The Vallée d’Aoste is one of Italy’s most remarkable wine regions that you’ve likely never had a glass of wine from. It has a long tradition of food and wine dating back to Roman times. Many of the old Roman acqueducts can been still be seen crisscrossing the valley which is dotted with Medieval castles and terraced vineyards. Nestled in the northwestern corner of Italy, sharing borders (and the Alps) with France and Switzerland, the Vallée d’Aoste feels more like its own magical kingdom rather than an integrated part of Italy or France.
Viticulture once played an important role in the region, with upward of three-thousand hectares of grapes planted. However after two World Wars and into the early 2000s, there remained less than eight-hundred hectares. Luckily, the region is making a comeback with many small producers working to preserve traditional grapes and winemaking techniques. The Vallée d’Aoste also boasts the highest elevation vineyards in Europe, with some in the Alps reaching 1,200 meters in altitude. There are thirteen indigenous grapes to the region including Morgex, Malvoisie, Fumin, Petit Rouge, and Petite Arvine that are planted among more recognizable French varietals like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Syrah. The interplay between Italian, French, and Swiss grapes, languages, food, and traditions is very apparent here.
Wine production here is not easy. Looking at some of the dramatically terraced vineyards, that no tractor could ever survive, you can see the love and (labor!) that’s required to produce wine in the Vallée d’Aoste. Most of the wine produced here is made by small family-owned wineries, many with small plots of grapes not much bigger than a vegetable garden. Thus, it’s truly special to find a wine from this region and appreciate the place it came from and the work that went into it. Come by either Market to try these very limited wines from the Vallée d’Aoste!
2012 Institut Agricole Regional Nus Malvoisie - $24.99
The Institut Agricole Regional was founded in 1951 as a professional agriculture program with the sole purpose of preserving the traditional agrarian practices and products of the region. This encompasses everything from wine to native fruits, vegetables, and cheeses. The wine-focused branch of the school works equally in the vineyards and in the lab. They work to genetically identify native varietals and preserve plantings of these indigenous grapes in the region. The wines they produce are a testament to the uniqueness of the Vallée d’Aoste. Nus Malvoisie is the local DOC exclusively for the grape Malvoisie, the local variant of Pinot Grigio. Lightly floral up front, with notes of tart citrus, chamomile, and tart acidity, this white is versatile and food-friendly.
2012 Grosjean Freres Petite Arvine ‘Vigne Rovettaz’ - $29.99
The Grosjean family has been cultivating land in the Vallée d’Aoste since 1781. Today, Dauphin Grosjean and his five sons have just seven hectares of vineyards in the small town of Ollignan. In addition to winemaking, they cultivate chestnuts and graze cattle on the Alpine slopes. Their Petite Arvine is from the single vineyard ‘Rovettaz’ made from 100% Petit Arvine grapes. It’s lightly floral with notes of white peach, green almond, and a light, refreshing texture. We see this easily paired with pork or veal tenderloin topped with prosciutto and Fontina cheese.
2012 La Cantina di Cuneaz Nadir ‘Badebec’ - $34.99
Winemaker Nadir Cuneaz has a mere half hectare of vineyards. Total. That’s basically 1/16th the size of Dolores Park. His grapes are a mix of various native varietals, many planted over 100 years ago. The ‘Badebec’ is a blend of mostly Petit Rouge, with small amounts of Fumin and Vien de Nus. Since it’s a blend of various grapes, which are all fermented together, the earliest ripening grapes are allowed to dry for two weeks until the remaining grapes are ready to harvest. The resulting ‘passito’ grapes are combined and vinified with the rest giving a concentrated dark and sweet blackberry quality to the wine, complemented by notes of Alpine forest and rustic herbs.
2010 Institut Agricole Regional Fumin - $36.99
Fumin is a grape native to this ItalianFrench/Swiss area that’s a bit reminiscent of Syrah in its herbal and peppercorn notes. Very little is left planted in the Vallee d’Aoste and the Institut Agricole Regional is working hard to preserve what’s left and hopefully encourage local growers to plant more. Notes of dusty dark fruits, balsamic covered berries, pine forest, and smoke are well-integrated in a mid-weight palate with enough acidity to stand up to a variety of dishes. This would be killer with the traditional Fontina Fonduta (melted cheese and broth!) served with bread, veggies, and charcuterie for dipping!
- 18th Hour Cafe - Thursdays, 6-9PM – Drop-In - At 18 Reasons
- Greek Wine Tasting – Friday, June 27th, 4-6PM – At Bi-Rite Divisadero
- Palate Development with Oliver McCrum: Part I - Wednesday, July 2nd, 6:30-9PM – At 18 Reasons
- Palate Development with Oliver McCrum: Part II - Wednesday, July 9th, 6:30-9PM – At 18 Reasons
- Loving Old Vines: A Tasting of California Heritage Wines - Tuesday, July 22nd, 7-9PM – At 18 Reasons