Home > ModGood, Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > “There is a Sort of Wine here…that is called Aromatick Wine”

“There is a Sort of Wine here…that is called Aromatick Wine”

Vineyard In Valtellina, Image from Original Lou (flickr)

Conti Sertoli Salis is a young winery with an old history in an ancient wine growing area.  The winery is located in the Valtellina area found in Lombardy which is in the north central portion of Italy.  Located south of the Swiss Alps and just north of Lake Como, this region has been cultivated with vines beginning with the Romans.  Over the centuries the steep land has been terraced on both side of the Adda River valley.  The majority of the terracing took place during the 18th century when population increases led to increased demand for wine.  Today there are over 50 km of terraced vineyards.

Palazzo Salis, Image from giacomoraffo (flickr)

Conti Sertoli Salis was created in 1989 and located at Palazzo Salis, Tirano.  Today the 16th century wine cellars beneath the palazzo have been renovated and a modern winery has been built nearby.  The original winery consists of three parts: the tinera which is the room containing the vats for fermentation, the involt which are the vaulted cellars where the carats (small casks) are aged, and the nevera which is the cold storage room.  The nevera was used for the storage of food and wine.  Today it is used to store bottles of wine for there is a natural temperature of 46 Farenheit!

Bishop Burnet, Engraved by Robert Graves, 1837, Image from Andy Brii (flickr)

The wines of this region have been praised for ages including by Virgil and Pliny.  More recently this region and indeed the wines of Madam Salis were detailed by Bishop Gilbert Burnet.  In 1685 and 1686 Bishop Burnet traveled through France, Switzerland, and Germany.  Both a respected theologian and historian his detailed account provides not just an interesting perspective on the region but on the production and taste of its wines.  As we see in this passage, the nevera still in use at Palazzo Salis, were quite common in the 17th century.

On both Sides of the River, the Town, and the Gardens belonging to it, cover the whole Bottom, that lies between the Hills; and at the Roots of the Mountains they dig create Cellars, and Grottoes, and strike a Hole about a Foot Square, ten or twelve Foot into the Hill, which all Summer long blows a fresh Air into the Cellar; so that the Wine of those Cellars drinks almost as cold as if it were in Ice;

Bishop Burnet’s travel through Switzerland, Italy, some parts of Germany, &c. By Gilbert Burnet (bp. of Salisbury), Published by J. Watts, Dublin, 1725.

The Salis family have a long history producing and bottling wine.  In addition to the physical wine cellar there are 17th century documents on the provision of wine for the Court of Leopoldo I of Hapsburg.  More recently, there are certificates indicating the wines were bottled as early as 1861 with existing bottles in the family cellar bearing the Salis name, dated 1890 and 1891.  Today the winery uses a mixture of modern and traditional methods.  The wine featured in today’s post is produced in a similar manner employed by the Salis family centuries earlier.  Again, Bishop Burnet provides a detailed description.

There is a Sort of Wine here and in the Valteline, which I never heard named any where else, that is called Aromatick Wine, and as the Taste makes one think it must be a Composition (for it tastes like a Strong-water drawn of Spices) so its Strength being equal to a weak Brandy, disposes one to believe that it cannot be a natural Wine, and yet it is the pure Juice of the Grape, without any Mixture.  The Liquor being singular, I informed myself particularly of the Way of preparing it:  The Grapes are red, tho’ the Wine is white; they let the Grapes hang on the Vines till November, that they are extream ripe, then they carry them to their Garrets, and set them upright on their Ends by one another for two or three Months; then they pick all the Grapes, and throw away those in which there is the least Appearance of Rottenness, so that they press none but found Grapes.  After they are pressed, they put the Liquor into an open Vessel, in which it throws up a Scum, which they take off twice a Day, and when no more Scum comes up, which according to the Difference of the Season is sooner or later (for sometimes the Scum comes no more after eight Days, and at other times it continues a Fortnight,) then they put it into a close Vessel.  For the first Year it is extream sweet and luscious; but at the End of the Year, they pierce it a little higher than the Middle of the Vessel, almost two Thirds from the Bottom, and drink it off tillit cometh so low, and then every Year they fill it up anew;  Once a Year in the Month of March it ferments, and cannot be drunk till that is over, which continues a Month, but their other Wine ferments not at that time.  Madam Salis, a Lady of that Country, who entertained us three Days with a Magnificence equal to what can be done in London or Paris, had Wine of this Compoisition, that was forty Years old and was so very strong, that one could hardly drink above a Spoonful, and it tasted high of Spicery, tho’ she assured me there was not one Grain of Spice in it, nor of any other Mixture whatsoever.  Thus the Heat that is in this Wine, becomes a Fire, and distills iit self, throwing up the more spirituous Parts of it to the Top of the Hogshead.

Bishop Burnet’s travel through Switzerland, Italy, some parts of Germany, By Gilbert Burnet (bp. of Salisbury), Published by J. Watts, Dublin, 1725.

Within Valtellina there are eight districts.  This fruit for this wine is sourced from the Sassella and Grumello districts.  Sassella produces the fullest bodied wines which are slow to mature and develop aromas of hazelnuts and spice.  Grumello is known to produce wines with aromas of strawberries and faded roses.  The label for this wine bears Con Rinforzo Di Uve Appassite.  Some of the harvested grapes are left to dry on mantavola (planks of reeds) in lofts for three weeks.  The dried grapes are then added to the fresh must in a process called Rinforzo.  The reinforced wine is then aged for 2 years in small oak casks.  This wine is currently available at MacArthur Beverages.

2004 Conti Sertoli Salis, Corte della Meridiana, Riserva, Valtellina Superiore – $26
Imported by Grappoli Imports.  This wine is 100% Nebbiolo.  It is a light garnet color.  The subtle nose revealed tart red fruit and wood notes.  In the mouth there are hard cherry flavors, some ripeness at the front, along with minerals.  There is a straight-through delivery with black and red fruits.  The ripe-ish tannins integrate well with the acidity.  The aftertaste has delicately lifted, sweet spices and lingering acidity.  This is drinking well now for there is a fading quality to the fruit which suggests this will not gain in complexity.  ** Now-2017.

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  1. January 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

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