The Wines of Valle d'Aosta
Have you ever dreamed of high alpine valleys covered with flowers? Or of scaling a mountain so famous there’s a pen named after it? Either way, Valle d’Aosta is one of the most picturesque and unique regions of Italy, an area squeezed into the Alps and influenced by the French, the Swiss and the Italians. Valle d’Aosta is not a region known for world famous wines like Barolo is to Piemonte or Brunello is to Tuscany, but it is a place where the wine, people and food coexist in a natural harmony so compelling that to taste the wine is to transport yourself there.
Valle d’Aosta is the smallest and least populous region of Italy, primarily due to the fact that the majority of the region is full of world famous mountains: Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. A region so mountainous makes agriculture VERY challenging. But the rewards are spectacular.
The grapes of Valle d’Aosta are grapes that even the most well established wine professionals rarely speak of or know. The region is planted with unique varietals such as Prie Blanc, Petite Arvine, Premetta, Petit Rouge and Fumin, none of which are household names in Italy either.
Valle d’Aosta’s wine growing region is a single overall region with a variety of sub-regions starting in the north (with Europe’s highest vineyards) and ending in the south of the valley in the foothills of the Alps. In the north, one of the most striking whites of Italy sits as high as one can plant grapes and still produce delish wine, Blanc de Morgex. Planted at 3,937 feet the wines made from Blanc de Morgex, also know as Prie Blanc, produce striking wines with laser like acidity, sturdy minerality and a freshness akin to the alpine air. So little is planted that we are only able to have two producers on our list, Ermes Pavese and Maison Vevey Albert. Both of these producer’s wines are a perfect way to introduce oneself to the idea of mountain wines. As you move down the mountains and into the valley the temperature will rise allowing growers to ripen red grapes for the wines based upon the local grape Petit Rouge. Petit Rouge is the foundation of the wines from Enfer d’Arvier and Torrette. These two sub-regions produce gamey and red fruit driven wines that have a wild note running through them. The wines are perfect for the wild game and fish that are so plentiful throughout the region. The iconoclastic Danilo Thomain produces one of the best Enfer d’Arvier wines we have tried. He produces such miniscule quantities that we only received 36 bottles per year! Our favorite Torrette is produced by the regions largest vineyard land owner (a whopping 62 acres….which is not very much land) the Charrere family of the Les Cretes estate. Their Torrette is ripe with wild plum notes, savory spice and a vibrant and refreshing acidity that keeps the palate alive and wanting more. The central portion of the Aosta valley produces another unique white wine that immediately captures the senses with its exotic aromas of tropical fruits and piercing minerality. Grosjean Freres produces a single vineyard Petite Arvine called “Rovettaz” that is rich, luscious and gets better with age. A perfect pairing to a cold winters roast pork or veal. Finally, the valley begins its gentle decent into the southern valley were we find a clone of Piemontes most famous grape Nebbiolo. The two villages of Arnad and Montjovet produce this unqiue expression of the grape under the synonym Picotendro. As it is much higher in altitude than in Barolo and Barbersco and much cooler in temperature this expression of Nebbiolo is lighter in bodied. The aromas of wild cherries mixed with roses and leather are omnipresent but the wine has a lightness that works well with the mountain fare of the region.
Valle d’Aosta wines are exceptional values and the quality level is very high. As we enter the deepest part of winter this mountain wines are great with the warm and rich foods of winter. The venison dish is a perfect foil for the Les Granges Valle d’Aosta – Nus. Nus is one of the sub-regions of the Valle d’Aosta in the central valley. This wine is a classic blend of Petit Rouge, Premetta, Mayolet and Fumin. The wine has a bright ruby color that preludes its aromas of Bing cherries, Damson plums, sweet and savory spices and a note of cured meat. As you cuddle up by the fire or the radiator this is a perfect wine for those cold winter nights.