Sunday, 27 May 2012

Wines of the Aosta Valley

From the 9th century onwards, Italy's smallest region was part of the kingdom of Savoy, and has pretty much been disputed ever since between France and Piedmont. The Aosta valley's position has led to the region developing an almost dual-personality, many of it's inhabitants and bilingual (Italian and French), it's cuisine could often be confused with french food and also it's wines display a distinct French style, both in the way it is made and the grapes that are used.

The wine growing area of the region amounts to around 2500 acres (1000 hectares), which extends over some 56 miles of what can only be described as Alpine landscape. Aosta's vineyards span from the narrow valley of the Dora Baltea, between the towns of Morgex and the foot of Mont Blanc and Donnas, Aosta's shared border with Piedmont. Many of the regions vines are grown on very narrow terraces, at often dizzying heights, some up to 4300 feet . . . possibly the highest vineyards in Europe. The regions climate  is characterised by extreme winters, but occasionally very hot summers. The alpine nature of the region means great fluctuations in temperature between day and night, this has a great benefit to the regions wines, the fluctuations in temperature lead to a great concentration of flavour in the grapes. This concentration leads to the white grapes developing good acidity, a common characteristics for grapes grown at high altitudes, and the highest terraces, in the middle part of the valley near Chambave, which face due south produce red grapes, which make wonderfully full bodied red wines, considered the best in Aosta by many wine critics and enthusiasts alike.

Around three-quarters of the regions production comes under the single DOC Valle d'Aosta, which designates 26 different styles of wine produced from 22 permitted grape varieties, no other DOC in Italy has so many permitted grape varieties, within such a small area. The region has many outstanding native grape varieties such as Blanc de Morgex, Fumin, Neyret, Petit Rouge, Vien de Nus and Premetta, as well as the better known varieties such as Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. On the centre slopes of the valley even, Nebbiolo ripens, a variety which is usually very demanding and difficult to grow at altitude, but in Aosta it produces interesting light, often rustic wines . .  especially in the area around Donnas. Other red varieties, such as Petit Rouge and Gamay produce good, often excellent, wines in Aostas upper valley, while Blanc de Morges et la Salle and the sweet Moscato di Chambrave stand out among the regions white wines.

Lets take a look at the regions wines;

Petit Rouge

Some of the finest examples of Aosta Valley wines are made with the Petit Rouge grape variety. The wines made from Petit Rouge are often smooth, fruity, full bodied reds, many of which display the true characteristics of Petit Rouge. The wines produced can be either made from the single Petit Rouge variety or they can be blended with other varieties - such as Dolcetto, Gamay and Pinot Noir - these are often labelled as Chambave, Novello, Nuands Rosso and Torette.


The only Nebbiolo wines produced in the Aosta valley - Freisa, Neyret and Vien de Nus can only produce small proportions - is produced very close to the Piedmont border and the wine region of Carema. Unfortunately Aosta Nebbiolo cannot be compared to the great Nebbiolo's of Piedmont, especially those of the Langhe region. But good Aosta Nebbiolo, when at its best, can be mellow and fruity and very drinkable, even if somewhat lacking in the complexity and lasting quality of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Enfer d'Arvier

This wine comes from the steep vineyards of  the Dora-Baltea valley, which extend up the slopes up to a height of 3280 feet (1000 metres). The dry red wine is pressed from a blend of Petit Rouge, Dolcetto, Gamay, Neyret, Spaatburgunder and Vien Nus and mostly produces light and low-alcohol wines.

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