“Valentini is an almost sacred name among Italian wine lovers, long considered to be one of the country's top dozen wine estates on a par with Gaja, Giacosa, Quintarelli, Felsina, Fontodi and a handful of others.” – Antonio Galloni
I first discovered the beguiling wines of Valentini some years back via an old Italian wine-importer. He served me a beautifully rich, golden glass of white wine. When pressed on what grape variety I thought it was and where it was from, I fumbled my way from Burgundy down to Southern France. From Chardonnay to a Marsanne/Roussanne blend. Wrong on both counts. It was first revealed as Italian. OK, it must be from the North of Italy. Wrong again. It was a 1995 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, made at Azienda Agricola Valentini. Like most people my impression of the wines of Abruzzo, especially Trebbiano, were non-descript, pizzeria “house wines”. That one could achieve such complexity, richness and maturity with this varietal blew my mind. I’ve been lucky to have had several more encounters with the brilliant, whites, reds and rose from this cult estate, yet perplexingly, Valentini remains a little-known insiders wine.
The Valentini estate has been making wine in eastern-central Italy since the 1600s, but only bottling their own since the 1950s when Edoardo Valentini took over until his passing in 2006. Edoardo was incredibly secretive about their approach, but his son Francesco Paolo, whilst changing nothing at the estate, has revealed more about their techniques. Their 60ha property has a traditional polyculture set up and is farmed as naturally as possible, with animals, orchards and olive groves in between the vines. They grow a mix of Trebbiano vines and one of the softer, more aromatic Italian red varieties - Montepulciano. They only keep about 5% of their very best grapes each year to make their white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, selling off the rest in bulk. Their red is perhaps one of the rarest wines in the world, as it is only made in the absolute greatest vintages, with the same absolutism applied to selection as the white – again only the very best 5% of the estate’s grapes are used. Since 1997 the red has only been made five times. In the cellar they are non-interventionist, using natural yeasts, then ageing in ancient Slavonian oak botte, some of which date back to the 1700s and which impart no oak flavours. The wines are then bottled without fining or filtration and minimal sulphur.
Several months in the making, some Hong Kong wine friends and I gathered to pay homage to these uniquely wonderful wines and Brazil’s 1982 men’s football team, the greatest team not to have won the world cup. In the spirit of teamwork I share one of our generous host’s notes from the night:
2010 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
Was opened around 3 hours before drinking. I had this last year and I think it has broadly improved with an interesting array of lemongrass, ginger and honeysuckle on the nose followed by a much more mineral driven palate than fruit. It went incredibly well with the Chinese cuisine we had that evening.
2012 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
Unfortunately due to a logistical error on my side, this wine was opened right at dinner and decanted, so I tried to save as much as I could for the remainder of the evening and I am sure glad I did because the wine really opened up and was a contender for WOTN. Over the 2010, this had that extra layer of yellow (lemon), orange (apricot) and white (pear) fruit on the palate with a richness that a lot of people on the table said reminded them of Coche-Dury. The nose was similar but also had a slight reductive element to it and some gravely dust.
1995 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Was opened around 3-4 hours before drinking. The nose was not so expressive but had hints of pepper and olives and maybe some meat. I think if I had tasted it blind, seeing the color, I would have guessed syrah. The palate was similar in nature with more spice, pepper, peppered meat with not that much fruit and had extremely chewy tannins that felt unresolved. It started to improve over the evening but I think this is in an odd/closed spot now.
2013 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
Same issues as the 2012, was only able to open at kickoff, a big mistake. I had this wine with Rami a few months ago and I have to say it was pretty disappointing at that time being a bit thin and not really having much complexity. I am going to put that down to bottle variation or source because this was purchased directly from the importer and as the evening went on, woooowweee, it was good. Compared to the 2012, this had a much more reductive style to it that in Burgundy terms we thought was closer to Roulot and I can see why my friends who love white Burgundy really like this bottle. The nose again was mineral driven, flint, and some lemongrass with grapefruit, gravel, pineapple on the palate with clean acidity that was not as full or rich as the 2012 but I think over time this will end up developing more.
2000 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Opened 3 hours before drinking. The nose had an alluring blend of smoked meat, spice and pepper with some subtle hints of darker fruits. The palate showed just a touch of secondary fermentation in bottle with that fizz you can get in these wines occasionally. But past that, I liked how the palate, especially compared to the 1995, had relatively smooth tannins, contrasting dark fruit that was elegant and not in any way alcoholic. I'd say this is fully open to enjoy now but could easily hold for 10-15 years.
2001 Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Opened 3 hours before drinking. This bottle was on fire. Simple as that. And it made me wonder what Asimov was thinking when he only gave 3 sentences to the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in his piece on this amazing winery. The nose was similar to the 2000 in many ways but had an extra element of gravel minerals that very much impressed me. The palate was totally in sync (with no signs any fizz) and again, had that contradiction of power and elegance with very smooth tannins, dark fruit, herbs and spices. One of my favorite wines of 2018.
My huge thanks to Rob and Massimo for organizing one of my favourite wine dinners of 2018 and to our other companions for enduring my footballing geekery.