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5218 Lawton Avenue
Oakland, CA 94114

510-654-9159

Oliver McCrum Wines has been importing small production Italian wine and distributing to fine retail and restaurant establishes throughout California since 1994. Over time, our portfolio of producers has steadily grown to over 45 producers from 15 different regions of Italy. We look for typical Italian wines with clarity and freshness, usually made from indigenous Italian grape varieties using clean, transparent winemaking techniques and no obvious use of oak. 

Balgera

I had given up on finding a producer in the Valtellina to add to our roster of extraordinary Nebbiolo producers from the Langhe and Northern Piedmont. The area is very small, and there are very few wineries, and most of them are not very good. My wish list for a producer from the Valtellina would have been for a producer who was traditional (wines aged in big barrels), clean (none of the off aromas you sometimes get with very old large barrels, often found in this region), with a fair amount of time in wood so as to be fairly drinkable when released. Not likely. But then we tasted the wines made by Paolo Balgera, and they were all of these things, and incredibly fairly priced (we import these wines directly, as we do every wine we sell, which helps). Paolo keeps the wines in large barrels for up to ten years (!) before bottling, yet they are fresh and delicious, showing the brambly bright lacy quality that Nebbiolo can show in this Alpine area. What a treat. I would compare Balgera with any traditional producer from this region, the wines are outstanding and very redolent of place, very distinctive.

The Valtellina is a very small wine-producing region in the mountains north of Milan, just south of the Alps that border Switzerland. The predominant grape variety is Nebbiolo, usually referred to here as Chiavennasca, and this is (along with the Barolo/Barbaresco area and the string of appellations in northern Piedmont, such as Ghemme and Lessona) one of the best places for this classic variety. The Valtellina valley runs East-West, and the steep slopes on the northern face of the valley are terraced for grapevines in what the Italians call 'heroic viticulture;' the amount of work involved in establishing and maintaining the terracing alone is hard to imagine, never mind working the vineyards. The soils here are largely morainic, the climate distinctly cooler than the Barolo zone, and red grapes are grown at altitudes up to 500 meters or more, which is unusual in northern Italy.

The following tasting notes are from a meeting with Paolo Balgera at Vinitaly, where I was completely swept away by most of the wines, as you can see.

Valtellina Rosso

Blend: 85% Nebbiolo, 15% other local varieties such as Pignolo or Rossola Nera. Soil consists of decomposed morainic rocks, including granite, serpentine and gneiss, formed into terraces on the steep north face of this east-west valley at 300-400 meters above sea level; soil pH is acidic. The harvest takes place in the middle of October. The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, the wine is macerated for a total of about 10 days, then spends a year in tank and 4 more years in large (10,000L) barrels.

Notes: strawberry, minerals, fresh, long, amazing for the price. Best base wine ever.

Valtellina Rosso 'Ca'Fracia'

Blend: 95% Nebbiolo, 5% other local varieties such as Rossola Nera, Pignola.  Soil consists of decomposed morainic rocks, including granite, serpentine and gneiss, formed into terraces on the steep north face of this east-west valley at 350-450 meters above sea level; soil pH is acidic. The harvest takes place in the middle of October. The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, the wine is macerated for a total of about 15 days, then spends a year in tank and 10 more years in large (3,000L) barrels.

Notes: Great wine, high-toned, very mineral (reminds me slightly of Bramaterra without the Croatina), rose-petal, wild strawberry, amazingly fresh. 6.2 g/L acidity, for the geeks. Moderate tannins, very fine structure, completely different from Barolo or Barbaresco, and the aging in wood makes it ready to drink when released, which is very unusual.

Valtellina Sassella

Blend: 95% Nebbiolo, 5% other local varieties such as Rossola Nera, Pignola.  Soil consists of decomposed morainic rocks, including granite, serpentine and gneiss, formed into terraces on the steep north face of this east-west valley at 350-550 meters above sea level; soil pH is acidic. The harvest takes place around the beginning of October. The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, the wine is macerated for a total of about 15 days, then spends a year in tank and 10 more years in large (3,000L) barrels.

Notes: extraordinary wine, beautifully expressive, long, tannins are very fine, roses, wild strawberries, great wine. This combination of fresh acidity and depth of flavor is very unusual, very useful with food, and irrestistable. Moderate tannins, very fine structure, completely different from Barolo or Barbaresco, and the aging in wood makes it ready to drink when released, which is very unusual.

Valtellina Inferno

Blend: 95% Nebbiolo, 5% other local varieties such as Rossola Nera, Pignola.  Soil is chalky with small pebbles, formed into terraces on the steep north face of this east-west valley at 200-500 meters above sea level; soil pH is acidic. The harvest takes place around the middle of October. The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, the wine is macerated for a total of about 15 days, then spends 3-4 years in large barrels before bottling. The Inferno is so named because of the particular heat found here; the soil is also different from the other zones of the Valtellina in that it is chalky, rather than a morenic combination.

Notes: Super; high-toned, gorgeous evolved flavors, like a wild strawberry and mountain herb tonic, with excellent acidity. Very long. Completely fresh, no Brett and maybe just the tangiest hint of VA. Moderate tannins, very fine structure, completely different from Barolo or Barbaresco, and the aging in wood makes it ready to drink when released, which is very unusual.

Valtellina Valgella

Blend: 95% Nebbiolo, 5% other local varieties such as Rossola Nera, Pignola.  Soil consists of decomposed morainic rocks, including granite, serpentine and gneiss, formed into terraces on the steep north face of this east-west valley at 400-500 meters above sea level; soil pH is acidic. The harvest takes place in the middle of October. The grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, the fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, the wine is macerated for a total of about 12 days, then spends a year in tank and 10 more years in large (10,000L) barrels.

Notes: very intense herbal/berryish aroma, a fascinating rendition of Nebbiolo, aged in large barrels giving a hint of expensive leather, high-toned, super wine, especially at this price. Moderate tannins, very fine structure, completely different from Barolo or Barbaresco, and the aging in wood makes it ready to drink when released, which is very unusual.