If diamonds are the prime example of the adage “good things come in small packages“, then Valle d’Aosta is a very close second. The smallest wine region in Italy holds its own against its 19 regional counterparts (yes, even Barolo and Tuscany!). Thanks in part to the presence of one very large mountain in the region, Valle d’Aosta’s unique climate and elevation produce flavors that are entirely distinguishable from others in this wine rich country. Despite the comparison, if Hubs gets me a bottle of wine from Valle d’Aosta rather than a diamond for our upcoming 20th wedding anniversary, we’re going to have a very long talk.
To start with, you’ll see a lot of French influence here which dates back to the 6th century when the region was conquered and became part of the Frankish Kingdom. (Sidenote: Italy was continually getting its ass kicked back in those days by various invading barbaric tribes with, rather ironically, wussy sounding names like the Franks, Normans, & Lombards which sound like an accounting firm). Today, Valle d’Aosta is bilingual – it’s the only French speaking Italian region and you’ll find several French varieties being grown here such as Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Valle d’Aosta may be the smallest Italian region, but it contains Europe’s largest mountain – Monte Bianco (aka “Mont Blanc” as it’s known in French – which is also the name of an insanely expensive pen that your rich uncle gets you for graduating college but then you lose two weeks later when moving out of your crappy apartment…all hypothetically of course). Monte Bianco not only adds to the gorgeous scenery of the area, but importantly blocks the clouds and provides a rainshadow effect to the region, making Valle d’Aosta drier and sunnier – and a better place for grapes to thrive.
The majority of wine produced in Valle d’Aosta is high quality, DOC wine. Co-operatives (a business arrangement in which a number of growers “pool” their grapes together) are prominent and account for approximately 75% of the production in the region. However, an increasing number of growers have started to bottle their own wines and have banded together to form an association that helps them achieve this goal – often through use of shared machinery or equipment. This association of independent growers is known as “Viticulteur Encaveur” – a term that appears on a wine label or cork produced by a member.
Although many local grape varieties were lost to phylloxera, there are still ten unique and indigenous varieties grown in Valle d’Aosta including Prié Blanc, Fumin and Petit Rouge. If you haven’t heard of any of these, you’re not alone – I hadn’t either until I started studying this region!
I recently tried a Prié Blanc produced from grapes grown in the highest elevation vineyard site in Europe (1,200 meters above sea level, or 3/4 of a mile up to us non-metric Americans). Not many grape varieties can survive at this elevation, but neither can phylloxera . . . these vines are some of the very few in Italy that were entirely untouched by the pest.
Pavese 2015 Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, Valle d’Aosta, Italy. 12% abv. Very pale lemon colored with bright aromatics of lemon, wet stone and a hint of white flowers. On the palate – holy acidity I feel like I’m drinking Lemonhead candies. Tons of lemon and minerality and electric acidity. Overall, this wine is fairly simple, refreshing – but not overly complex or interesting. $35.
If you’re interested in learning more – here’s the outline on Valle d’Aosta!