In the northwest corner of Italy, there lies the smallest and highest region of all: Valle d’Aosta.
Here the mountains reach the sky, majestic Mont Blanc dominates the valleys, and medieval castles dot the crests. Impossible not to dream of princesses, knights, witches, and mythological creatures.
Nowadays, spotting a witch or monster is a challenge, but if you like, you can meet heroes. And you don’t even need to penetrate the deep, dark woods: you can find them in the vineyards!
Growing vines at high altitudes is never easy, with steep slopes and narrow spaces between the vines. To make wine at this altitude is certainly heroic viticulture.
In Valle d’Aosta, viticulture was rejuvenated in the ‘70s, thanks to the Regional Institute of Agriculture. Valle d’Aosta is a goldmine of local indigenous grape varieties, most of which have French names (French is the second official language in this region.) From the white Petite Arvine that gets its name from the small (petite) size of its grapes, to black Fumin, named for the bluish color of the grapes and its smoky notes (fumé), a smattering of French goes a long way here.
Maison Anselmet is a family-run winery led by three generations together: the founder Renato, his son Giorgio, and the grandchildren. Renato, one of the pioneers in the rediscovery of traditional grape varieties in the region, loves to talk about his family and their “4.0 winery,” where tradition goes hand in hand with innovation, and technology supports the labor force.
Tasting the pleasant cherry and berry aromas of Broblan (a 100% Cornalin) and the smoky and herbal notes of Fumin, we discovered the stories behind some Maison Anselmet labels. Some of our favorites: Le Prisonnier, a prestigious blend from a vineyard imprisoned among rocks, and Rune Brune, a 100% Mayolet from an area where they see no sun for six months and no moon for three. Talk about heroic winemaking!
Les Crêtes, run by the Charrère family, firmly believes in the connection between terroir and wine. The Rifugio del Vino at Aymavilles embodies the perfect architecture to illustrate their philosophy: in the shape of the mountains, it welcomes the visitor to the historical cellar with stunning views on the valley.
Drinking a wine while gazing on its own vineyard is an incomparable treat: here the floral and berry aromas of Torrette Superiore (a blend of Petit Rouge, Cornalin, Fumin and Mayolet) were prevalent, making me wish I had a piece of fontina, the most famous local cheese, to pair with it!
La Sabla, a blend of black varieties from old vines, is the historical wine of Les Crêtes. It was first produced by the current owner’s grandfather and named after the sandy soil of the vineyards (sabla is the dialect form for sabbia, sand).
At Grosjean, organic wines are king. Love and respect for nature has been guiding this family-run winery since the beginning, when grandfather Dauphin was one of the very first to choose a natural approach to winegrowing in Valle d’Aosta.
Grosjean were among the first ones to re-graft and grow Petite Arvine, the main local white grape, and to valorize its potential for ageing. The freshness of the citrus and exotic fruit aromas of this wine reminded us of the pure mountain air – a real delight!
Prëmetta is another Grosjean winner. On the verge of extinction, this black grape is grown in very few plots and displays a unique combination of a pink color and wild rose and strawberry flavors. This needs to be a protected species among local varieties!
Sipping these charming wines, we bid arrivederci to the mountains, the real kings and queens of Valle d’Aosta. And we look forward to discovering more gems from the smallest region in Italy and its heroes!
By Italian Grapevine contributing writer, Francesca Giuliano, WSET Level 2