Head north of Milan into an area called Lombardia and keep going. Just south of the Swiss border in the Italian Alps sits Valtellina, one of Italy’s smallest wine regions. The Sega family tend seven hectares of vine plots there at 400 – 750 meters (1,312 – 2,360 feet) in altitude on incredibly steep slopes. Today, it’s Matteo Sega and his brother Luca that run the Barbacàn winery with assistance from their father Angelo. These men are serious about their wine and having a good time.
I participated in a Zoom discussion and tasting with Matteo Sega and Rose Murray-Brown, MW earlier this year. Today I share the details, my contribution to the Italian Food, Wine and Travel group’s August theme, Lombardy. Additional articles from my #ItalianFWT colleagues are located below including from our August host, Jeff at foodwineclick.
At their small winery based in San Giacomo de Teglio, the Segas team does everything by hand. To do so, they climb up and down the steep steps built into the mountainside and along the schist dry stone terrace walls called muretti. They are one of the few Valtellina estates dedicated to traditional and artisanal methods.
By this I mean every viticultural (vineyard maintenance, grapevine pruning and harvesting) and winemaking detail. Because of the area steepness, they could not use a tractor if they wanted to. But they don’t. Their philosophy is less is more. All of their vineyards are dry farmed and organics, always practiced.
“Fourteen hundred man hours per hectare are required every year to maintain our vineyard plots. This is about ten times more than in Barbera and Barbaresco.” Metteo Sega
In the Barbacàn winery, neither chemicals nor industrial yeasts are used. No fining or filtering of wines and just a modest amount of sulfites at bottling. All this equals one of the few 100% natural winemakers in Valtellina who are now certified organic by Valoritalia.
As far as aging the wine, they prefer large Austrian and Slovenian oak, which Matteo and Luca feel work well with Nebbiolo. They also use small concrete tanks, ones their grandfather purchased seventy years ago. And, they age on the lees, which provide extra protection given their scant sulfite use.
Nebbiolo From the Alps
I call it Alpine Nebbiolo because it is here, I’ve tasted the local Nebbiolo biotype called Chiavennasca (pronounced “key-avennasca”) in a version that glided so effortlessly over my palate I needed to remind myself Valtellina ‘is’ all about Nebbiolo.
The grape has the distinctive aromatics here, similar to those in areas of Piemonte, yet structurally I find it more approachable with finer tannins at a younger age and a leaner frame, albeit the wines are age worthy. It is fresh, expressive and more often than not, has a mineral quality- think the smell of hiking rocky terrain early when morning dew is present or after a rain.
In Valtellina, vineyards practically hug the Alps assuring the grapes cooler nighttime temperatures. Yet similar to Bolzano’s heat bowl in Alto Adige, daytime temperatures can climb because the area is protected by both the Bergamo Alps and the Bernina Range. And the warmer breva wind from Lake Como just 50 kilometers to the west keeps things very dry; it arrives almost every afternoon helping to reduce disease pressure.
According to Matteo Sega, their specific location in the Valgella sub-zone of Valtellina Superiore DOCG is Mediterranean-like. Perhaps the temperature leans a bit warmer there than other sites within the region.
Our discussion that evening flowed from one thing to another while we tasted and discussed the wines. Listening to Matteo talk about the family vineyards, their work, and Valtellina, I understood why they named the winery Barbacàn, which by the way is the nick name of his great-grandfather.
A barbican is a strong tower that is part of a defensive structure. The Sega family, doing what they do in Valtellina, maintaining both their steep vineyards and the murreti stone walls, is incredibly difficult and requires a great deal of stability. Mechanization is virtually non-existent. It could be easy to give up, to let your environment get the best of you and move on. But they have not. It’s evident these men– Matteo and Luca, and their father, grandfather and great grandfather– are and were indestructible!
Click the center below to link to Instagram and see how the team has fun in the vineyard after hard work. Source: Barbacàn Instagram page, used with permission.
A Taste of Barbacàn
Wine 1: Rosso di Valtellina 2017
This is Barbacàn’s entry level wine, a blend of grapes from all their vineyards: 90% Nebbiolo, Rossola, Pignola, Brugnola, Negrera, Rossolino Rosa and Chiavennaschino.
It’s juicy and fruity– cranberry, black cherry and plum– with floral hints, tar, smoke and earth. The fruit follows in the mouth where the acidity is fresh (think evergreen), the grainy tannins are medium, and the medium finish quite smooth. Such a nice wine for their entry level. I could drink this any day!
Aging: 9-months in stainless steel and concrete. Price: 25 – $30. Alcohol: 13.5%
Wine 2: Sol – Valgella Cru | Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2017
Made 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Rossolo, the vines are a younger and older mix in a south-east facing plot between 460 and 500 meters. It’s limpid and fresh with raspberry, prune and earth conjuring up visions of walking through an old-growth forest surrounded by ripe berries. You can feel the medium acidity (bright) and tannins (grainy) as the wine trails off with a line of saline minerality running through the finish.
Aging: 1 year in large, Slovenian casks. Price: $39. Alcohol: 13.5%
Wine 3: Pizaméj – Valgella Cru | Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2017
90% Nebbiolo with Rossola and Pignola old vines (100-years) on a south-east-facing slope of almost 60 meters of vertical! The vineyard is just .4 hectares (1-acre) in size.
Aromas bring to mind cranberry, cherry, potting soil and faint traces of cinnamon and leather. This wine has more freshness and power in the mouth than Sol, yet in a boldly agreeable way. It takes the structure of Sol up a few notches and again finishes with a mild saltiness. If you purchase this wine, save a glass for the second night. Sitting overnight rounds the edges of the freshness and power.
Aging: 12-months in large Austrian oak casks. Price: $60. Alcohol: 13.5%
Wine 4: Livel – Valgella Cru | Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2017
A mix of concentrated red cherry, black plum, smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, grilled meat and truffles yield to a medium textured body with elegant yet firm tannins that command attention. It finishes long, teasing you with woodsy berries. Super aging capacity with this wine that drinks beautifully now. I would love to taste it in five years with a pasta and meat sauce dish or main dish centered around grilled meat and Mediterranean vegetables.
Aging: 12-months in large Austrian oak casks. Price: $84. Alcohol: 13.5%
If curious about Barbacàn and these wines, here are their US importers:
Related articles from the Italian Food Wine Travel – Twitter chat August 7th at 8am PT and 17:00 in Italy using hashtag #ItalianFWT group.
- A Taste of Franciacorta with Ca’ Del Bosco by Vino Travels
- A Tour of Wines of Lombardia and Toasting to Lugana by Joy of Wine
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- Getting to know Oltrepo’ Pavese Wines from Lombardy by Avvinare
- Hot Summer Nights and Northern Italian White and Our Favorite Antipasto Platter by Our Good Life
- Indestructible in Valtellina – Barbacan and the Sega Family by Savor the Harvest
- Italy’s Large, Lovely Lombardia, Home to Lugana and Lambrusco by Wine Predator…Gwendolyn Alley
- Pici Alla Crema di Limone + Costaripa Valtenesi Chiaretto Rosamara 2019 by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Uccellini-Scappati and a Nebbiolo from Lombardy by A Day in the Life on the Farm