasion.

Overall one of my favorite occasions to celebrate.  There’s no better excuse to bring friends and family together over fantastic meal and amazing bottle of wine.  Happy Birthday, Emil!

About The Author

I love all things Italian: the beautiful country of Italia, the Italians themselves, the language, the food… and above all, I love Italian wine. The people I meet in my charmed life are fascinating, the wines are extraordinary. I needed a special place like this to write about them, and to remember them.

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8 Responses

  1. adrian reynolds

    My Persian friends always make me Borani, but this Armenian recipe looks insanely delicious…

    • Joanie Karapetian, Italian Wine Geek

      Adrian- this Borani is the EASIEST thing to make (at least in the very un-traditional way I do it). Just slice up a couple of large purple eggplant, coat with olive oil, season with salt, and roast until tender with a head of garlic cloves. When it’s done let it cool, then mash with Armenian Yogurt (Lebne) or use a 16 oz. container of sour cream. Season again and you’re good to go!

  2. Come Due Maiali

    What a coincidence! I brought back this particular Valtelina Superiore (although from another vintage) from one of our Italian trips a few years back. At the time it was not yet available in the US, so I bought it at one of the super low-key wine shops/enoteca in Rome by the name of L’Angolo Divino. The owner Massimo is a total wine geek who is capable of reciting the exact number of hectares of all of his favorite productions…

    -Natasha Shulinina

    P.S. I am a friend of Michael Housewright, not just a random person or a troll 🙂

      • Come Due Maiali

        Thanks! Also, it sounds like you and I have much more in common than just being friends of Michael (although he is quite picky with his friends!). I also did comparative lit (German) in college, and later on – an MBA. I, too, have worked in the wine industry (in the past, when we used to live in Texas). And I am Russian (so I know exactly what salad “Olivier” is :-)).
        Looking forward to geeking out about food and wine together!

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